Martin Lewis shares 16 need to know coronavirus tips

You could be entitled to some tax back while you've been working from home.

MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis has released his 16 new need to know tips to help our bank balances during the coronavirus pandemic.

The necessary lockdown measures, which came into force last month, have seen many employers and employees have to make tough decisions in order to adapt in these uncertain times.

Though no formal decision has been made officially, it is looking increasingly likely that lockdown measures will be extended, leaving many people still facing financial uncertainty.

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The finance guru has liaised with the government, banks and more to try and offer some guidance surrounding our rights while the outbreak continues.

From claiming tax back for working at home expenses to food parcels during the Easter holidays, here are the latest tips from the money whizz's weekly newsletter:

1) Working from home? Claim tax back on additional home expenses

You may be entitled to some tax back.

Martin Lewis explains if your employer requires you to work from home and you've incurred increased costs as a result, like heating and electricity, then you're entitled to claim something back for them.

Millions of us are currently working from home, but in practice, apportioning the cost is tough, so you can instead opt for what's effectively a £6 a week flat rate.

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There has been talk of working from home continuing for some time, and detailed help is offered in Martin Lewis' new claim tax back for working from home blog.

But to summarise:

– You can ask your employer to pay you the £6 per week extra, free of tax. Though with so many firms struggling financially, asking now might be a case of bad timing.

– If not, you can claim tax relief on £6 of income, which for basic 20% taxpayers is £1.20 per week, or about £60 a year, and 40% taxpayers £2.40 per week, which is about £120 a year.

Martin Lewis confirmed HMRC have read this tip, so it could be well worth trying out.

2) The first £500 of all authorised overdrafts can be interest-free

In February, the finance expert shared that regulation changes would be coming into effect on Monday, April 6 to make banks ditch daily overdraft fees and just charge interest.

This meant almost all would charge 40% AER which is nearly double a high street credit card, making overdrafts the new danger debt.

In his newsletter, Martin explained nobody knew then quite how terrible that timing would be. Now the regulator, the FCA, has proposed emergency measures, via a lightning-quick consultation.

Over the next week or so banks should put in place:

– That for those struggling due to coronavirus who ask, the first £500 of authorised overdrafts can be interest-free for three months (for overdrafts under £500, the entire balance will be interest-free).
– Those with accounts that have an overdraft facility, who are struggling due to coronavirus, should be able to request one of these 0% overdrafts, subject to a credit score.
– For the next three months, no one should be charged more under the new about 40% interest rates than they were under the old system.

Though many banks have been offering some easing anyway, but this deletes the 'lottery' element.

See bank-by-bank overdraft help & updates for info on what yours is doing.

3) All credit cards, store cards, personal loans and catalogues must offer payment holidays

The same FCA consultation as for overdrafts above also proposes that all lenders will be expected to move towards offering payment holidays of up to three months on personal loans, credit cards and catalogue debts – so if you can't pay, you won't need to.

It's important to not just stop payments – you must agree it with your creditors first.

Once done, these payments aren't allowed to hurt your credit worthiness, nor can there be any penalties or charges if you do it. The MoneySavingExpert clarified with a few questions:

– Is it worth taking a payment holiday?Yes if you have an emergency cash flow need, no if not. That's especially true if the interest rate is high as it'll still rack up during the payment holiday, and as you're not making repayments it can be hefty. So only do this if you need it.

– Does this apply to car finance, payday loans & other short-term credit too? No, although I hear at least with car finance, the regulator is likely to make an announcement soon, though lenders are already required to show forbearance to customers. See car finance help.

4) Employer unsure about furloughing you?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme makes employers the gatekeepers to crucial state support. For those without work or who can't work, it lets them put their employment on hold while the state pays 80% of their salary – up to £2,500 a month, max.

Sadly though, many employers are instead putting staff on slashed hours, unpaid leave or making them redundant. There are many reasons for this, but Martin suspects one – especially for small firms – is simply due to confusion or difficulty.

To offer some clarity, the finance guru has created a cheat sheet here.

5) The Government changed its guidance – firms can now rehire and furlough staff who left after February 28 to go work elsewhere

As explained above, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme lets firms put staff on furlough. The official guidance has always said employers can rehire and furlough staff they'd made redundant after February 28.

Last week, Martin managed to get confirmation that nothing prevented the same happening for staff who'd left voluntarily, and whose future plans were then derailed due to coronavirus.

But without seeing this in black and white from officials, many employers still said it couldn't be done.

Thankfully, Martin managed to persuade the government to put it in black and white. It updated the guidance last weekend.

Full information and links to the official government guidance in rehiring and furloughing help.

But while this may help some workers, it still leaves many who started jobs after February 28 in a tricky situation.

Martin asked the Chancellor Rishi Sunak if he'd consider making the crucial February 28 date later, or look at other solutions but sadly, there are no planned changes.

6) Employers can furlough those who can't work due to looking after children or as shielding themselves in line with health guidance

Martin speaking from his house

There has been plenty of confusion over this.

Employers have discretion to choose to furlough someone via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, but some are wrongly turning down requests thinking they're not allowed.

Nothing in the guidance prevents furloughing in these cases yet as employers are nervous, Martin tweeted the Chancellor for clarification in order to help, and got back an official statement.

The Chancellor's response from his Treasury team: "Employees on sick leave or self-isolating should get statutory sick pay, but can be furloughed after this. Employees who are shielding in line with public health guidance can be placed on furlough.

"Childcare: Yes, if because of coronavirus closing schools you are unable to work and at risk of redundancy, your employer can furlough you."

7) Newly self-employed? Sadly the Chancellor said no to including you this tax year

Under the Self-employment Income Support Scheme, the state will pay 80% of average profits up to £2,500 per month – provided total annual profits are under £50,000.

The average profit is based on earnings in the three tax years up to April 5, 2019. This leaves those who started a business after that in the lurch. Even some who started the year before may fall foul, as to qualify, over 50% of annual income needs to be from self-employment.

Many have turned to the MoneySavngExpert team for advice.

Martin said: "To help, I asked the Chancellor Rishi Sunak if he'd change the guidance to include profits of those who submit speedy tax returns for the most recent tax year, the one that ended on [Sunday]. In his video answer, sadly he said no. Another gaping hole that needs fixing."

8) Limited company directors' tips, to come

The finance expert has had a few ideas to help those who work as limited companies – perhaps the biggest hole in support of all – though he's still waiting for official confirmation they're doable.

He said: "I'm afraid this is only about tweaks, not big changes, so don't hold out too much hope. Hopefully it'll be in next week's email, or if I get it earlier, we'll add it to the limited company help, and I'll tweet it. Just didn't want you to think we'd forgotten you."

9) Nine things the Chancellor could tweak to help people through this

The Chancellor has rewritten decades' worth of state-support policies in days – and the new employed and self-employed help schemes will provide crucial, much-needed support for millions.

But Martin keeps saying there are plenty of holes, so he collated nine things the Chancellor could tweak, including furlough, the vulnerable, childcare, self-employment, umbrella workers, limited companies and more.

10) Three tips if you're struggling with universal credit ID checks

The UC system is swamped, with 10 times the normal applications (use MSE's 10-min benefit check-up to see if you're likely eligible).

Call centre staff are working flat out in unusual conditions and people are encouraged to be kind to them during these tough times. Martin said he's had reports of people struggling, especially at the stage where you need to give ID.

Here are three tips to help:

– Make a note in your online UC journal of the problem, it should help ensure someone gets in touch.
– UC staff will try to call you as the form is incomplete without ID. Expect a 'withheld number' or 0800 number (but beware of scams).
– You can try calling the UC helpline, but it will be busy.

To show you it's worth persevering, Jen told the MoneySavingExpert on Facebook:"I honestly dreaded this process as we'd never been through it before. Tried the phone – too long a wait. Tried online – thought we hadn't successfully completed the process. Then they rang us. All done and sorted in a week. Thank you universal credit workers."

11) The Foreign Office now advises against travel 'indefinitely'

It had already advised against non-essential travel until Thursday, April 16 – now it's extended this, with no clear end date. In some ways this makes things trickier, as before this advice it was clear there was an end date.

Yet as this is now effectively a 'no travel until we say so' and we don't know when they'll say so, it's likely you'll need to wait until close to your travel date before airlines, hotels and travel insurers agree to refunds.

Though for trips before Thursday, April 16, hopefully the prior guidance means they can do that now. Help is in the Coronavirus Travel Rights guide.

12) Qualify for free school meals? You're due a food parcel or £15 per week supermarket vouchers even during the Easter holidays

You could get vouchers

The government has now put measures in place across England to ensure some form of food provision while your child's at home.

The school should be arranging, but if in doubt, check.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, similar schemes are being set up and you should also get free meals, vouchers or money.

Full information and help for all UK nations in 'free school meal' vouchers.

13) All National Express and most Megabus routes are suspended.

Details and more info in coach refunds.

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14) Most gyms are auto-pausing memberships

Bannatyne's, David Lloyd, DW Fitness First, Virgin Active and more are automatically stopping taking payments while gyms are closed.

Some are even giving partial refunds for unused days last month.

See gym-by-gym refund policies.

15) Unlimited cinema pass?

Odeon is automatically pausing 'unlimited' memberships, and Cineworld will be too from Friday, April 17.

See cinema pass help.

16) BT Sport customers can now ask for TWO months' bill credit.

Last week, the MSE shared BT Sport was allowing customers to claim one months's credit – now it's upped this to two, as there's no sport.

Those who've already claimed will get it automatically. Remember, Sky Sports customers can also pause subscriptions.

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