What to do if you are affected by Coronavirus

Read our guide to find out what benefits may be available to you

What help is available from benefits if you are affected by coronavirus

If your income has changed or you need to self-isolate due to coronavirus – whether you have the illness yourself or you need to care for someone else as a result – the benefits that may be available to you depend on your situation.

As this is such a fast changing environment the current guidance that we are aware of is covered below, but much of it could be changed or enhanced over the next few weeks. While the government puts more procedures into place please take our suggestions below on board:

In most cases, where you plan to start a new claim for benefits we recommend you start it as soon as you are eligible. Check our new claim for benefits section below.

If you already claim benefits and the impact of coronavirus means your circumstances have changed, our guidance varies depending on what benefits you are already claiming. This particularly applies to anyone claiming Working Tax Credit but in all cases check our existing benefits claimant section below.

Use these links to jump to the relevant section of the guide for your situation

Your income has changed

Depending on the circumstances of your household you may be entitled to income-based benefits such as Universal Credit (if you are under pension age) or Pension Credit (if you are over pension age).

All age groups and work types may also be eligible for help in paying council tax (rate relief in Northern Ireland). Plus, anyone in England who is working age and eligible for this help will be given an extra one-off reduction to their council tax bill of up to £150 this year. Some councils are also offering payment holidays and further discretionary help may be available. Check your council’s website for more information.   

Changes in income may be due to self-employed earnings being reduced or your employer asking you to reduce your hours or take unpaid leave. Either of these could be due to changing business needs or taking time off to care for children at home.

In March the Chancellor announced an increase of some benefit rates to help boost people’s income if they need to claim income-based benefits. The standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit have been increased £1,000 a year for a period of 12 months from 6 April 2020. These amounts are to help with basic living costs. If you need help with housing or you have children and/or caring responsibilities you may be entitled to more. The new rates have been added to our calculator for the 2020/21 year.

To find out what help you may be eligible for, enter the details of your new circumstances into the benefits calculator and we will work out your entitlements. If you are not reading this help page when doing a benefits check click the 'Start calculation' button at the top of the page to use the calculator.

It’s worth adding, the Chancellor has recently announced extra support for both the employed and self-employed. These measures are expected to work as follows:

  • Self-employed: A new set of measures called the Self-employment Income Support Scheme mean the self-employed (or those in a partnership) will receive a taxable grant based on 80% of their average monthly profits. The grant will be capped at a maximum of £2,500 a month for a minimum of three months (to be reviewed if needed).

    The average profit will be calculated based on the last three financial years at the time the announcement was made (ie 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19). If someone did not submit a self-assessment for the three full years only the years submitted will be used to work out their average and where there is only a few months' self-employment on the 2018/19 tax return this will be counted as total profit for the year. If someone missed the 31 January deadline to submit their tax return for the 2018/19 financial year they now have until 23 April to do so.

    The grant is open to all self-employed individuals who traded in the 2019/20 year as long as their average trading profit was below £50,000 a year and they also received their main income from self-employed earnings (they can therefore earn some income by being an employee too). They should have lost trading profits due to coronavirus but intend to continue trading again when they are able.

    The cash grant will be available from the beginning of June and payments are likely to be backdated to cover March, April and May. It will come as one lump sum payment covering all three months. HMRC will contact people directly if they are eligible or you will be able to apply directly via a simple online form.

    People will be able to use the scheme and carry on earning if they are able to but any money received via the grant will count as income in the month it is received for any benefits someone may also be able to claim.

    The government Business Support Helpline on 0300 456 3565 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm) can give advice on existing measures in place to help. Also see the new claim for benefits section below.
  • Employees: A new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will help to pay people’s wages so that employers don’t have to make redundancies. Grants will be available to employers to cover 80% of the salary of retained, or 'furloughed', workers, up to a total of £2,500 a month.

    Salaries include overtime but not bonuses or commission and people are not able to carry on working for their employer at the same time as being part of the scheme (although they are able to work for another company). An employer is also able to decide to top up someone's income above the 80% available from the government scheme.

    The employee needed to be on the company's payroll as at 28 February 2020 to be eligible. Eligible groups include people paid through PAYE via a recruitment agency, someone on a zero-hour contract, people off work due to childcare responsibilities, apprentices, nannies who are PAYE employees, people on fixed-term contracts, employees of companies that have gone into administration, company directors, agency workers, salaried members of Limited Liability Partnerships and Limb (b) Workers paid through PAYE.

    The grants will be available for at least three months and the system is expected to be up and running by the end of April 2020. They will also be able to be backdated if someone has already had changes to their income.

    Any money received via the grant will count as income for benefits someone may also be entitled to.

Working as an employee when you become affected

If you need to self-isolate and your employer does not offer paid sick leave you will be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay from your employer as long as you earn above £118 a week (from April 2019. This will be £120 a week from April 2020). Read our Statutory Sick Pay for more information.

See the 'If you are not claiming benefits or working as an employee' section below if you earn below this amount.

Already claiming benefits when you become affected

If you've had a change of circumstances due to coronavirus guidance varies depending of what benefits you are already claiming. This is a changing situation and we will update this section as more information is made available.

People receiving benefits no longer need to attend jobcentre appointments until at least 19 June. This also means if you need to contact the jobcentre you won't be able to go in in person unless you have a booked appointment. You should contact it online or over the phone.

If you are making any repayments for benefit overpayments, social fund loans, tax credit debts or other loan repayments from your benefits these have also been placed on hold until at least July 2020. Payments from current benefits, debt collection agencies or Direct Earnings Attachments from employers should be stopped automatically but if you are paying via your bank you should contact it to pause payments. Advance payments of Universal Credit will continue to be taken.

  • Working Tax Credit (WTC): If your work hours have reduced as a result of coronavirus (including your role being furloughed) and your new hours are below those needed to still be eligible for WTC (16, 24 or 30 depending on your circumstances), you do not currently need to report your change to HMRC.

    Because the WTC work hours rules are based on your 'normal' hours there's some flexibility built in to allow for short term drops and the government has confirmed reduced hours under eight weeks will be treated as a temporary and exceptional change. This rule will be reviewed nearer the end of this deadline.

    If your hours or earnings have increased, or your childcare has stopped, reduced or increased, you should report these changes in the normal way.

    If you decide to make a new claim for Universal Credit instead of waiting on WTC, once you make a claim you will not be able to move back, and it may not be in your long term interest to be in receipt of Universal Credit. This is one of the more complicated scenarios for coronavirus benefits advice so we suggest contacting a benefits advice service to discuss your options, see the links at the bottom of this help page. The Litrg website also has some useful information.

  • Universal Credit: If you are in work and already claiming Universal Credit report any changes to the hours you have worked in your online journal. If you are expected to search for work your work availability requirements have been switched off until at least 30 June. If you need to self-isolate other relevant changes may be temporarily applied to your claimant commitment. If in any doubt contact your work coach via your online journal.

  • Jobseeker's Allowance: Your work search requirements will not be applied and you will not be required to take up work or attend an interview until at least 30 June. If you need to self-isolate you should contact your work coach to let them know and this will not count towards a period of sickness that could lead to you losing entitlement to your benefit.

  • Sickness benefits: You will continue to receive your payments and you will not be asked to attend a reassessment until at least 24 June. Any planned assessments should have been rearranged. This includes Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

  • Carer's Allowance: You will continue to receive this benefit if you need to take a temporary break in caring. This may be due to either you or the person you care for needing to self-isolate. You are also able to include hours spent providing emotional support towards your threshold of 35 hours of care a week. If the person you care for dies, you can continue to receive Carer's Allowance for a further eight weeks.

Neither claiming benefits nor working as an employee

This includes people who are self-employed or who earn below the lower earnings limit (£120 a week from April 2020) to be eligible for statutory sick pay.

If you need to self-isolate you can claim Universal Credit (UC) and/or New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

During your application you may be asked to verify your identity. This is currently taking a little longer to process due to the increased number of applications. This video from the DWP explains how the verify system works, collect any relevant documents together before you apply to speed up your claim.

  • UC: Once you have started your claim online the DWP will call you back as soon as it can if it needs to check any of the information provided as part of your claim. Avoid calling in if you can. The date of any call back will not affect the start date of your claim.

    If you are about to receive a final salary payment from your employer you may be best to wait until after you have received it before starting your UC claim. This is because your final payment will be counted as income during your first assessment period and this may mean you receive no UC (or a reduced amount) for your first month. If this does happen your second month’s payment will be back to normal.

    If your final salary payment isn’t going to affect your UC payment by much or you can’t afford to wait you can start your claim straight away.

    It’s also worth adding, if you are self-employed you will not be assessed using the minimum income floor as it has been suspended in Universal Credit for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. Your next self-assessment tax payment in July has also been deferred until January 2021.

    Please note: The Chancellor announced an increase of some benefit rates to help boost people’s income if they need to claim income-based benefits. The standard allowance in Universal Credit was increased by £1,000 a year for a period of 12 months from 6 April 2020. These amounts are to help with basic living costs. If you need help with housing or you have children and/or caring responsibilities you may be entitled to more. The new rates have been added to our calculator for the 2020/21 year.

  • ESA: If you are not already claiming UC you should make your application for ESA straight away by calling the UC helpline on 0800 328 5644 (choose option 2). This is the case even if you are in the process of self-isolating. The phone lines are currently very busy but keep trying and ask to backdate your start date if it causes a delay to your claim. If you are already claiming UC ask your work coach about also claiming ESA via your online journal.

    If you make a new claim for ESA you will get help from day one of your claim, as the usual eight waiting days have been removed.

    You will also not need to supply medical evidence, such as a Fit Note, or have to take a work capability assessment. Instead you can apply for an isolation note to say you have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus via the NHS 111 coronavirus service.

These new rules apply from 13 March and currently last for eight months but this will be reviewed if needed.

Eligible for a means-tested benefit and have children

As well as the benefits above if you have children of school age you could be eligible for Free school meals. Now that schools are closed meals may be issued as food (for collection or delivery), or schools may also choose to issue vouchers, if your children can no longer attend school due to coronavirus measures. Ask your school or local authority for more details.

From 31 March schools in England are able to offer a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 per eligible child to spend at a range or food stores. The vouchers will be sent by your child's school - they may sent by email, to be redeemed online via a code, or sent to your house as a gift card.

In Northern Ireland the government has agreed to make payment to families who have been assessed as eligible for free school meals. For each child you will receive a fortnightly payment of £27 until 30 June or until your child’s school reopens if this is sooner. Payments will begin in the week commencing 30 March and will be paid directly into your last known bank account (you can update your account details via the eani website if you have changed accounts in the last 12 months).

Renting your home

If you are claiming (or start to claim) Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to help pay for your housing costs the Chancellor announced in March that the Local Housing Allowance amounts across the UK will be increased for the 2020/21 financial year. This is the maximum amount of benefit you are able to receive to help with your rent if you live in private rented accommodation. The new rates have been added to our calculator for the 2020/21 year.

If you are struggling to pay your rent your local council may be able to award you a Discretionary Housing Payment.

The government has also said that social and private renters in England and Wales will be protected from eviction if they have been affected by coronavirus. Emergency legislation has been introduced to say landlords must give at least three months' notice if they want to evict someone. Ongoing possession proceedings have also been put on hold until at least the 27 June.

The Scottish government has introduced similar legislation for tenants in the private and social rented sector to ensure there are no evictions as a result of coronavirus until a minimum of 30 September 2020. In most cases the protection here lasts for six months, except in certain cases such as antisocial behaviour, criminal behaviouror or where the landlord requires the property to live in, where it will be three months.

The Communities Minister has said no social housing tenant in Northern Ireland will be evicted for non-payment of rent during the coronavirus outbreak.

More information

We will update this help page more as details become available.

Visit this government page about coronavirus and benefits for more information.

One of the advice agencies listed in our further advice help page may also be able to help you.

For more information on mortgages, employment, energy and travel rights if you are affected by coronavirus has a range of useful guides - Finance & Bills Help, Life-in-Lockdown Help, Travel Rights