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Personal Finances

matthew
24th November 2020

Coronavirus: Impact on Personal Finances

Advice for consumers who are worried about the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to their finances, including the latest information on sick pay, mortgages, benefits and what banks are doing to help consumers.

The information on this page was last updated on 24 November 2020.

Employment and Benefits

Information regarding sick pay, Government financial assistance and benefits.

Do I get sick pay if I get COVID-19 or if I need to self-isolate?

If you need to take time off work due to becoming unwell from coronavirus, you'll be entitled to your usual sick leave and sick pay.

If you're self-isolating on Government advice, and would usually qualify for it, you should be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). SSP currently stands at £94.25 a week – you must be employed and earn an average of at least £118 a week to be entitled to it. If you are a gig worker and/or on a zero hours contract, you may still be entitled to SSP as long as you meet the eligibility criteria, which you can find here.

Changes to the law mean that statutory sick pay is payable from day one, not day four and will apply retrospectively from Friday 13 March. Information on the changes and details about how to apply for statutory sick pay can be found on the nidirect website.

The extension in statutory sick pay relates to those self-isolating due to coronavirus. If you are off sick for any other reason, standard rules apply and statutory sick pay will apply from day four, not day one. 

You must be self-isolating for an official reason. These are if you have coronavirus or if you or someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms, or if you've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111. 

Do not ask your GP for a fit note if you are off work because of coronavirus. Instead you can get an isolation note to send to your employer as proof you need to stay at home. Details of when and how to apply for an isolation note can be found on the NHS website here.

If you're not unwell or in quarantine but your employer asks you not to come to work – for example, because you've recently been abroad to an affected area – you should receive your full pay.

If, now that schools have been instructed to close, you need to stay at home to look after children, you should speak to your employer and explain what has happened. 

You should also read the relevant policies that exist in your place of work, as you may be able to request flexible working, emergency carers' leave, annual leave or unpaid leave.  Some organisations also have a 'special leave' policy which allows, for example, one day of paid leave in order to deal with the immediate childcare need and to organise alternative childcare for the following days or weeks. 

The important thing is to look at your workplace policies and come to an agreement with your employer.

For full help on your employment rights during the coronavirus outbreak, see the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) website.  You can also contact the LRA Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.

What if I don’t earn enough to be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay?

If you take home less than the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week – and you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, you can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or new style Employment and Support Allowance. Click here for advice on applying for these benefits.

If you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day 8, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate.

To find out more, or to apply for either Universal Credit or new style Employment and Support Allowance, you can contact the Universal Credit helpline on:

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344

What help is available for the self-employed?

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant extension

The grant extension is for self-employed individuals who were eligible for the initial Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and are actively continuing to trade, but are facing reduced demand due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Although you need to have been eligible for the initial SEISS, you do not n to have claimed the previous grants.

The extension will provide two grants and will last for six months, from November 2020 to April 2021. Grants will be paid in two lump sum instalments each covering a three-month period.

The first grant will cover a three-month period from 1 November 2020 until 31 January 2021. HMRC will provide a taxable grant covering 55% of average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months’ worth of profits, and capped at £5,160 in total.

This will be broadly the same level of support for the self-employed as is being provided for employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in November due to its extension. And then the Job Support scheme in December and January.

The second grant will cover a three-month period from the start of February until the end of April. HMRC will review the level of the second grant and set this in due course.

Again, this will be a taxable grant, so you will have to declare it on your Self-Assessment tax return and might have to pay Income Tax and National Insurance on it.

The online application service for the first grant will be available from 30 November 2020. Please keep checking this section of our website for updates. Visit the Gov.uk website for more information.

SEISS applies to those who were trading in the last financial year, are still trading now, and are planning to continue doing so this year. You will have made the majority of your income (over 50%) from self-employment and have a trading profit of less than £50,000 for 2018-19, or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.

It is a taxable grant, so you will have to declare it on your Self-Assessment tax return and might have to pay Income Tax and National Insurance on it.

If you receive the grant you can continue to work or take on other employment including voluntary work.

You can find out how HMRC will work out your income and profits by visiting their Gov.uk page here.

The scheme does not apply to you if you operate under a company structure and pay yourself a salary or take dividends. However, if this is the case, from December 2020 you may be eligible to claim at least 77% of your dividends through the Job Support Scheme if you’re earning through PAYE (details of this are in our Job Support Scheme section).

You should be currently actively trading and intend to continue to do so, and you need to declare that you are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus in the qualifying period (the qualifying period for the grant extension is between 1 November and the date of claim).

Covid Restrictions Business Support Scheme (for those ineligible for SEISS)

Self-employed people who have so far been ineligible for any of the Government funding packages previously announced, may be able to benefit from the Covid Restrictions Business Support Scheme (CRBSS).

It will be open to those working as mobile hairdressers or people who do not have a premises, like driving instructors. The scheme may also benefit firms who supply businesses that have closed under localised or national restrictions. More information is available here.

Grant payments will be split into three categories, as depicted in this infographic.

CRBSS will operate in two parts. Eligible businesses who fall under Part A of the scheme, that is those businesses that are required to close or cease trading as a result of the Health Protection Regulations, and are not eligible for the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme, will receive a grant equivalent to £600 for each week the initial Health Protection Regulations are in place. This will be paid in one lump sum. Part A is now open for online applications.

Part B of the scheme will benefit businesses which have not been forced to close, but are part of the direct supply chain to a business that is forced to close/cease trading under the Health Protection Regulations, and as a result have been severely impacted. Applications for Part B are not yet open. Please keep checking this page for updates.

You can defer your Self-Assessment payment on account due to coronavirus

You can still pay your deferred July 2020 payment on account any time up to 31 January 2021. There’ll be no interest or penalty as long as you pay in full by that date. For more information on how to do this, click here.

Other Benefits you may be eligible for

If you are self-employed you may also be eligible to receive Universal Credit and the new style Employment and Support Allowance. This is particularly beneficial to those who do not qualify for SEISS. Click here for advice on applying for these benefits.

To find out more, or to apply for either Universal Credit or new style Employment and Support Allowance, you can also contact the Universal Credit helpline on:

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344

If you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, and you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day 8.

What help is available if I work in the creative arts sector?

Both the Creative Support Fund and the Organisations Emergency Programme, which were designed to support individuals and small to medium scale organisations in the creative industries and cultural sector affected by COVID-19, have both closed.

The Health and Safety Capital Programme, for funding to provide equipment or minor works to enable organisations with a focus on the arts, closed on Thursday 1 October. Decisions on applications for this will be made by Tuesday 1 December 2020.

Visit The Arts Council for Northern Ireland website for further information in the Health and Safety Capital Programme.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland provide funding programmes for individuals and organisations in the arts sector from time to time. For updated information please visit website.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“Furlough Scheme”)

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows your employer to classify you as a “furloughed worker”. This means that the Government will pay a large percentage of your wage while you are unable to work because of COVID-19. This allows your employer to keep you on their payroll, rather than making you redundant.

The Scheme has been extended until 31 March 2021 (it was previously due to end on 31 October). More information on the scheme can be found here.

For claim periods running to January 2021, the extension allows your employer to claim a grant of up to 80% of your usual salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. 

The government will review the policy in January to decide whether economic circumstances are improving enough to ask employers to contribute more.

You don't need to have been furloughed before.

If your employer decides to fully furlough you, you cannot undertake any work for them during the time which you are recorded as being on furlough.

However, your employer can flexibly furlough you - if you agree, this means you can work for any amount of time or work pattern and your employer can claim the furlough grant for the hours you do not work, compared to the hours you would normally have worked in that period.

You will remain employed while furloughed, still be paid by your employer and pay taxes from your income. Your employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and your salary, but does not have to.

To be eligible for this extension, you must have been on the payroll by 30 October 2020. However, employees that were employed and on the payroll on 23 September 2020, but were made redundant or stopped working for their employer afterwards, can be re-employed and claimed for. The employer must have made a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) submission to HMRC from 20 March 2020 to 23 September 2020, notifying a payment of earnings for those employees.

Similarly, an employee who was on a fixed term contract, on payroll on 23 September, and that contract expired after 23 September can be re-employed and claimed for, provided that the other eligibility criteria are met.

If you’re on maternity or paternity leave which ends after the 1st July and you have not already been furloughed for at least three weeks before that date, you can still be considered for furlough after the registration cut-off date, but this will only apply to anyone that work for an organisation that has previously furloughed employees.

This also applies for employees returning to work following shared parental, adoption or parental bereavement leave. More information for is available here.

You can work for another employer while furloughed. This has to be permitted by your employment contract and you must not be providing services to, or making money for, the employer during the time which you are recorded as being on furlough.

Cross border workers who are temporarily laid off (furloughed workers) during the Covid-19 pandemic should stay on their employer’s payroll and be paid during this period of time.

The employer can then claim the appropriate rate from the Government.

If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit. Information on how to apply is available here.

You can also contact the Universal Credit helpline on:

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344

More details about the changes happening to the Governments financial help over the next few months are available here.

Job Support Scheme (November 2020)

The Job Support Scheme was due to open on 1 November 2020 and run for 6 months. Following the recent extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, this has now been postponed. The Job Support Scheme is designed to keep employees attached to the workforce by protecting viable jobs in businesses who are facing lower demand over the winter months due to COVID-19, or businesses required to close their premises due to coronavirus restrictions.

Firms whose premises are legally required to shut for some period over winter as part of local or national restrictions can receive grants to pay two thirds of each employees’ salary (or 67%), up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

Employers who are able to remain open, but who can only pay employees to work part-time can make use of the scheme to continue to pay its employee for time worked, but the cost of hours not worked will be split between the employer, the Government (through wage support grant to the employer) and the employee (through a wage reduction), and the employee will keep their job.

Neither you nor your employer needs to have previously used the Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme.

If you continue to work during the lockdown period, in order to benefit from the scheme, for the first three months you must work at least 20% of your usual hours. After 3 months, the Government will consider whether to increase this minimum hours threshold.

For the time worked, you must be paid your normal contracted wage. Payment for the time not worked will then be split in two. 5% of time not worked will be covered by your employer (up to a cap of £125 per month), with 61.67% of time not worked being covered by the Government (up to a cap of £1,541.75 per month), and the rest will be unpaid. Overall, this means you will be paid a minimum of 73% of your normal wage.

You cannot be made redundant or put on notice of redundancy during the period within which your employer is claiming the wage support grant for you.

Further guidance will be published in due time, but information about the scheme can be found here.

I would like to get alternative work during the coronavirus outbreak

If you’ve been furloughed, or are unable to make money from your normal work at this time, you may wish to consider looking for alternative work. There is currently high demand in Northern Ireland for labour in sectors such as health, retail and agri-food.

To see what positions are currently available you could register with Job Centre Online.

Additional help is available from the Government Careers Advice service. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 issue, the Careers Service is unable to take phone calls. However, you can still contact them via email and the webchat service, which is available Monday to Friday from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. For information about chatting online with an adviser visit their website here.

How is my Working Tax Credit affected?

People who can't work their normal hours because of coronavirus will still receive their usual tax credits payments.

If you are working reduced hours due to coronavirus or being furloughed by your employer, you will not have your tax credits payments affected if you are still employed or self-employed.

You do not need to contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about this change. They will treat customers as working their normal hours until the Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme close, even if you are not using either scheme.

You can still report any other changes in income, childcare and hours in the normal way. However, you must tell HMRC if you or your partner lose their job, are made redundant or cease trading.

For more information, click here.

My child gets free school meals

Arrangements have previously been put in place to ensure families who normally receive free school meals do not suffer financial hardship over periods of closure, such as school holidays, due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

This page will be updated with any future arrangements as they are announced by The Executive.

Eligible families have received payments of £13.50 per child per week directly into their bank accounts – with no need to apply. Payments are made by the Education Authority. 

For families with access to a bank account, they must make these details known to the Education Authority if they have not already done so. They can do this by emailing MealsandUniforms-Omagh@eani.org.uk. Please note, the Bank Account Name must be the same name as the claimant for free school meals, otherwise the direct payment cannot be made.

The Education Authority will work with families who do not have a bank account to ensure that food is available to vulnerable families and continue to identify and support children who would otherwise be entitled to Free School Meals but who, for whatever reason, cannot access the support that has been put in place.

Families in the Asylum Seeking community should access the school meals payments into their bank account if they have one.

Families in this community who do not have a bank account can receive a ‘top-up’ payment onto their Aspen Card. Payments will be fortnightly until the end of June, or until schools reopen (whichever comes first).

The Education Authority has released an update in relation to Free School Meals/Uniform Grants for 2020/21. From 6 July 2020, eligible families who are currently in receipt of support for the 19/20 school year will begin to receive pre-populated forms from the Education Authority which must be completed and returned. New applications will be able to be made online via the Education Authority website from 8 July 2020.

Disadvantaged pupils may be entitled to a free wi-fi scheme

The minister for the Department of Education announced this on 8 July 2020.

Free wi-fi and mobile connectivity will be provided to children and young people who may not have had access to digital technology during lockdown.

This is part of a scheme announced in May to lend digital devices to those children who would benefit most and to ensure continuity of learning when they return to school.

The Department of Education has been working with BT and the Education Authority to deliver the scheme which will run for up to eight months.  It is anticipated that access to free wi-fi will be available from the middle of August onwards for eligible pupils who meet the necessary criteria.

For more information click here https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/weir-announces-free-wi-fi-scheme-disadvantaged-pupils

 

Disadvantaged pupils may be entitled to a free Wi-Fi scheme

The minister for the Department of Education announced this on 8 July 2020.

Free Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity will be provided to children and young people who may not have had access to digital technology during lockdown.

The Department of Education has been working with BT and the Education Authority to deliver the scheme which will run for up to eight months.  It is anticipated that access to free Wi-Fi will be available from the middle of August onwards for eligible pupils who meet the necessary criteria.

For more information click here.

You may be entitled to a Government grant

Financial support may be available for short-term living expenses if you have a positive Covid-19 diagnosis or you are in self-isolation. A non-repayable Discretionary Support Self Isolation Grant may be available to you if you are on a low income and are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of being told to self-isolate.

This grant will include a specific amount for any children in your household and may be made for periods of more than 14 days.

To help alleviate the financial difficulties people face during the current COVID-19 (Coronavirus) public health crisis the amount payable for short term living expenses has been increased to the Universal Credit daily rate for a person and their partner.  The amount payable for children is based on the Income Support rate for children, as it is higher than in Universal Credit. There is no limit on the number children that can be included in an award.

Check out if you are eligible for the Discretionary Support self-isolation grant and apply as soon as possible once you have started to self-isolate.

Additional financial help may be available through the Discretionary Support Scheme if you are in a financial crisis and require extra support. Emergency measures have been introduced to include the introduction of a grant payment to assist with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. There is no limit on the amount of an individual award, which will be calculated based on individual circumstances.

The Annual Income Threshold for the Discretionary Support scheme has been raised to £20,405 (this is the level of income below which a person is eligible for Discretionary Support). The debt threshold has been increased also, from £1,000 to £1,500. 

 If you are a full-time student and suffering financial hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic you can now also apply for Discretionary Support.

For more information on eligibility and how to apply see the NI Direct website Discretionary Support Scheme.

How will the coronavirus affect my benefits?

Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)

All appointments at local Jobs & Benefits offices have been postponed. If you are already receiving benefits, you will continue to receive your payments. 

From 30 March 2020 until further notice, attendance at Jobs and Benefits offices for the purposes of signing for benefits has been excused. 

Work search and work availability requirements have however been reinstated from 3 August 2020 for new claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance.  

Staff in the Jobs & Benefits offices will be making calls to Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients to complete Claimant Commitments and to assist and advise on available employment services and ensure that claimants have the support they need.

If you experience a change in your needs you should contact the Department for Communities (DfC) to ensure you are receiving the correct level of support.

Carer’s Allowance

Carers will continue to be paid Carer’s Allowance when they have temporarily ceased to care for a severely disabled person due to either of them self-isolating or being infected with coronavirus.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, emotional support can also count towards the 35 hours a week you spend caring for someone who is ill or has a disability.

In line with public health advice face-to face assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will continue to be suspended and be kept under review, with telephony assessments carried out where appropriate.  Review activity will gradually resume from 21 July for PIP and Disability Living Allowance and measures have been put in place to ensure the payment of benefit continues until the review has concluded. If you experience a change in your needs, you should contact the DfC to ensure you are receiving the correct level of support.

You should not visit your Jobs and Benefits offices, but telephone them instead. The DfC has more up to date information about benefits and how you can contact your Jobs and Benefits offices here.

To speak to someone about Universal Credit, including making a new claim, you can phone the Universal Credit Helpline on 0800 012 1331.

If you are in a crisis situation you can apply for financial help by contacting the DfC Finance Support Service on 0800 587 2750 (Freephone) or 0800 587 2751 (text-phone for customers with hearing difficulties).

Benefit overpayments and loan repayments

Due to coronavirus the DfC paused recovery of overpayments and loans for three months.

From July 2020 DfC restarted the recovery of overpayments and over a period of months it will reinstate repayment arrangements that were previously agreed.

For more information, click here.

Additional help for those who receive benefits

Universal Credit Advance Payment

If you’re making a new claim for Universal Credit you will have to wait at least five weeks for the first payment, so don’t delay making a claim.

However, you can make a claim for an advance payment while you’re waiting for your Universal Credit payment. Talk to your work coach about how to do this once you’ve made your claim. More information is available here.

It must be stressed that the advance payment is a loan that will need to be paid back out of future Universal Credit payments. So make sure you only ask for what you need and can afford to pay back, as you may have difficulty in repaying which can result in further problems down the line, such as sanctions (where your Universal Credit payment is reduced for a period of time).

You can ask for your repayments to be delayed for up to 3 months if you can’t afford them. This is only allowed in exceptional circumstances.

Universal Credit Contingency Fund

A non-repayable Universal Credit Contingency Fund Short Term Living Expenses grant may be available if you are in financial difficulty (including new UC claimants).

An online living expenses grant application form is available and can be completed and submitted online without the need to download or email.  

 Further information is available here. Or you can phone using the numbers below.

Phone: 0800 587 2750

Text number: 0800 587 2751 (for deaf or hard of hearing users and customers with speech difficulties)

Budgeting Advance

You may be also be able to get a Budgeting Advance to help pay for emergency household costs.

This is a loan, and your eligibility and how much you can borrow will depend on whether or not you can pay it back.

To apply, contact the Universal Credit Service Centre via your online account or speak to your Work Coach.

For more information on either of these sources of help, visit the nidirect website.

What support is available if I suffer a spousal bereavement during the coronavirus crisis?

You may be able to get Bereavement Support Payment if your husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017.

You will qualify for Bereavement Support Payment if:

  • your spouse or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017
  • you were under State Pension age when your spouse or civil partner died
  • you were resident in the UK at the time of the death or live in a country where the UK has a relevant European Union or reciprocal agreement
  • your spouse or civil partner had paid a minimum of 25 Class 1 or Class 2 National Insurance contributions in any single tax year during their working life

For more information, including how to apply, click here.

You cannot claim Bereavement Support Payment if you’re in prison.

Housing and Rates

Information on assistance available for home owners and tenants.

What if I’m struggling to pay my rent or mortgage?

If you need to self-isolate and are unable to work because of COVID-19, you may be able to claim for benefits to help you pay your rent. Contact the DfC Finance Support Service on 0800 587 2750 (Freephone) or 0800 587 2751 (textphone for customers with hearing difficulties). More information is available here.

If you are worried about being able to afford to pay your mortgage, information on what providers are doing to help people affected by the coronavirus is available in the Banks and financial services section below.

Further housing advice is available from the Housing Rights website. (Advice is also available in Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Somali, Farsi and Arabic from this link).

What is the latest update from Northern Ireland Housing Executive?

The Northern Ireland Assembly has made a commitment to work with NIHE to ensure that any social housing tenant facing difficulties paying rent during COVID-19 will not be evicted.

The Housing Executive’s rent increase of 2.7% that was due to come into effect on 6 April will now not come into effect until 1 October 2020.

Housing Executive customers facing financial difficulties as a result of the on-going emergency should telephone their patch manager as quickly as possible for further advice. Housing Benefit payments will continue as normal.

All public reception areas in their local offices are closed until further notice. Staff will still be working and can be contacted on these telephone numbers:

  • 03448 920 900 - General enquiries
  • 03448 920 901 - Repairs
  • 03448 920 902 - Housing Benefit 

Updated information can be found on the NIHE website.

What can housing association tenants do?

The Northern Ireland Assembly has made a commitment to work with Housing Associations to ensure that any social housing tenant facing difficulties paying rent during COVID-19 will not be evicted.

If you are a housing association tenant facing financial difficulties as a result of the on-going emergency, you should contact your housing association as soon as possible. Also, please check your landlord's website and social media channels for updates. You can find contact details for housing associations on the NIFHA website.

Let your landlord know that you may have difficulty paying rent and ask what steps they are taking to help tenants at this time.

Further housing advice is available from the Housing Rights website. (Advice is also available in Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Somali, Farsi and Arabic from this link).

What can private tenants do?

If your ability to pay rent will be affected, it’s important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are experiencing difficulty meeting your rent. 

Landlords are being advised to deal sympathetically with tenants who may be finding it difficult to pay their rent. Under new legislation, landlords are required to give tenants a 12 week notice to quit period, during Coronavirus emergency period.

If necessary, the Housing Rights mediation service can assist in resolving any issues and can be accessed here.

If you are a private tenant in receipt of Housing Benefit, or the housing costs element of Universal Credit, additional financial support is available in the form of Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The rates of LHA are being increased from 1 April.

To check if you are eligible for LHA, please visit the Housing Executive website. Information about applying for LHA via Housing Benefit is available here.

Further housing advice is available from the Housing Rights website. (Advice is also available in Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Somali, Farsi and Arabic from this link.)

Housing advice for students

If you are a student and suffering financial hardship due to rental payments you can now apply for Discretionary Support. You should also contact your landlord or letting agent to explain your situation. Only then will you be in a position to discuss flexibility in terms of payments.

Landlords are being advised to deal sympathetically with tenants who may be finding it difficult to pay their rent. If necessary, the Housing Rights mediation service can assist in resolving any issues and can be accessed here: https://www.housingrights.org.uk/news/housing-rights-mediation-during-coronavirus-crisis

Further Education institutions may be able to provide support though student support funds or student hardship funds.

Queen’s University Belfast made an announcement on 9 October that students wishing to leave halls of residence to return home to continue their course online may do so for three months without being charged rent on their accommodation.

Queen’s have also increased their hardship fund to help students in financial difficulty, which can be accessed here. More helpful information is available on the Queen’s Students’ Union website.

Information for Ulster University students on a range of Covid-19 related issues, including money matters can be found here.

Further information for students can be found on the nidirect website.

You should also contact your representatives with The National Union of Students - Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI) who are currently lobbying the NI Executive on a number of relief giving issues such as rent suspension and access to financial support through Universal Credit.

Can I cancel my student housing rental agreement because Coronavirus has affected my course?

Due to COVID-19, your university or college course may at some point need to change from a location based course to one that’s delivered remotely, and you might want, or need, to move back home. However, students who want to end their contract with their landlord (including the university if staying in halls of residence) are unlikely to be entitled to a refund.

However, in the Spring of 2020 when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation. So, if more restrictive lockdowns occur, either locally or nationally, which prevent you from attending a course in person, your university may decide to do so again.

If you have a fixed term agreement with your landlord there may be no obligation for them to release you from the contract. Nevertheless, it’s still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord, and they may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.  

If you need some help with accommodation issues, it’s a good idea to contact the support services available at your university or college.

Queen’s University have a Student’s Guidance Centre on campus. Details of the help they provide and how to contact them can be found here.

Ulster University provide support via their Student Wellbeing portal on the university’s website. There are also Student Wellbeing offices at each of their campuses, details of which can be found here.

Emergency measures to help rates payers

Following a delay to help with Covid-19 domestic rate bills will now begin to be issued.  

The domestic regional rate (the part of your rates set by the Northern Ireland Executive for regional services) has been frozen for 2020-21.  This means the cost of the regional rate for domestic customers will be no higher for 2020-21 than it was in 2019-20. However, the cost of the district rate (the part set by your District Council) will probably change.

Anyone having difficulty paying rates in the current circumstances should contact Land and Property Services (LPS) to discuss alternative payment plans. LPS contact details for people who are having trouble paying their rates can be found here.

Further details about help with paying for rates can be found here.

The Finance Minister has also announced an emergency rates package to assist NI business affected by COVID-19. Further information is available on the NI Business Info website here.

Banks and Building Societies

Banks and building societies have announced various measures to help customers adversely affected financially by the coronavirus emergency. Here are some examples of what help is on offer.

Mortgages, loans and credit agreements

Mortgages

Speak to your mortgage provider if you are worried about missing mortgage payments. Explain your situation and ask what they can do to help you in the current circumstances. It is important that you speak to your mortgage provider and do not just miss a payment without communicating it to your provider, this could negatively impact your credit score.

Something that mortgage providers have been granting to consumers who are struggling financially due to coronavirus is a ‘mortgage payment holiday’. This means you agree with your lender that you will not have to make mortgage payments for a set amount of time. Mortgage providers may allow customers to take a payment holiday for up to six months in total.

However, it is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay as a result of the payment holiday. Interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe. This means that, at the end of the payment holiday, you will have to make up the missed payments. You are likely to end up paying more in the long term as a result of the payment holiday.

There will be various options for making up for the missed payments, for example by increasing your monthly payments slightly, or by adding a short extension to your term. Your lender will be able to explain to you what options it offers.

If you have not yet taken a mortgage payment holiday, you may still be able to apply for one. Also, if you’ve already taken a payment holiday, but are still struggling with your payments, your provider may also allow you to apply for another payment holiday or partial payment holiday, as long as the total length of payment holiday doesn’t exceed a maximum of 6 months in total. 

If a mortgage payment holiday is not the best option for you, providers are still required to provide some sort of tailored support. You will need to be as open and transparent as possible about your situation when talking to your lender. This will help make sure they give you options to manage your debts in a way that doesn’t create significant hardship or greater debt.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have published information for consumers which answer a range of common mortgage related questions. This is available on the FCA website. They have also published information on what customers can expect from mortgage providers, and what the FCA expects from them, which is available here.

Personal loans and credit cards

Similarly, regulations have been introduced for personal loan, credit card, store card and catalogue credit providers. Under these updated regulations, lenders must help you if you’re having financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19.

One way they can help is to allow you to take a payment holiday. See more information here. If providers of credit do not offer you a payment holiday, they are required to provide some sort of tailored support. You will need to be as open and transparent as possible about your situation when talking to your lender. This will help make sure they give you options to manage your debts in a way that doesn’t create significant hardship or greater debt.

If you have not yet taken a payment holiday, you may still be able to apply for one. Also, if you’ve already taken a payment holiday, but are still struggling with your payments, your provider may also allow you to apply for another payment holiday or partial payment holiday, as long as the total length of payment holidays don’t exceed a maximum of 6 months in total. 

If they do allow you to take a payment holiday it is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay during the holiday. This means that, at the end of the payment holiday, you will have to make up the missed payments. Also, interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe which means that you will owe more than you did before agreeing a payment holiday.

It is important that consumer credit customers who can afford to do so continue to make repayments. Borrowers should only take up this support if they really need it.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact your lender to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to your provider could negatively impact your credit score.

Bank Overdrafts

Support is available whether you need help for the first time, or if you’ve already had support with the cost of your overdraft borrowing. This support may include:

  • reducing or waiving interest 
  • agreeing a plan of staged reductions in your overdraft limit and your balance
  • supporting you to reduce your overdraft use by transferring the debt to an alternative credit product on more favourable terms

You should be as open and honest as possible about your situation when talking to your bank or lender. This will help them to give you the option that best meet your needs.  

To find out what your bank or building society is doing, and whether you need to act to benefit from this support, check their website. Links are provided in the list of banks and building societies below.

Contactless Card Payment Increase

The limit for contactless card payment has increased to £45. This will help limit the need to physically touch retailer card pin pads and ATMs.

Details of what each bank or building society are doing for affected customers are listed in the section below. Click on your bank or building society’s name for more information.

Allied Irish Bank (AIB)

If you do need to visit a branch, social distancing measures have been introduced. AIB have also introduced priority banking times between 9:30am and 11am for older and more vulnerable customers. All other customers must access the branches after 11am.

The first £200 on your arranged overdraft is now automatically interest free. Interest rates for overdrafts above £200 are also frozen at only 9.1% (variable) until 16 November 2020.

The deadline to apply for a Payment Holiday or a Payment Holiday extension was 31 October 2020 and applications are now closed. 

 If you are still experiencing an income reduction because of COVID-19 and have not yet applied for a Payment Holiday, AIB have a range of options that may help to minimise any financial stress and anxiety, visit their website or phone them on 0289 0821 682. Lines are open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, excluding bank holidays. (Call charges may vary, please refer to your service provider.)

 If you are in a position to continue or return to making payments it is in your financial best interests to do so as the cost of credit will increase because of the Payment Holiday.

For further information please visit the AIB Covid-19 Support for Mortgage Customers webpage.

If you have a loan, or an AIB credit card, and are struggling financially because of the coronavirus situation, AIB may be able to offer some support tailored to your needs. Visit the AIB website for information on how to contact them.

Branch opening times

  • 9:30am – 4:30pm Monday to Friday (Wednesday 10:00am to 4:30pm) (closed at lunchtime from 12:30pm to 1:30pm)
  • 9:30am – 11am priority banking for older and more vulnerable customers

Customer Services - 0345 600 5925 (9am – 5pm Monday to Friday)

AIB’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

AIB’s branch locator – Click here.

Bank of Ireland (BOI)

Bank of Ireland (BOI) have introduced priority banking times between 10am and 11am for older customers and their carers. Alternatively, over-65s and carers can call our dedicated line on 0800 783 8591 (9.30am to 4.30pm, Mon-Fri). All other customers must access the branches after 11am.

BOI are asking customers only to visit a branch if it absolutely essential. Most everyday banking can be done on line through 365, on BOI’s mobile app or over the phone. If you do need to visit a branch, social distancing measures have been introduced.

Customers who are self-isolating can authorise a family member or close friend to withdraw cash from their account on their behalf from any branch. To nominate someone to withdraw cash on your behalf, phone 0800 783 8591 (9.30am to 4.30pm, Mon-Fri). More information is available here.

If you’re a healthcare worker, you can phone the dedicated phone line 0800 783 8591 for all your banking needs, open 9.30am to 4.30pm, Mon-Fri. Alternatively, healthcare workers can contact BOI by emailing HealthcareStaffQueries@boi.com.

As of 5 October 2020, Bank of Ireland no longer offer their COVID-19 overdraft rate of 0% on personal current accounts. From now on current accounts will be charged at their normal rates (Clear Current Account 29.1% [33.31% APR]). However. They are offering to help you if you are experiencing difficulties paying off your overdraft. Visit their website for more information.

BOI are offering payment holidays to customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact BOI to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to BOI could negatively impact your credit score.

Mortgage customers are still able to apply for a payment holiday or an extension if you’ve already arranged a payment holiday. You can only have one extension per mortgage account. There may be alternative flexible arrangements you could discuss with BOI which are more benefitial to you. For further information please visit the BOI Mortgage Support page on their website.

If you have a loan from BOI, and are struggling financially because of the coronavirus situation, you can apply for a loan payment holiday. This gives you the chance to pause repayments without it impacting your credit file. You more information about applying for a loan repayment holiday, visit the BOI Support for Personal Loan Customers webpage here.

Similarly, BOI credit card customers can apply for a credit card payment reduction. This means you can temporarily reduce your credit card payments to £1 per month, for three months. Click here for more details.

Business customers may be able to obtain emergency working capital and BOI will be taking a flexible approach to payments on loans - if you are having any issues repaying back any loans please contact BOI to make them aware.

Branch opening times

  • 10am – 4pm Monday to Friday (closed for lunch between 12.30pm and 1.30pm)
  • 10am – 11am priority banking for over 65’s and carers

Main contact - 0345 6016 157 (8am-8pm Monday to Friday & 9am-5pm Saturday and Sunday)

Bank of Ireland’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Bank of Ireland’s branch locator – Click here.

Barclays

Some Barclays branches are closed or have reduced opening times due to the coronavirus crisis. To see if your branch has been affected, or if you are planning on visiting your local branch, visit their branch finder as opening times could change as the coronavirus situation develops.

Barclays have urged customers who are in financial difficulty or anticipate that they will be due to COVID-19 to contact them to discuss their options.

For vulnerable customers who are isolating and require cash, Barclays have a cash delivery service for vulnerable customers who are self-isolating. Alternatively, vulnerable customers can work with Barclays to nominate a trusted third party to access banking services on their behalf. You should contact your local bank to discuss your options.

Barclays are also prioritising NHS workers and other care workers in branches and on the telephone. When you call or visit a branch, where possible, you will be taken to the front of the queue.

If, before 31 October, you applied for a temporary interest free overdraft of up to £500, Barclays have temporarily capped interest charges at £90 per monthl until the end of your two months’ requested support period. After that, interest charges on personal current accounts will be temporarily capped at £180 per month up until 21 March 2021. More information is available here.

Barclays are still offering support to their mortgage customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus, including payment holidays or temporary reduced payments.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact BOI to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to BOI could negatively impact your credit score.

To view the support Barclays are offering to mortgage customers, visit this page on their website.

To call Barclays about your mortgage, phone 0333 202 7580 Monday-Sunday: 7am-10:30pm. However, due to high call volumes they recommend accessing the information online in the first instance.

Barclays are also offering a number of ways to support personal loan customers who are, or might soon be, financially affected by the coronavirus situation. For example, they launched an online application form for customers wanting to apply for a Barclayloan payment holiday, you can apply here. There is no need to call them after applying online – if Barclays accept your request, they will send you a confirmation and apply it automatically.

Barclaycard (credit card) customers can also apply for a payment holiday. See here for more information or to apply.

Barclays customers who have a fixed savings account may be able to access and close the account early with no additional charges.

Barclays also have a web page dedicated to helping customers with all manner of financial issues which can be found here.

To contact Barclays, please visit this webpage for options.

Barclays’ coronavirus advice – Click here.

Barclays’ branch locator – Click here.

Danske Bank

If you do need to visit a branch, social distancing measures have been introduced. Danske Bank have also made changes to opening times in some of their branches.

Only five of their branches across Northern Ireland will remain open on a Saturday: Donegall Square West (Belfast), Ballymena, Newry, Omagh and Altnagelvin.

The following additional branches are now closed each day between 12.30-1.30pm: Armagh, Antrim, Ballyclare, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Carrickfergus, Comber, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Hillsborough, Limavady, Lurgan, Magherafelt, Mallusk, Strabane and University Road.

The first hour of opening at each branch is reserved for vulnerable and older customers. Danske Bank are asking all other customers to plan their branch visits outside these times.

For up-to-date information about your local branch, please visit the online Danske Bank branch locator.

Danske Bank have requested customers who are worried about financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus outbreak should get in touch with them. They will then be able to advise customers on how they can help.

Danske Bank has set up a dedicated number for NHS, emergency services and care workers. You can find the details below.

Main contact - 0345 6002 882

8am-6pm Monday-Friday

9am-5pm Saturday-Sunday

NHS, emergency and care worker contact – 028 9004 9263

8am-6pm Monday-Friday

9am-5pm Saturday-Sunday

Elderly and vulnerable customers contact – 0345 601 0089

8am-6pm Monday-Friday

9am-5pm Saturday-Sunday

Danske Bank are no longer offering interest free overdrafts. However, they can arrange a suitable repayment plan with you, to help you reduce down your overdraft balance over an agreed period of time.

For more information about Overdraft assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, please click here.

Among the various types of support Danske bank are providing to customers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, are payment holidays on your mortgage, personal loan and credit card.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact Danske Bank to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to Danske Bank could negatively impact your credit score.

If you are worried about making your monthly repayments on any of these, or to see what alternative help is available, please visit the advice webpage on the Danske Bank website. To speak to an adviser telephone 0345 600 2882.

Phone lines for payment holiday enquiries are open 8am-6pm; Monday-Friday and 9am-5pm; Saturday-Sunday

Business customers who are worried about their cashflow have also been advised to get in contact or liaise with their relationship manager.

Danske Bank’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Danske Bank’s branch locator – Click here.

Halifax

If you need to visit a branch, social distancing measures have been introduced.

If your finances have been impacted as a result of COVID-19, up until 30 November 2020 Halifax current account customers can apply for an interest free overdraft of up to £500 for 3 months. Click here for more information.

Halifax are still offering payment holidays for mortgages, loans, credit cards and car finance loans.

Payment holidays may not be right for everyone as you will pay more as you take longer to pay back the amount you borrowed, and interest will continue to accrue on the amount you owe. You should, therefore, contact Halifax to discuss your options before applying.

Mortgage customers can apply for a payment holiday. Halifax have recommended that customers considering a mortgage payment holiday, or are in financial difficulty due to COVID-19, read the advice on their website. To apply for a mortgage payment holiday, click here.

Halifax have a dedicated mortgage application number, however it is only to be called if you cannot fill in the form online, for those who may not be eligible for a payment holiday and for vulnerable customers - 0345 850 3705 Monday-Friday: 8am-8pm, Saturday: 9am-4pm.

If you have already missed a mortgage payment please phone the following number: 0800 023 2679 Monday-Friday: 8am-7.30pm, Saturday 8am-12.30pm.

If you are worried about making your monthly personal loan repayments Halifax can offer payment holidays of up to three months. If you would like to request a personal loan repayment holiday, you can do so on the Loan Repayment Holiday page on their website.

Similarly, if you would like to request a Credit Card Payment Holiday you can find out how to do this here.

To request a car finance loan payment holiday sign into your online car finance account and follow the instructions. Further details can be found on the Halifax coronavirus advice page available here.

If you have savings in a fixed term account, you can now access this without being charged (excludes junior cash ISAs). To access your savings please call Halifax using the below number and they will arrange for your money to be moved into an account of your choice.

To contact Halifax, you can call - 0345 720 3040 Monday-Sunday: 7am-11pm.

Halifax’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Halifax’s branch locator – Click here.

HSBC

HSBC have temporarily reduced their branch opening hours during the coronavirus crisis. Branches will be open from 10am – 2pm, Monday to Friday. All branches are closed at weekends until further notice.

HSBC are no longer offering interest free overdrafts. However, if you are struggling to make the repayments you should contact them to see what help they can provide. Click here for more information.

HSBC are still offering payment holidays to customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact HSBC to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to HSBC could negatively impact your credit score.

Mortgage customers are able to apply for a payment holiday. For further information and details on how to apply, please visit the HSBC mortgage holiday webpage.

If you have a loan from HSBC, and are struggling financially because of the coronavirus situation, you can apply to defer payments for three months. This gives you the chance to pause repayments without it impacting your credit file. You can request to defer your loan repayments here.

Similarly, HSBC credit card customers can apply for a three month payment holiday here.

Existing customers can contact HSBC on 03457 404 404. Lines are open 08:00 - 20:00 every day. From outside the UK phone +44 1226 261 010.

Other ways to contact HSBC can be found here.

Branch opening times

10am – 2pm Monday to Friday

HSBC’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

HSBC’s branch locator – Click here.

Marks and Spencer's (M&S)

Due to Coronavirus, not all of M&S bank and Bureaux de Change branches are open. Visit their branch finder to find out if your local branch is open.

M&S are still offering payment holidays to customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus. Visit their website for more information.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact M&S to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to M&S could negatively impact your credit score.

Mortgage customers are able to apply for a payment holiday. Alternatively, you can apply to a reduced payment arrangement, or to extending the term of your mortgage. Please call 0345 002 1127 to discuss your circumstances.

If you have a loan from M&S, and are struggling financially because of the coronavirus situation, you can apply to defer payments for three months. To request a deferral of three monthly loan repayments, you can fill out their online form.

Similarly, M&S credit card customers can apply for a three month payment holiday by filling out this online form.

In order to pay your credit card bill without the need to access a branch, M&S have advice on paying remotely here.

Customers are able to access their fixed-rate savings accounts without closure charges. If you're financially impacted by Covid-19 and need to access your savings, they are waiving access restrictions and early closure fees for the M&S Bank Fixed Rate Saver product. Customers can still close their Monthly Saver account and withdraw the funds earlier if they need to. 

M&S Bank is also allowing customers to request increase their credit card and overdraft limit - this would be reviewed and tailored on the basis of individual customer circumstances.

To contact M&S, please call their general enquiries line on:

Calling from the UK: 0345 600 5860

Calling from overseas: +44(0)1244 879080

Lines are open 8am-8pm

During 6-7pm each day, all lines are reserved for NHS workers. M&S Bank have requested that all other customers avoid calling them for their routine banking needs during these hours.

M&S’ coronavirus advice – Click here.

Monzo Bank

Interest free overdrafts and repayment holidays came to an end on 31 October. However if you are struggling financially, Monzo would like you to contact them to see what help they can provide. They recommend doing this via their app.

If you need to speak to them, telephone 0800 802 1281

Monzo’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Nationwide

Nationwide have reduced their branch opening hours. Most branches are open 10am to 2pm Monday to Friday. However, some branches are now open 9am to 3pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 12pm Saturday. Before visiting your local branch, find out their opening times here.

However, they are encouraging members to sign up for internet banking and their banking app. Details of how to do this are available here.

Nationwide are no longer offering interest free overdrafts. However, if you are struggling to make the repayments you should contact them to see what help they can provide. Visit their website for more information.

Nationwide are offering payment holidays to customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact Nationwide to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to Nationwide could negatively impact your credit score.

Mortgage customers are able to apply for a three month payment holiday. If you’ve previously been given a three month payment holiday, you can apply for another, but the maximum period is six months in total. For further information and details on how to apply, please visit the Nationwide mortgage holiday webpage. They also provide details of alternative options to a payment holiday, which may be more beneficial to you.

If you have a loan from Nationwide, and are struggling financially because of the coronavirus situation, you can apply for a loan “payment holiday”. Under this loan “payment holiday”, you will be able to reduce your monthly payments to £1 per month, for three months. This gives you the chance to reduce your repayments without it impacting your credit file. You can request to apply here.

Similarly, Nationwide credit card customers can apply for a credit card payment reduction. This means you can temporarily reduce your credit card payments to £1 per month, for three months. Click here for more details.

If you have savings in a fixed term bond account, you are also able to withdraw money and close your account early without any penalties. Visit the website for more details.

Nationwide’s contact details can be found on this page of their website.

Branch opening times

10am – 2pm Monday to Thursday

Nationwide’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Nationwide’s branch locator – Click here.

Progressive Building Society

If you need to visit a branch, social distancing measures have been introduced. Progressive have also reduced their branch opening hours during the coronavirus crisis. Branches in Northern Ireland are open Monday to Friday, 9am – 3pm and Saturday 9:30am – 12:30pm.

Smaller Agency branches may have closed their doors to visitors, but may still be contactable via telephone and the internet. Please telephone your local Progressive branch to find out how they can help you.

Depending on the type of savings account you have, you can transfer money into the account electronically from your bank account. Click here for details of how to manage your savings account.

If you need to contact Progressive, they have an online form you can complete, they will then get back to you. Alternatively, you can call them Mon-Fri between 9am and 5pm using the following numbers:

  • Mortgage Helpline - 02890 160950
  • Savings Helpline - 02890 160949

If you are having problems paying your mortgage, they also have a callback form you can fill in online to request further help or information regarding mortgages, and well as savings products, or to book an appointment with a qualified mortgage advisor.

Branch opening times

9am – 12pm Monday to Friday

Progressive’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Progressive’s branch locator – Click here.

Santander

The majority of branches have reduced their hours to 10am-2pm, Monday to Friday and no branches will be open at weekends. There are a number of exceptions to weekday opening times so please check out their branch locator.

If your finances have been impacted as a result of COVID-19, Santander current account customers can apply for an interest free overdraft of up to £500 for 3 months. Click here for more information.

Santander are still offering payment holidays to customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact Santander to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to Santander could negatively impact your credit score.

Mortgage customers are able to apply for a payment holiday. If you’ve already had a payment holiday, you may be able to get another, but the maximum period is six months. For further information and details on how to apply, please visit the Santander mortgage holiday webpage.

If you have a loan from Santander, and are struggling financially because of the coronavirus situation, you can apply for a payment holiday for three months. This gives you the chance to pause repayments without it impacting your credit file. If you’ve already had a payment holiday, you may be able to get another, but the maximum period is six months. Details, and how to apply, are available here.

Similarly, Santander credit card customers can apply for a three month payment holiday here. They have also removed the late payment fee and cash advance charge on credit cards until 6 July 2020.

You can access your money held in Santander fixed rate bonds and fixed rate ISAs before the end of the fixed term without being charged any fees. 

You may also be able to get help if you have monthly payment to a Santander Home Insurance policy or a Santander Car Insurance policy. Click on each link for details on how to access help with these policies.

Santander business customers have been advised to speak to their local Relationship Manager if they are in financial difficulty due to Coronavirus.

To contact Santander, please try using online chat and social media if you can as phone lines are very busy. If you would prefer to phone them, please call 0800 912 3123 (open 24 hours a day, seven days a week).

Branch opening times

10am – 2pm Monday to Friday (at majority of branches – please check details of your local branch on the branch locator below)

Santander’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Santander’s branch locator – Click here.

Tesco Bank

Tesco Bank are no longer offering interest free overdrafts. However, if you are struggling to make the repayments you should contact them to see what help they can provide. Click here for more information.

If you are struggling with your finances as a result of COVID-19, or if your loan or credit card payment holiday has come to an end and you are finding it hard to make the repayments, you should contact Tesco Bank to see what help they can provide. Visit their website for more information.

Tesco Bank customers who have a Fixed Rate Saver or Fixed Rate Cash ISA are able to access and close the account early with no additional charges. To do this, call 0345 300 4547.

Tesco Bank will not be charging customers fees if they make any changes or cancel their insurance policy.

To contact Tesco Bank, click here to find out contact details and opening times.

Tesco Bank’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Ulster Bank

Ulster Bank are no longer offering interest free overdrafts. However, if you are struggling to make the repayments you should contact them to see what help they can provide. Visit their website for more information.

Ulster Bank may also be able to help you if you are still struggling to make repayments on your mortgage, personal loan or credit card agreements. Visit their coronavirus support webpage to find out more.

If you have savings in a Ulster Bank fixed savings account, you are also able to withdraw money and close your account early without any penalties. To do this, please phone Ulster Bank on 03457 424 365. You can also close your fixed term savings account through Anytime Banking or your mobile app. Click here for more information.

Support for Ulster Bank business customers is available here.

Contact details for Ulster Bank are available here.

Ulster Bank’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Ulster Bank’s branch locator – Click here.

Virgin Money

Virgin Money are allowing current account customers to apply for an interest free arranged overdraft buffer of up to £500. Even if you have an arranged overdraft which is less than £500, the buffer will mean that you won't pay any debit interest on the amount you choose to use up to £500. The buffer will last for 3 months from the day you apply. More details are available here.

If you don’t currently have an arranged overdraft, you can apply for one here.

Virgin Money are also offering payment holidays to customers who have been financially impacted by Coronavirus.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact Virgin Money to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to Santander could negatively impact your credit score.

Mortgage customers are able to apply for a three month payment holiday. For further information and details on how to apply, please visit the Virgin Money mortgage holiday webpage.

Similarly, Virgin Money credit card customers can apply for a three month payment holiday here.

To contact Virgin Money, visit their website for more information.

Virgin stores opening times have changed temporarily. Please visit their store locator below for details on your local store.

Virgin Money’s coronavirus advice – Click here.

Virgin’s store locator – Click here.

Credit Unions

Information for credit union members

If you are a member of a credit union and you have any concerns during the current crisis, we would urge you to contact them either by phone or online. Check your local credit union’s opening hours to ensure their phone lines are open, or for a quick email response.

Credit unions are remaining open. If you need to physically visit your branch, please check the opening hours in advance as they are implementing strict social distancing and other COVID-19 preventative measures.

Some branches are also making arrangements (such as dedicated access hours) for older and more vulnerable members. Please check your credit union's website for this type of information.

Many credit unions also have an online banking facility where you can login or register directly on their website.

Find your local credit union

Credit unions are affiliated to either the Irish League of Credit Unions or the Ulster Federation of Credit Unions. To find your local branch it is advisable to look on the websites of both organisations.

For more help with finances such as how to look after your money efficiently, your options for borrowing money safely and where to go to for help if you are in debt, please visit the ‘True Cost’ page on our website.

Access To Cash for Vulnerable People and Alternative Ways to Pay for Things

Access to cash for people in self-isolation

If you have been advised to stay at home under all circumstances, there are options available for you to access your cash.

The Post Office’s “Payout Now” scheme allows people who are shielded or self-isolating to maintain access to cash without having to hand over a debit card and Pin to somebody else. 

You tell your bank exactly how much you want to withdraw from your account, up to a set limit, and they will send you a one-time barcode voucher by either SMS text, email or post. This allows a family member, a trusted friend or a volunteer to collect the cash on your behalf at a Post Office branch in exchange for the voucher.

Post Office have also launched the “Fast PACE” service which allows you to name a trusted individual, such as carer or family member, to cash a pre authorised cheque on your behalf at a Post Office branch.

Please be aware that, while these Post Office services have been made available to every bank, building society or credit union in Northern Ireland, it is up to the individual financial service provider as to whether or not they use them to provide cash.

Some providers have their own access to cash process in place. Please contact your bank, building society or credit union to see what they are offering and discuss how you can access your money.

Alternative ways to pay for things

Over the coming months, at some point some of you may find yourself unable to leave your home for basic supplies – such as groceries or medical products. This may be for a short time, or it may be for an extended period if you are in a high-risk category, as specified by the UK government.

Regardless, there are several ways for you to pay for these items whether you have access to the internet or not. UK Finance have a lot of useful advice on their website which covers this.

The services offered by individual banks or building societies will differ, but providers are keeping their websites up to date with the latest information to help their customers.

Finance and Debt Advice

Advice on managing your money during the coronavirus crisis

You may have noticed your spending has changed during the coronavirus crisis. For example, you may find you are using more energy, your food bills are bigger or perhaps you are spending less on transport.

Online interactive budgeting tool

The Council Consumer has a free online interactive budgeting tool that can help you manage your money and identify areas where you can potentially make savings.

There is no need to enter any sensitive personal or banking information, as our budgeting tool is straightforward to use and only requires you to enter your income and outgoings.

The budgeting tool then provides you with a spending report that allows you to easily and transparently review your spending, see where your money is going and potentially identify key areas to cut costs. The tool will even signpost you to free tools and advice agencies to help you save money.

The interactive budgeting tool is available by visiting budgettool.consumercouncil.org.uk.

Downloadable budget planner

There is also a free downloadable budgeting planner if you prefer to review your spending on paper. You can call us on 0800 121 6022 to request a printed copy.

Energy Price Comparison Tool

We can also help you to save money on your energy bills. Our energy price comparison tool will enable you to compare electricity and gas tariffs for every supplier in Northern Ireland.

Weekly home heating oil prices

Our weekly oil survey provides the average, cheapest and dearest oil prices in Northern Ireland. Updated every week, consumers can also find the average price of home heating oil in their own locality by visiting home heating oil survey.

I’m worried about getting into debt, or my debt getting worse

You may have payment agreements with creditors (lenders) other than the main financial institutions like, banks and building societies. For example, you may have hire purchase agreements, car finance, insurance, catalogue accounts or store cards.

The Financial Conduct Authority (the regulatory body for financial services) have introduced a number of measures to help customers during the coronavirus pandemic. These changes are intended to provide help for short-term cash flow problems.

Financial service providers must help you if you’re having financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19. Under the circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic, lenders are showing a great deal of forbearance when it comes repayments.

If you’re struggling to make your loan payments, firms should consider:

  • suspending, reducing, waiving or cancelling any further interest or charges
  • deferring payment of arrears
  • accepting smaller payments for a reasonable period of time

Contact your provider, or visit their website or social media, to see what help they may be providing to customers facing financial difficulties as a result of the on-going emergency. It is far better to do this than to miss payments without permission.

It is important to take the time to consider whether or not a payment holidays is the best option for you given your own circumstances, as it is just a suspension of payments. You will still owe the same amount of money and you will continue to accrue interest on it during the payment holiday.

If you feel that you have no option but to borrow cash fast, or your financial situation is a constant worry, there is help available.

Visit our 'True Cost' webpage here for helpful information about where to go to for help. 

A list of advice agencies that may be able to help you if you are worried about debt is available here.

Personal loans (guarantor loans, logbook loans and home collected credit), store cards and catalogue credit

Regulations have been introduced for personal loan, store card and catalogue credit providers. Under these updated regulations, lenders must help you if you’re having financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19.

One way they can help is to allow you to take a payment holiday. See more information here. If providers of credit do not offer you a payment holiday, they are required to provide some sort of tailored support. You will need to be as open and transparent as possible about your situation when talking to your lender. This will help make sure they give you options to manage your debts in a way that doesn’t create significant hardship or greater debt.

If you have not yet taken a payment holiday, you may still be able to apply for one. Also, if you’ve already taken a payment holiday, but are still struggling with your payments, your provider may also allow you to apply for another payment holiday or partial payment holiday, as long as the total length of payment holidays don’t exceed a maximum of 6 months in total. 

If they do allow you to take a payment holiday it is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay during the holiday. This means that, at the end of the payment holiday, you will have to make up the missed payments. Also, interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe which means that you will owe more than you did before agreeing a payment holiday.

It is important that consumer credit customers who can afford to do so continue to make repayments. Borrowers should only take up this support if they really need it.

A payment holiday may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact your lender to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to your provider could negatively impact your credit score.

I’m struggling to keep up with my motor finance payments

If you are having trouble meeting finance or leasing payments due to COVID-19, you can apply for a payment freeze of up to a total of six months.

However, it is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay as a result of the payment freeze. This means that, at the end of the payment freeze, you will have to make up the missed payments. Also, interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe which means that you will owe more than you did before agreeing a payment freeze.

A payment freeze may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact your finance provider to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to your provider could negatively impact your credit score.

Firms should not alter agreements in a way that is unfair. If you want to keep your vehicle at the end of your PCP agreement, but, due to COVID-19 can’t afford it, firms should work with you to find a solution.

High-cost short-term credit payments (including payday loans)

If you can’t make payments due to coronavirus, you can request a payment freeze on your high-cost short-term credit loan for at least 1 month. These loans usually charge high interest rates but under the current circumstances, the lender should not charge any additional interest.

The application for a payment deferral can only be made once.

If you need any further support with regard to repaying your loan, you should always speak to your lender to make them aware of your financial position. The lender should then work with you to see what additional forbearance measures they can put in place.

Rent-to-own agreements

If Coronavirus has left you in financial difficulty, you can apply for a repayment deferral of up to six months on your rent-to-own agreement.

Borrowers who are currently benefitting from a first payment deferral are able to apply for a second deferral, but the total deferral period must not be more than six months.

It is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay as a result of the payment deferral. This means that, at the end of the payment deferral, you will have to make up the missed payments. Also, interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe which means that you will owe more than you did before agreeing a payment deferral.

A payment deferral may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact your finance provider to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to your provider could negatively impact your credit score.

Additionally, if at the end of the payment deferral period you need any further support with regard to making payments, you should always speak to your finance provider to make them aware of your financial position. The provider should then work with you to see what additional forbearance measures they can put in place.

If you need the goods during this period, they will not be repossessed. Currently rent-to-own firms are unable to collect or repossess your goods, but they should not charge you extra for this (unavoidable) extension of your agreement.

Buy-now pay-later agreements

With ‘buy now, pay later’ agreements, If Covid-19 has resulted in your finances being affected, you can ask for a repayment deferral of up to six months.

Borrowers who are currently benefitting from a first payment deferral are able to apply for a second deferral, but the total deferral period must not be more than six months.

It is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay as a result of the payment deferral. This means that, at the end of the payment deferral, you will have to make up the missed payments. Also, interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe which means that you will owe more than you did before agreeing a payment deferral.

A payment deferral may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact your finance provider to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to your provider could negatively impact your credit score.

Additionally, if at the end of the payment deferral period you need any further support with regard to making payments, you should always speak to your finance provider to make them aware of your financial position. The provider should then work with you to see what additional forbearance measures they can put in place.

If you are within a promotional period, your lender should mirror that period with the length of the deferral period. During a promotional period, you do not have to make repayments each month but will be charged interest on any balance you have not paid back by the end of that period.

Pawnbroking

If you are having temporary difficulties meeting payments due to coronavirus, you can request a deferral on payments on your pawnbroking agreement for up to six months.

Borrowers who are currently benefitting from a first payment deferral are able to apply for a second deferral, but the total deferral period must not be more than six months.

It is important to remember that you still owe the amounts that you don't pay as a result of the payment deferral. This means that, at the end of the payment deferral, you will have to make up the missed payments. Also, interest will continue to be charged on the amount you owe which means that you will owe more than you did before agreeing a payment deferral.

A payment deferral may not be the best thing for you in the long run, so it is important to contact your pawnbroker to talk through which options will be. Missing a payment without communicating it to your provider could negatively impact your credit score.

Additionally, if at the end of the payment deferral period you need any further support with regard to making payments, you should always speak to your pawnbroker to make them aware of your financial position. The pawnbroker should then work with you to see what additional forbearance measures they can put in place.

The redemption date will be extended for this period. If the date has already passed, an item you have pawned should not be sold for that period. If notice of intention to sell has been given already, the firm should suspend the sale for the period of the payment deferral.

Additional Information Sources

Which?

Which? provides further information on other lenders, available here.

Financial Conduct Authority

The Financial Conduct Authority has information on support for consumers on its website, available here.

They have also published information for customers on personal loans, credit cards and overdrafts. This is available on the FCA website.

Additional information for consumers about insurance is available here.

The Financial Conduct Authority has also outlined its expectations of firms and insurance companies during this period. You can read the guidance on its website by clicking here.

Money Advice Service

The Money Advice Service has useful information on the coronavirus and what it means for you and your money on its website, available here.

There is also a handy Money Navigator tool to help people navigate their finances in the wake of Covid-19 and avoid financial issues worsening in future.

Association of British Insurers (ABI)

ABI has produced a guide to some on the most commonly asked questions on different types of insurance and protections. You can view it on the ABI’s website here.

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS)

MaPS website has information on how to deal with or put off any of the financial affects you might be experiencing due to the coronavirus, available here.

MaPs has also launched an online tool to help people navigate their finances in the wake of Covid-19 and avoid financial issues worsening in future. The Money Navigator tool is available on Money Advice Service website here.

UK Finance

UK Finance has a dedicated COVID-19 webpage that provides businesses and consumers with up to date details of the support available, whether in the form of business loans or assistance with mortgage payments, and where to go for advice. Click here.

They also have some guidance on making payments securely during lockdown – the different methods and how to access them, which you can see here. You can also use their online tool which will help you choose which payment options are best for you to use, which you can access here.

UK Pensions Regulator

Provides information for trustees, employers and administrators of pensions schemes. This information is available here.

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The Consumer Council is authorised and regulated by The Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker. Our Firm Number is 913082.