A running online summary of what help is (still) available

Covid cash - what’s left?

Visualisation of a covid-19 virus

A coronavirus

UK GOVERNMENTS have lifted measures to check the spread of covid-19. While they want us to pretend that the pandemic is over, the SARS-COV-2 virus is refusing to co-operate. Of course, the governmental declaration of victory justifies winding down financial support for people affected by the pandemic. So this latest update contains far too much about what support schemes have closed.

In addition to the remaining government support described below we must refer members of the National Union of Journalists to the Union's charity NUJ Extra.

This is our best effort at a running summary of what support is still available to freelances whose income is affected by covid-19. If you spot something missing, please email help@londonfreelance.org now. First, follow these links:

  1. Household Support Fund
  2. Local support for businesses
  3. If you need to self-isolate - tough, mostly.
  4. Loans, mortgages and rent
  5. Universal Credit and other benefits

1. Household Support Fund

The Chancellor announced on 23 March an additional £500 million for a "Household Support Fund". This is on top of £500 million announced last September the government cut Universal Credit payments by £20 per week.

The fund will now run until the end of September. The money is managed by local councils. Each sets its own conditions.

A reader informs the Freelance that we were the only news outlet to record what a shambles the government made of the first incarnation of the Household Support Fund, other than themj.co.uk - a journal for local authority chief executives.

To see what your local authority (council) offers, go to its website.

We checked an arbitrary sample of local authority websites that showed up in a Web search, several times starting on 9 November 2021 and most recently on 24 May 2022. For example:

  • Essex County Council seems to have decided that the government will be logical about it all: it says here "We are waiting for further information from the Department for Work and Pensions about the new fund from 1 April. Until then you can still get support.". Essex was still waiting for details on 23 May 2022.
  • The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is now geared up to make payments and has also extended free school meal vouchers and payments - for residents who are on a low income or unemployed or in receipt of certain benefits.
  • We have not managed to discover what the London Borough of Westminster is now doing. Over, again, to journalists covering the Borough to find out more.
  • We still seek details from the London Borough of Bromley. We note that "applications for the previous slice of funds closed early due to heavy take up".
  • The London Borough of Haringey has a Haringey Support Fund. Applications are open to those already on "qualifying benefits" or who declare income of less than £350 per week after tax for an individual.
  • All we find - even on 23 May 2022 - from Tower Hamlets is this expression of frustration in a paper to a committee in October 2021. We do find a limited Residents' Support Scheme giving priority to: those experiencing domestic abuse; families with young children; older people; people with longer term illnesses; people with disabilities; people with mental health needs; and households with a pregnant person.
  • The London Borough of Croydon may be administering grants under the generic emergency support scheme.
  • The London Borough of Ealing seems to have allocated some funds to a local welfare assistance scheme. On 23 May 2022 we found no details of this being extended.
  • All we have found from the London Borough of Wandsworth is a Crisis Assistance fund.
  • The London Borough of Lambeth has a Household Support Scheme for residents who receive certain benefits. It "provides in-kind support, such as vouchers, wherever possible, rather than cash grants".
  • In the London Borough of Hackney we think you apply to the Discretionary crisis support scheme.
  • In Islington, we think you go to the Resident Support Scheme
  • In Lewisham, try the Household Fund. This page noted on 24 May that the council is still waiting for details of the extension announced on 23 March.

2. Local support for businesses

Some local authorities may still be offering "local support for businesses" and as a freelance you are of course "a business".

In England, however, "Additional Restrictions Grants" ended on 31 March 2022. It seems that in Scotland Funding for businesses affected by Omicron control measures has also ended. In Northern Ireland the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme has closed; and Support Your Business refers you to loans (see below).

In Wales all national government Financial Support and Grants are now closed.

3. If you need to self-isolate

Payments for those required to self-isolate ended on 24 February 2022 with the repeal of the requirement to self-isolate. Freelances who work regular shifts and are ill may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay - see below - though this sneaky Regulation says you are not unable to work solely by virtue of self-isolating.

The part of the "NHS Volunteer Responders" programme that offered practical help to those self-isolating in England, has closed.

4. Loans, mortgages and rent

A Recovery Loan scheme was launched on 6 April 2021. In the October Budget it was extended until 30 June 2022. Some lenders are imposing earlier deadlines for applications.

The Scheme turns out to include four kinds of finance:

  • Term loans between £25,001 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to six years;
  • Overdrafts between £25,001 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to three years;
  • Asset finance between £1000 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to six years; and
  • Invoice finance between £1000 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to three years.

The conditions are that your business is trading in the UK and:

  • is viable or would be viable were it not for the pandemic;
  • has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; and
  • is not in "collective insolvency proceedings".

The government will guarantee 70 per cent of these loans, with the lending institution bearing the rest of the risk. No personal guarantees will be taken on loans up to £250,000.

See the British Business Bank for a list of 80-odd lenders.

Interest rates vary quite widely and, for example, HSBC is no longer publicising them up front. Shop around.

Do take qualified financial advice before taking out a loan.

Government small business "bounce back loans" could be used to support your income. Applications for these closed at the end of March 2021, as did those for a Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

For the record, bounce-back loans were for amounts between £2000 and £50,000. They were interest- and payment-free in the first year, and at a very low 2.5 per cent fixed annual interest after that - and are repayable over ten years. Also, you could take payment holidays on these loans, or periods when you pay only the interest, of up to six months.

Loan payment deferral

Lenders must offer ominously-named "tailored help" - see, again, excellent MoneySavingExpert.com advice. The statutory payment holiday provisons expired at the end of March 2021.

Rent

Those who rent are left with asking their landlord to discuss deferral.

The various tenancy hardship schemes have closed.

5. Universal Credit and other benefits

It may be worth trying to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at £99.35 a week - a £3 increase effective from 6 April 2022. On 21 February 2021 the government announced that from 24 March 2022 Statutory Sick Pay is available only from the fourth day of illness.

Everyone left out by the measures reported above - and who does not already claim another benefit - can apply for Universal Credit (UC). There are massive delays in the UC system - one that the Freelance believes was designed in the first place to deter claims.

The UK government ended the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, introduced early in the pandemic, at the end of September 2021. On 16 September 2021 it was reported that Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty, had written to the UK government pointing out that the Universal Credit cut is incompatible with Britain's obligation to protect its citizens' rights to an adequate standard of living. But no...

Warning: The BBC reports people who were receiving Working Tax Credit having it cancelled when they started an application for Universal Credit. They did not even complete that application, because they were concerned that their savings would make them ineligible. So if you receive Working Tax Credit or any other "legacy" benefit - take great care. The government later updated this advice page to reflect this: "even if [your Universal Credit] claim is not approved it will affect your tax credits if you claim them, and may affect other benefits".

Especially if you expect your income to be seriously reduced for some months, we strongly recommend that before you apply for a new benefit you use the moneysavingexpert.com benefits calculator to check what the effect will be.

The "monthly standard allowance" for Universal Credit (UC) is now £334.91 (from 6 April 2022). You should get more if you have children, have a disability or "need help paying your rent".

For a while, in response to coronavirus and pressure from trades unions, the government waived the "minimum income floor" (MIF) - the level of monthly earnings that UC simply assumed. That assumption reduces what claimants in work get.

The general waiver ended on 31 July 2021. Regulations that came into effect on 31 July 2021 provide that, until 31 July 2022:

(3) The Secretary of State may continue to apply the MIF easement... but only if it appears that the trade, profession or vocation carried on by the claimant remains adversely affected by the outbreak of coronavirus disease, and not for more than two consecutive assessment periods on a single occasion and not for more than six assessment periods in total.

(4) The Secretary of State may, if satisfied that economic conditions have sufficiently improved, determine that the MIF easement is no longer to apply to any claimant.

An "assessment period" is currently defined as one month. These regulations appear to give the Minister complete discretion to change the rules whenever she wishes. She of course delegates her power to "apply the MIF easement" to UC officials.

Only those who have illnesses or disabilities that affect their ability to work can get ("old style") Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This is £77.00 a week for the over-25s (from 6 April 2022).

You may be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance with, or instead of, Universal Credit, depending on your National Insurance record. This is available for those who are ill or have a health condition or disability that limits their ability to work. You can also apply for New Style ESA if you cannot work while you are self-isolating because of coronavirus (covid-19) and you are not currently getting Statutory Sick Pay.

What about savings for tax purposes?

The NUJ and sister unions pressed for the rules on savings affecting eligibility for Universal Credit to be relaxed for the duration. Instead, we got an accounting clarification. To quote moneysavingexpert.com again: "We've checked with Department for Work & Pensions, who confirmed that while they'd expect business savings to be in a business account, nevertheless 'if someone has money in their personal account to be used for business purposes, it won't be counted towards their capital'."

If your household has more than £6000 of savings that are NOT provably earmarked for such purposes, your UC entitlement starts to reduce. While you have £16,000, you get nothing. It would seem that, if you need to claim Universal Credit, you should simply declare the savings which are "truly personal".

We continue obsessively to refresh the list of published Regulations looking for details. As we do so, we fancy we hear the scritch of quill pens as the clerks frantically try to put their masters' pronouncements into something resembling legal language.

Claims and advice

Discussion and lobbying

For the record, earlier versions - a veritable palimpsest of updates - are:
  • here, updated to 6 April 2022;
  • here, updated to 23 March 2022;
  • here, updated to 12 January 2022;
  • here, updated to 9 November 2021;
  • here, updated to 16 September 2021;
  • here, updated to 29 July 2021;
  • here, updated to 31 May 2021;
  • here, updated to 19 April 2021;
  • here, updated to 15 February 2021;
  • here, updated to 22 January 2021;
  • here, updated to 2 November 2020;
  • here, updated to 23 September 2020; and
  • here, updated to 18 May 2020.
The first version, dated 26 March 2020, is here.