FINANCIAL UPDATE DURING CORONAVIRUS – APRIL 2020
Department of Working Pensions (DWP) home visits
DWP Visiting Service has suspended routine face-to-face home visits with the exception of the following three criteria:
• visits to vulnerable customers;
• where a visit is needed to ensure benefit payments can be made;
• visits to undertake safeguarding checks.
DWP Visiting Service will continue to take referrals as normal and will undertake a risk-based assessment to ensure the customer meets the above criteria. Those customers who do not meet the criteria will instead be contacted by telephone or letter.
Suspension of (most) debt recovery
DWP have confirmed that deductions for the recovery of Universal Credit and legacy benefit overpayments, Social Fund loans and tax credit debts will be paused. Local authorities will suspend referral of Housing Benefit overpayments and the transfer of tax credit debt from HMRC has already been suspended. The majority of deductions will be suspended automatically, however if claimants currently make repayments through a standing order, giro credit or through online banking, they are advised to contact their bank to cancel their arrangement.
For anyone who is making debt repayments but not in receipt of benefits, private sector debt collection agencies should stop their activity for Debt Management customers. Voluntary debt repayments and recovery by Direct Earnings Attachments have also been suspended.
Note: the recovery of advances by deduction from Universal Credit payments will continue, along with third party deductions (ie. rent arrears and council tax arrears).
Free school meals – shopping vouchers now available
Schools are now able to provide every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets while schools are closed due to coronavirus. Schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this is not possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to families electronically, or as a gift card for those without internet access.
The vouchers can be spent on food at a range of shops including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S, with the Department working to get more shops to join the scheme as soon as possible.
The government has announced that free school meals will continue to be available throughout the Easter holidays.
Note: this only applies to children eligible for free school meals due to low income, not to all children in Reception to Year 2 who automatically qualify.
More details can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools
HMRC is urging parents of new-borns to claim Child Benefit even if they are unable to register the birth due to coronavirus.
General Register Offices are currently closed, and parents are advised that if they haven’t registered the birth because of coronavirus, they should add a note with their claim to let HMRC know.
Carer’s Allowance easements
DWP has introduced two temporary measures to help unpaid carers through the current emergency.
Unpaid carers will be able to continue to claim Carer’s Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring because they or the person they care for gets coronavirus or if they have to self-isolate because of it.
Providing emotional support rather than just more traditional forms of care to a disabled person will also now count towards the Carer’s Allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – updated guidance
The government has updated the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme guidance for employers and employees.
Who can be furloughed
If an employer chooses to place an employee on furlough, they will need to remain on furlough for a minimum of 3 consecutive weeks. However, employees can be furloughed more than once, and one period can follow straight after an existing furlough period, while the scheme is open. The scheme will be open for at least 3 months.
Employees can ask to be furloughed if unable to work from home and they:
Are shielding in line with public health guidance;
Are required to stay home due to an individual in their household shielding;
have caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus, such as
Caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household.
Working while furloughed
If a contract allows, an employee may undertake other employment while on furlough. The employee will need to be able to return to work for the employer that has placed them on furlough if they decide to stop furlough, and they must be able to undertake any training required while on furlough. If an employee takes on new employment, they should complete the starter checklist form with the new employer correctly. Any activities undertaken while on furlough must be in line with the latest Public Health guidance during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Furlough and redundancy
An employer can still make employees redundant while on furlough or afterwards.
More details can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
Funeral Expenses Payment increase
Funeral Expenses Payments include a discretionary element which can be used to help pay for items such as flowers, car hire, the funeral ceremony and funeral director charges for making the arrangements. The discretionary element is being increased from £700 to £1,000 from 8 April 2020.
This discretionary payment is on top of other allowances that pay for funeral necessities, such as burial or cremation fees. Funeral Expenses Payments are available to eligible benefit recipients.