The UK Government has outlined guidance for those concerned about paying utility bills or repaying credit cards, loans or mortgages due to the impact of coronavirus
People struggling to pay essential bills, due to the impact of coronavirus, are first encouraged to contact their providers, ask for help – where free advice is available – and explore payment options such as agreeing on a payment plan with providers.
However, the government has agreed on a number of measures with a range of providers to ensure struggling consumers are treated fairly.
These agreements cover the following sectors:
The government has agreed a set of principles with domestic energy suppliers to support consumers.
Energy companies will prioritise customers who may need additional support, taking into account Priority Service Register customers, prepayment meter customers, and customers who are vulnerable to having a cold home.
Firms may offer support such as:
- Reassessing, reducing or pausing debt repayment and bill payments for domestic customers in financial distress
- Referring customers who are struggling to pay to third party debt advisers such as StepChange and Citizens Advice
- Suspending credit meter disconnections
Firms will also support prepayment meter customers by:
- Extending discretionary/friendly credit or sending out a pre-loaded top up card
- Enabling customers to nominate a trusted third party to be able to pick up discretionary credit sent to a shop on their behalf
- Switching smart prepayment meters into credit mode or extending non-disconnection periods (consumers will be made aware any credit will need to be paid back)
- Contacting prepayment customers with advice on what to do in the event of self-isolation
All water companies have measures in place for people who struggle to pay for their water and wastewater services, these include:
- Continuing to help customers pay their bills through WaterSure, Social Tariffs and other affordability schemes
- Actively offering payment breaks or payment holidays
- Adjusting payment plans urgently to help with sudden changes in household finances
- Simplifying the processes for customers to get extra assistance
- Helping customers get advice on benefits and managing debts, particularly for customers who have not been in financial difficulties before
Telecoms providers are asked to:
- Prioritise support for customers who might be struggling to pay their telecoms bills, offer advice on managing telecoms debt and strengthen their work with consumer bodies such as Citizens Advice and other organisations who could help these customers
- Offer options to struggling customers, such as a payment plan, a cheaper tariff, or a delay on their payment
- Avoid disconnection for struggling customers, treating it only as a last resort
Mortgage holidays allow customers affected by coronavirus to defer making up to 6 monthly mortgage payments (although interest will still accrue during this period). Eligible customers can apply for these until 31 March 2021.
Alongside this, the FCA and government have been in close contact with mortgage lenders and further measures agreed include:
- Providing consumers with options when their payment holiday comes to an end to ensure they continue to get support they need
- Not repossessing homes before 31 January 2021, except in exceptional circumstances
Loans, credit cards overdrafts, motor finance and other forms of credit
The FCA has also made sure that those having difficulties meeting loan or credit commitments can request payment deferrals on:
- A personal loan, credit card, store card or catalogue credit product
- Motor finance or leasing payments
- Buy-now-pay-later agreements
- Rent-to-own agreements
- Pawnbroking agreements
Consumers have until 31st March 2021 to apply, after that, they will be able to extend existing deferrals to 31st July 2021, subject to a maximum of 6 months.
Consumers who are struggling with the cost of their overdrafts will also be able to request support depending on their individual circumstances.
The FCA has agreed a range of options for insurers to help customers. These include:
- Reviewing cover based on risk/needs to reduce premiums
- Waiving administration and cancellation fees
- Partly refunding premium payments where the whole amount has been paid up front
- Providing tailored support appropriate to the customers circumstances
The notice period landlords must give to their tenants has been extended, by law, to 6 months until as least the end of March 2021.
Alongside this, the government has provided a comprehensive package of support to help prevent people getting into rent arrears:
- £9.3 billion of additional support through the welfare system
- An extra £1 billion to increase Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates so that they cover the lowest 30% of market rents. This will remain in place until the end of March 2021
- For renters who require additional support, there is an existing £180 million of government funding for Discretionary Housing Payments
Tenants can also seek advice from specialist providers such as:
Each local authority has its own Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) scheme which provides reductions in council tax for low-income residents.
Business Minister Paul Scully said:
“We know it is a particularly difficult time for households across the UK, with many struggling to keep up with bills, loan payments and mortgages due to the impact of COVID-19.
“The government, regulators and industry acted quickly in March to assist as many people as possible, with measures including mortgage holidays, and support for energy, water and telecoms customers.
“I would urge those who are struggling to speak with their providers, seek out free advice and explore the payment options open to them.”
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