Your questions about Universal Credit and the government's coronavirus support, answered by experts

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The coronavirus pandemic is having life-changing consequences for many of us, with people losing jobs, going on furlough, or sadly losing loved ones.

Turn2us is a national charity that gives practical information and support to people facing financial shocks after life-changing events like this.

During the coronavirus crisis, we’ve seen a 520% increase in the number of people coming to us for support through our website, online tools and helpline. And we know many of you have seen your incomes fall to zero, with absolutely no notice.

That’s why we’re here to offer the information and support you need. With every announcement by the government, our team of welfare benefits specialists update our information pages and Benefits Calculator.

Callers to our helpline have been asking us lots of questions about the new benefits rules which apply to employees, the self-employed and people who claim benefits. So we've answered the questions we’re hearing the most.

🗣 I'm self-employed and I haven't got enough work to live on. How can I survive five weeks before my first Universal Credit payment arrives?

There are 5 million self-employed people in the UK who might be uncertain about their incomes in the coming weeks and months.

If you're one of them, the government’s provided some support which could give you some relief.

1. Apply for the Self-employment Income Support Scheme

If you’re self-employed, the Self-employment Income Support Scheme lets you apply for a taxable grant to cover 80% of your self-employment income, up to a limit of £2,500 per month (before tax). 

The government will calculate this based on your average monthly profits over the last three years. If you don’t have three years of accounts, they’ll take an average from the longest period you have accounts for.

It’ll take a few weeks for the scheme to get up and running, but the government can backdate grants to the start of March 2020. 

The scheme will be open for three months, but the government won’t actually pay these grants until the beginning of June.

Learn more about the self-employment income support scheme on the government website.

2. Apply for Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a single monthly payment from the government. It's meant to cover your living costs and rent if you're out of work or on a low income.

To check if you’re eligible for Universal Credit, use our Benefit Calculator.

If you’re eligible, you have the option to apply for an advance payment, which could be helpful if you really need money now.

But it’s important to remember that this advance works like a loan (albeit one without interest). So you’ll need to pay it back. 

For the first 12 months you claim Universal Credit, the government will automatically deduct money from your Universal Credit payment to repay the advance in instalments. So do your sums first to be sure you can manage these repayments.

🗣 I'm employed but I'm not getting any work. How do I get an emergency payment?

In March, the Chancellor announced a new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It gives businesses grants to cover 80% of people’s salaries up to a maximum of £2,500 a month (before tax). And it’s designed to help companies who’ve been affected by coronavirus keep paying their staff.

It’ll be a few weeks before the scheme opens, but the government can backdate grants to the beginning of March 2020.

If your employer is using this scheme, you’ll get paid this amount by them, not the government.

🗣 I've lost my job because of coronavirus

Despite the financial support available, we know some businesses won’t be able to keep all their staff on.

If you do lose your job because of coronavirus, you might want to apply for benefits. You can use our Benefit Calculator to check if you're eligible.

It's also worth knowing that on 6th April 2020 the government increased the standard allowance of Universal Credit and Tax Credits by £1,000 a year.

🗣 How can I find out if I'm being paid enough benefits? Mine seem too low

If your benefits payments seem low, it could be because of how Universal Credit payments work.

The government will pay you Universal Credit a month in arrears. This means they give you the money at the end of the period you’re being paid for, rather than in advance at the start. So it’ll take time for your payments to catch up with the fact you’ve lost your income. 

🗣 I need Universal Credit to pay my rent

There are caps on the amount of help you can get with paying rent in the private sector. So you might find that Universal Credit doesn’t reflect the amount you need to pay in rent. 

If you have a shortfall, you could contact your local council to apply for a discretionary housing payment.

On 6th April 2020 the government increased the standard allowance of Universal Credit and Tax Credits by £1,000 a year. But you might not actually see this increase in your payments until May.

In the meantime, do check what you’re entitled to in our up-to-date Benefits Calculator.

🗣 I can't work because I can't get childcare. What benefits am I entitled to?

We've heard from lots of people who are on unpaid leave but officially still employed, who think they can’t apply for benefits. This isn’t true!

The government bases benefits on your actual income, not your legal employment status. 

Use our Benefits Calculator to see what you could be eligible for to help cover your costs.

🗣 Even with the benefits I’m getting, the income I've lost means I’m struggling to get by. What other help is there?

Many charities offer non-repayable grants to help people on low incomes.

If you're eligible for this support could depend on things like where you live, your age, gender, current or past jobs, or your health. Some funds can help based on details of your partner, ex-partner or dependent children.

It might be worth trying to search for a grant for yourself and a separate one for your partner, ex-partner, or the person who needs help.

To find out what help may be available from charities who give grants, you can use the Turn2us Grants Search.

Check out our coronavirus and benefits information pages every so often if you have more questions, as our team updates it regularly.

Turn2us’ Coronavirus Appeal is raising money to provide relief grants of £500 each to those of us who are struggling to support our families during this growing crisis. 

Double your donation to Turn2us today by donating to the Big Give Turn2us Coronavirus Appeal 

We’ve invited charities and organisations working hard to support people through coronavirus to share their work and answer your questions.

Look out for more guest blog posts and tell us what else you’d like to hear about 💚