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Advice from Miles Briggs MSP

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For those needing financial help, I received this very good email from the team of Miles Briggs MSP. All the Lothian MSPs have been very helpful in offering advice and I recommend getting in touch with them.

How to access financial support in Scotland if you have been affected by COVID-19


In the last few weeks, both the UK and Scottish Governments have made multiple announcements on the financial support available for people, businesses and charities affected by COVID-19.

This document aims to pull together all that information in a single place.

In addition, we urge everyone to follow the latest medical advice at www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus and www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

Please note that this information is correct as of 19 March 2020 and may be subject to further updates as the situation develops.


INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE


If you think you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), please read the following information:


• You can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks.


• If you are self-isolating because of COVID-19, you can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people self-isolating in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine. To check your sick pay entitlement, you should talk to your employer, and visit https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay for more information.


• How soon does SSP apply? The UK Government is legislating for SSP to be paid from day 1, rather than day 4, of your absence from work if you are absent from work due to sickness or need to self-isolate caused by COVID-19. Once the legislation has been passed, this will apply retrospectively from 13 March. You should talk to your employer if you are eligible for SSP and need to claim.


• Do I need a sick note? The UK Government have said that from Friday 20 March onwards, those who have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate will be able to obtain an “isolation note” by visiting NHS 111 online and completing an online form, rather than visiting a doctor. For COVID-19 cases this replaces the usual need to provide a “fit note” after seven days of sickness absence. We are seeking urgent clarification from the Scottish Government on whether patients in Scotland should access NHS 111 or a different website. Isolation notes will be accepted by Jobcentre Plus as evidence of your inability to attend.


• What if I am self-employed or not eligible for SSP? If you are not eligible for SSP – for example if you are self-employed or earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week – and you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, you can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) or new style Employment and Support Allowance. For more information on how to claim, please visit https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit​ and https://www.gov.uk/…/new-style-employment-and-support-allow….


• What if I am self-employed and receiving Universal Credit? If you are self-employed and receiving Universal Credit and you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change took effect on 13 March and will last for the duration of the outbreak, to ensure that self-employed UC claimants will receive support.


• If you need to claim Universal Credit but have COVID-19 or are self-isolating, you will now be able to claim and to access advance payments upfront without needing to attend a Jobcentre Plus. Please visit https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit for more information.


• If you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day 8, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate.

If you think you may need financial support from your local council, please read the following information:


• The ‘Scottish Welfare Fund’ has received additional funding to provide crisis grants for those in financial emergency. Details on how to apply via your local authority can be found at https://www.mygov.scot/sco…/apply-or-track-your-application/.


• The council tax reduction scheme has received additional funding. To find out if you are eligible please visit https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/…/help-with-your-council…/.


• Details on how to apply for a council tax reduction via your local authority can be found at https://www.mygov.scot/…/discounts-exemptions-and-reductio…/.


• The Scottish Government have indicated their intention to establish a £70 million ‘Food Fund’ to support households who may be worried about accessing food whether due to an income drop or self-isolation, including older people. We are awaiting details of how this will be accessible through local councils and charities.


If you are experiencing financial difficulties meeting your mortgage repayments, please read the following information:


• The UK Government has agreed with mortgage lenders that they will offer ‘repayment holidays’ of 3 months to households in financial difficulty due to COVID-19.


• This will also apply to landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19.


• The offer of a payment holiday can be made available to customers who are up to date with payments and not already in arrears.


• Customers who are concerned about their current financial situation should contact their lender at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss if this is a suitable option for them.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties paying your rent, please read the following information:


• The Scottish Government have pledged to ensure you do not face the threat of eviction for at least 6 months. A new law will protect renters from being evicted if they fall into rent arrears as a result of coronavirus. This will extend the minimum period of arrears required to evict from three months in a row to six months in a row.


• If you are experiencing issues paying your rent, please tell your landlord as soon as you can. We need landlords to help their tenants immediately as part of an overall society response. We cannot have people being made or at risk of being made homeless at this difficult time.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties paying your energy bill, please read the following information:


• Customers who are unable to top up their meter or can’t afford to pay their bills should get support from their supplier. You are advised to contact your energy supplier immediately to discuss how you can be kept on supply.


• If you are a pre-payment or pay as you go customer who cannot leave your home, your provider should help you stay supplied. This could mean someone else can be sent to top up your card, a pre-loaded gas or electricity card is sent in the post, or funds are added to your credit.


• Disconnection of credit meters will be completely suspended. If you are in financial distress, you may also be able to have your debts or bill payments reassessed, paused or reduced where needed.

If you are experiencing difficulties paying back personal loans or credit card bills, please read the following information:


• The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have called on lenders to use flexibility built into their rules to support consumers, taking into account customers’ individual circumstances. Many major lenders have already made statements to this effect.


• If you are experiencing difficulties paying back loans or credit card bills because of COVID-19, you should talk to your lender.


• If you agree a payment holiday with your lender, they should record these in such a way that will not impact on your credit score.

If you require further financial support, please read the following information:


• You can check whether you are eligible for any of the social security benefits delivered in Scotland at https://www.mygov.scot/benefits/social-security-scotland/ or you can contact your local Citizens Advice Centre at https://www.cas.org.uk/bureaux.

If you are an older person in need of support, please read the following information:

• Age Scotland have a free, confidential helpline which provides information, friendship and advice on 0800 12 44 222. It should be available Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.

INFORMATION FOR BUSINESSES


Your business may be entitled to reclaim the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for sickness absence:


• This refund will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who are either ill or been told to self-isolate because of COVID-19. This is in line with the recommended isolation period. Guidance on self-isolation can be found here: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19.


• Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020.


• Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19.


• Employers should maintain records of staff absences, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note.


• The UK Government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. Existing systems are not designed to facilitate employer refunds for SSP.


• The eligible period for the scheme began on 13 March.

Your business may be eligible for rates relief and grants:


• If your business occupies a property in the retail, hospitality or tourism sectors you will be eligible for a 100 per cent discount on your rates bill for 1 year from 1 April 2020. This will be regardless of the rateable value of the property. The property must be occupied in order to be eligible.


• You may be eligible for a grant of up to £25,000 if your business is in the hospitality, leisure and retail sector and occupies a property with a rateable value of between £18,000 and £51,000.


• You may be eligible for a grant of up to £10,000 if your business is eligible for the Small Business Bonus Scheme or Rural Rate Relief.


• Your business will be eligible for a 1.6 per cent relief regardless of rateable value. This measure effectively freezes the poundage rate for the coming year. This will not need to be applied for – it will automatically be applied to your bill.


• You will be eligible for these reliefs even if you are already in receipt of another form of relief.


• The Scottish Government is working urgently with Scotland’s 32 local authorities to ensure these reliefs are administered in the most effective way. More information on how to apply is available at: https://www.mygov.scot/non-domestic-rates-coronavirus/

If you are a small or medium-sized business that is facing cash flow issues as a result of COVID-19, you should read the following information:


• The new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch on Monday 23 March to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts.


• The UK Government is providing lenders with a guarantee of 80 per cent on each loan to give them greater confidence in providing loans to small and medium sized businesses.


• If you obtain a loan as part of this scheme, you will not be charged for this guarantee and nor will your lender.


• You will be able to apply for loans worth up to £5 million, interest free for the first six months as the UK Government will be covering the cost of the repayments.


• You will be able to access lending as part of this scheme from a large number of lenders, including the high street banks.


• Your business will remain responsible for the repayment of any loans granted to you.


• Further information is available at https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/…/coronavirus-busi…/

If you are a large business that is facing cash flow issues as a result of COVID-19, you should read the following information:


• Companies commonly sell short term debt, known as ‘commercial paper’, to the market. This is a quick and cost-effective way to raise working capital.


• The UK Government is working with the Bank of England to set up a new Corporate Financing Facility, that will allow the Bank to buy short term debt from companies.


• This will support companies which are fundamentally strong, but have been affected by a short-term funding squeeze, enabling them to continue financing their short-term liabilities. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.


• Further information is available from the Bank of England here: https://www.gov.uk/…/launch-of-covid-19-corporate-financing…

If you are a business owner, or are self-employed and you are concerned about your tax bill as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible for support through HMRC’s Time to Pay service:


• HMRC may agree, on a case by case basis, to assist with your business’ tax bill through the Time to Pay Service.


• These arrangements are tailor made and based on individual circumstances and liabilities.


• More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/…/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-aff…

If you own a restaurant or a pub that serves food, you may be able to operate a hot food takeaway without the usual planning process:


• The Scottish Government’s Chief Planner has made clear that planning authorities should not restrict pubs or restaurants operating a takeaway service temporarily.


• These measures will be reviewed in three months and withdrawn when the crisis has passed.


• More information is available from the Scottish Government here: https://www.gov.scot/…/corona-virus-covid-19---relaxation-…/

If you contract your services to large or medium sized organisations outside of the public sector, you should read the following information:


• The UK Government announced on 17 March that the reform to the off-payroll working rules, known as IR35, that would have applied for people contracting their services to large or medium-sized organisations outside the public sector, will be delayed for one year from 6 April 2020 until 6 April 2021.


• You, as a business or an individual, do not need to take any action.

If you are concerned about the impact of the deposit return scheme or tourist tax on your business, you should read the following information:


• The go-live date for the deposit return scheme has been delayed until July 2022 to ensure that businesses are not burdened with this policy during a time of crisis.


• The legislation to introduce the Transient Visitor Levy (‘tourist tax’) has been halted.

If you are concerned about whether your business can make a claim on business interruption insurance, you should read the following information:


• The UK and Scottish Government’s medical advice of 16 March is sufficient to enable those businesses which have an insurance policy that covers both pandemics and government ordered closure to make a claim – provided all other terms and conditions in their police are met. Businesses should check the terms and conditions of their specific policy carefully and contact their providers if in doubt.


• However, most businesses have not purchased insurance that covers pandemic related losses. This means they cannot claim regardless of whether government orders businesses to close. As such they should make use of the UK and Scottish Government’s package of support.


INFORMATION FOR CHARITIES


If you are a third sector organisation under financial pressure, please read the following information:


• The Scottish Government have pledged a £50 million ‘Welfare Fund’ to support their third sector partners, as well as other organisations, who will require additional capacity to deal with challenges as a result of COVID-19. This fund will be targeted at organisations who specifically assist those who are already vulnerable, for example people experiencing homelessness, fuel poverty or difficult living circumstances.


• The Scottish Government have also pledged a £20 million ‘Third Sector Resilience Fund’ to help organisations with cash flow.


• We are awaiting details on how these funds will be accessible to charities.

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