How To Manage Your Bills During Coronavirus

With many people facing significant pay cuts, redundancies and general job insecurity, you might not be alone in worrying about how to meet your monthly outgoings. But there is help out there. With this in mind we’ve summarised all the options – from mortgages to utility bills – to help get you through…

THE MORTGAGE 

If you haven’t already investigated, it might be worth looking at whether you qualify for a mortgage payment holiday. Currently, most lenders are offering borrowers the chance to delay up to three instalments on their mortgage – although, beware, this could affect how much you pay in the future and is dependent on your individual circumstances. “A payment holiday means you agree with your lender that you will not have to make mortgage payments for a set amount of time,” according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). “It is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay as a result of the payment holiday. Interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe. This means that, at the end of the payment holiday, you will have to make up the missed payments. There will be various options for doing this, for example by increasing your monthly payments slightly, or by adding a short extension to your term. Your lender will be able to explain to you what options it offers.” The good news is most banks are now offering the chance to apply for mortgage holidays online, as phone lines continue to be exceptionally busy. 

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RENT 

At the moment, there’s no official system in place for tenants to stop paying rent. But because landlords are able to apply for mortgage holidays, it should make them more open to agreeing a mutually supportive arrangement. “If your landlord doesn’t offer to be flexible with your rent payments, it’s a good idea to pay as much as you can afford and keep a record of what you discussed,” says Citizens Advice. “You may [also] be entitled to benefits to help with housing costs if your income has reduced, even if you’re still working.” Thankfully, the government has made a temporary change to the law around eviction because of coronavirus. As a result, your landlord might have to give you extra notice before they can evict you –this will depend on your tenancy type. 

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ENERGY BILLS

Energy watchdog Ofgem has pledged not to disconnect any credit meters during the outbreak, and has implored all suppliers to take into account how much its customers can afford. New emergency measures with the energy industry have also been agreed by the government to protect the energy supply of those most in need during the disruption caused by Covid-19. David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association, explains: “These are unprecedented times but the energy industry is working hard to keep gas and electricity flowing, look after our vulnerable customers, and keep customers and staff safe. The UK’s electricity and gas network is one of the most reliable in the world and over 36,000 employees are working flat out to continue to provide a safe and reliable supply of energy during this time.” Customers that are unable to top up their pre-payment meter are advised to contact their supplier immediately to discuss how they can be kept on supply.

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INSURANCE 

The FCA has said it expects all insurers to be aware of the circumstances their customers find themselves in. “We expect firms to clearly communicate any policy exclusions that may impact the cover and use of individual policies,” it explains. “This applies both to new sales or changes to existing policies (either mid-term or at renewal) – they must clearly meet consumers’ demands and needs.” 

Travel

“If you purchased your policy before coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020, then you should be covered, but check with your provider to be certain,” advises Tom Harrison from Compare The Market. “If you bought your policy after the pandemic was declared, you’re unlikely to be covered for Covid-19-related claims.” As for renewals, if you don’t have any immediate travel plans, it might not be worth signing up again. If you do intend to renew, be sure to ask your advisor where new policies stand in terms of coronavirus – it’s possible many renewed policies won’t include cover regarding the virus, in which case it might be worth re-evaluating any future bookings until the picture is clearer.

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Home

Normally, you would need to tell your insurance provider if you were working from home regularly, as this would affect the terms – and possible premium – on your home insurance policy. However, the FCA has told insurers not to allow claims to be affected by circumstances over which customers have little control. If you are receiving business visitors to your home, however, you will definitely have to inform your insurance provider. As for keeping up with your monthly instalments, if you’re struggling, it’s best to contact your provider directly to negotiate a possible payment holiday. 

Motor

It’s very possible the pandemic will affect the way you drive, insure and maintain your car. As far as your policy is concerned, customers are advised to contact their provider if they’re noticing particular changes in their commuting patterns, annual mileage or where they’re keeping their car. Some insurers, like Admiral, are even offering customers an automatic discount on policy prices as a thank you for their loyalty, and remaining at home during the lockdown. Meanwhile, the government has announced an MOT exemption for owners of cars, motorbikes and vans for six months, starting from 30th March 2020. However, along with the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency, ministers have said your vehicle must be maintained in a roadworthy state, and you may be prosecuted if you’re found driving an unsafe vehicle.

BROADBAND/TV

The Internet Service Providers’ Association has urged customers who may have trouble paying bills as a result of Covid-19 to speak with their internet service provider. Certain companies, like Sky and BT Sport, are already offering sports package customers the chance to pause subscriptions or receive rebates while live events remain suspended. Others, like EE, have said customers struggling to keep up with payments should contact them after their latest bill has been issued, when its team can help put relevant support in place. The BBC is delaying charging some over-75s for TV licences until August, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s also possible to cancel subscriptions to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime with minimal notice or complication. Finally, if you don’t get benefits already, Citizens Advice suggests looking at universal credit – a payment that covers things such as housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. Those who have paid national insurance contributions regularly for the last couple of years could qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA). 

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STUDENT LOANS

Employees who find themselves furloughed will probably be wondering how much of their pay will still be going towards paying back their student loan. Under the furlough scheme, the government will cover 80% of an employee’s salary up to a total of £2,500 a month, while employers will have the option to top up this value where they can. As a result, your student loan will continue to be deducted from your pay in the usual way, with the government website stating that both the apprenticeship levy and student loans should continue to be paid as usual. For those who are self-employed, you will still be expected to make repayments as normal alongside your tax return, while those who have lost their job will not be expected to resume payments until they find new employment above a certain threshold.

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COUNCIL TAX

The Local Government Association says all councils in England and Wales are putting help in place for people facing financial hardship, with some households told they can start paying their council tax bill in July, effectively pushing back May and June payments. Many councils are also not chasing council tax arrears while people’s income is affected, although any relevant support largely depends on where you live. You might also be able to get a council tax reduction if you’re suddenly on a lower income, or access help as part of a wider universal credit claim. It’s also worth double checking you’re paying the right amount of tax to begin with, including discounts for single occupants, students and those living with disabilities. 

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GYM MEMBERSHIP

As soon as lockdown struck, there were certain premises – such as bars, clubs and restaurants – which were forced to close their doors right away. Gyms have also been affected, but where you hold a membership will largely determine what payments you’re expected to keep up with during this period. 

Fitness First
As long as all Fitness First gyms remain closed, accounts will be frozen, free of charge, with no direct debits taken during this period. 

Pure Gym
Payments will automatically stop while gyms are shut. Accounts will be credited with the appropriate outstanding amount from previous monthly subscription payments when the gyms reopen. In the meantime, the brand is offering classes, workouts and nutrition advice via its app.

Virgin Active
All Virgin Active memberships have been frozen while clubs are closed, with no fees to pay. Memberships will automatically resume as normal when gyms reopen. 

David Lloyd
While closed, David Lloyd has said it cannot process membership changes or respond to membership queries. That said, all memberships are frozen and no payments will be taken as long as clubs are closed.

Nuffield Health
All memberships are currently frozen, with no direct debit collections happening until clubs open again.

ClassPass
With many fitness studios now offering at-home live-streamed workouts, monthly memberships via Class Pass are still operational. However, there is the chance to pause your membership on a monthly basis, free of charge, while the crisis continues. For specific fitness studios or boutiques, it’s best to visit individual websites to understand how outstanding credits or payments are treated during the lockdown.

 

DISCLAIMER: None of the information in this article constitutes financial advice. Please contact individual providers or organisations for relevant information.

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