Thursday 21st May 2020
As part of the Citizens Advice Exeter and The Express and Echo weekly advice column, this week we focus on Coronavirus support for the self-employed.
I am self-employed and struggling to make ends meet. I have heard about the Government’s support for the self-employed, but have urgent money problems now. What help is available?
The Government has announced much-needed employment support schemes for many self-employed people affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. While the support scheme is very welcome, there are still groups who risk falling through the cracks. For example, people who have been self-employed for less than a year are currently not eligible for these schemes – we are calling on the government to make these people eligible too.
For those who have been self-employed for more than a year many are concerned about how they will keep their heads above water between now and June when the payments are expected to be available. If you are in this position, you might be able to get:
- an increase in your current benefits because your income has reduced
- Council Tax Support, Discretionary Housing Payments or Exceptional Hardship Payments (for help with Council Tax) from your local authority
- Universal Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance
If you are self-employed and:
- you get housing benefit or tax credits and your earnings have reduced, report this now as your benefits might increase; or
- you get tax credits and you are advised to claim Universal Credit, get advice before claiming it, as this might not be the best thing to do: or
- you are not already getting housing benefit or tax credits, you can claim Universal Credit.
The way pay is calculated for Universal Credit for the self-employed changed recently, meaning that more people can qualify for extra help.
With reduced earnings, your entitlement to housing benefit (HB), child tax credit (CTC) or working tax credit (WTC) may increase. You should report the change in your earnings to the local authority (for housing benefit) and to the Tax Credits Helpline on 0345 300 3900 or online at www.gov.uk
How many hours you work does not affect your CTC. However, if you stop work or your normal weekly hours reduce below the number needed in your circumstances (16, 24 or 30), WTC entitlement stops after four weeks.
If you do not have enough to live on, you may be advised to claim universal credit (UC). You may be better off claiming UC but get advice before you claim. Claiming UC means your tax credits (and housing benefit) are automatically stopped and you will not be able to get them back.
The widely quoted £94 per week from April is misleading as this the ‘maximum amount’ only for only for single person with no children and no rent to pay – the ‘maximum amount’ is much higher for renters, couples, people with children etc.
You can claim UC if you are in or out of work. Your income must be low enough to qualify. Any capital you have (but not the value of the home you live in) must be less than £16,000. The value of business assets are not taken into account while you are working, and if you stop work, business assets normally continue to be ignored for 6 months. When you claim, there is a 5 week wait before your first payment, but you can ask for an advance of that first payment, which is then usually paid back from your ongoing payments over one year.
UC includes an allowance for yourself, a higher allowance if you are a couple, with extra amounts for children and any disabled children, an amount to help with rent, an amount for childcare costs, and an amount if you are a carer or you are ill or disabled. These amounts are added together to give your universal credit ‘maximum amount’. Income you get during the month may be deducted from this ‘maximum amount’ to work out how much you get at the end of the month.
Many people are missing out on financial support or struggling to understand their options at this very difficult time. Please visit: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ coronavirus-what-it-means-for-you/ for information about what Coronavirus may mean for you.
Look out for our column next week when we focus on paying your bills.
The information contained in these articles does not constitute advice. Citizens Advice Exeter and The Express and Echo accept no liability for the information published. Citizens Advice Exeter is unable to respond to individual requests for advice through these columns. Copyright Citizens Advice. For the most up-to-date information, please visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk