We’re here to help
If you’re struggling because of the impact of Covid-19, the Journalists’ Charity is here for you. We understand that individual circumstances vary, and the level of government support you might be eligible for can change. If you’re worried about how you’re going to cope, or if you’re unsure about what to do, this guide will help you understand your options. If you have a question or want to talk something through, you can get in touch with us via phone, email or through social media. But if you’re experiencing immediate financial difficulty you can apply for assistance here.
How to get in touch
tel: 01306 887511
Cutting your monthly costs
If you need to cut down your monthly outgoings during the crisis, consider the following steps:
- Take a mortgage holiday. Most mortgage lenders now have forms on their websites that will allow borrowers to apply for a mortgage holiday for three months. During this time, you won’t have to make any payments, although the interest on your loan will continue to accrue. Mortgage lenders will not be allowed to charge you a fee for taking out the mortgage holiday, and they will not be allowed to repossess people’s homes during the pandemic.
- Take a rent holiday. Unfortunately this is not as straightforward as a mortgage holiday and you may not be allowed to take one. It is up to your landlord. The best approach is probably to negotiate with him or her for a temporary reduction in your rent payments, but it is likely you will need to commit to paying the rest of the rent you owe in full by a set date, plus interest. Your landlord may expect you to prove that you are unable to pay your usual rent in full. If you need to self-isolate for health reasons, bear in mind that your landlord will not be allowed to evict you for at least the next three months during the pandemic, even if you do not pay your rent in full and on time.
- Get a refund on your commuting costs. If you commute by train or tube and have a season ticket, you should be able to get a refund for the cost of your unused tickets. Visit the website of the company that operates the serviceyou’d normally use to apply for the refund.
- Talk to your energy provider.The government has agreed measures with the energy industry to support customers in financial distress due to the pandemic. Debt repayments and bill payments may be reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary, giving you greater time to pay and potentially even access to hardship funds. If you’re having to self-isolate and can’t pay your bills as a result of this, again, support will be available to you through your energy supplier. For further advice, see the Ofgem guide: Who to contact if it’s difficult paying bills
- Talk to your water bill provider. Water firms are encouraging their customerswho are suffering from immediate or short-term issues paying their bills to get in touch. You may be able to take advantage of the schemes they offer that are designed to help people in financial difficulty. You may be offered a payment break or have your payment plan adjusted to reduce your monthly outgoings. The water companies are also stopping new court applications on unpaid bills during the current crisis, and are stopping any enforcement visits. Water UK chief executive Christine McGourty said: “We know that it’s an extremely difficult time for everyone at the moment, and the last thing we’d want is for anyone to worry about how they’ll pay their water bill. If you’re struggling to pay your bill, or you’re worried you might struggle in the future, please approach your water company for help. There are lots of ways that they can support you, and all you need to do is reach out and get in touch with them.” She added: “If you or any of your family or friends need a little extra help due to particular health issues, please make sure you’re signed up to your local water company’s Priority Services Register.”
- Borrow interest-free to pay for essentials.Many UK banks are overhauling their current accounts to enable customers to use their overdraft, interest-free. Typically, you will be able to borrow £300 interest-free from your bank, but each bank is making up its own rules. Find out what your bank is offering.
- Use a 0% credit card if you have to. Another option, if you cannot afford to pay upfront for essentials you need to buy right, is to consider taking out a 0% credit card to use during this difficult period. The best cards offer 27 months’ interest-free spending,during which time you will only need to make the minimum payment on the card each month (usually around 1% of the balance). After that, you will start incurring interest – so keep your spending to an absolute minimum or you will find yourself spiralling into debt when the pandemic is over.
- Speak to your credit card provider.If you are struggling to pay off your credit card this month as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, talk to your credit card provider. They may be more lenient than usual, and wave fee for missed payments or offer you a repayment holiday. Find out what credit card companies are offering.
- Use the money you have been saving for your tax bill in July.This applies to freelancers and should be an absolute last resort. The government is deferring the tax payment you would usually need to make in July this year, to January 2021. If you decide to spend this money, you will have to try to save it all up again later in the year. Then again, if your income falls as a result of the coronavirus, your tax bill in January 2021 should be lower than usual anyway.
- Apply for government assistance.If you’re an employee, you can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re staying at home because of COVID:19. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and have been advised to do a household quarantine. SSP will now be paid from Day 1. If you are self-employed, have COVID-19 or are staying at home because of the virus, you can also claim Universal Credit. The self-employed can access this benefit at a rate equivalent to SSP, ie £94.25. Whether you are employed or self-employed, there’s a useful benefits calculator on the Turn2us website you can use to figure out which benefits may be available to you.
Get help from the government
There are two types of workers the government is intent on helping through this crisis. The first are employees, and the second are self-employed sole traders – but only if they earn their main income from self-employment, have filed accounts for at least the 2018/2019 tax year, and earn profits of less than £50,000 a year.
The finer details of these schemes are still emerging, but it is likely that many journalists will not fall into either of these categories. For example: journalists who set themselves up as limited companies and pay themselves dividends, journalists who are sub-contracted via an agency, and journalists who went freelance after 5 April 2019. The bad news is, it looks as though none of these journalists will be eligible for anything except Universal Credit.
I’m an employee
If you’re a staff journalist, and are unable to work due to the coronavirus outbreak, speak to your employer. If you and your employer both agree, your employer might be able to keep you on the payroll – even if they’re unable to operate or have no work for you to do at the moment. The government defines this as being ‘on furlough’. You can be on any type of contract – including a zero-hour contract or a temporary contract.
The grant will start on the day you were placed on furlough and can be backdated to 1 March. You could get paid 80% of your wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. You’ll still have to pay taxes on that, and you cannot undertake work for your employer while on furlough. The government expects the scheme to be up and running by the end of April.
If you’re a freelance journalist, earning more than half of your total income from self-employment, have filed a tax return for at least the 2018/2019 tax year and your average annual trading profit is less than £50,000, you will be eligible for a government grant for the next three months. This may be extended.
You can apply for the grant if you are trading when you apply (or would be except for COVID-19), intend to continue trading in the next tax year (2020/21) and have lost trading profits due to the outbreak.
If you have not yet submitted a tax return for the 2018/19 tax year, do so by 23 April 2020 to be eligible.
The grant will give you 80% of the average profits of the last three tax returns you filed, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. If you started trading between 2016 and 2019, HMRC will only look at the tax returns you have filed.
HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online. You will be told how much you will get and the grant will be paid directly into your bank account as one lump sum. You do not need to contact HMRC about this and are advised not to do so, as tax officers are busy trying to implement the introduction of the scheme.
The bad news is, the scheme is only expected to launch in June, with payments backdated to cover March, April and May.
Inevitably, scammers will attempt to use confusion about these schemes to try to swindle you out of your cash.
Do not respond to emails pretending to be from HMRC or asking you to click on a link and enter your bank details. HMRC will never:
- Ask for your bank account details or personal information like your name, address, date of birth, bank and credit card details, your passwords and your mother’s maiden name
- Email you or text you about tax rebates, refunds, or personal payment information.
All genuine messages from HMRC will always include your taxpayer reference number.
So, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Contact HMRC directly to check whether an email is genuine. Do not use any phone numbers contained in the email to do this. Read HMRC’s phishing email guide for more information on how to spot a HMRC scam.
If you’re feeling unwell, either with symptoms of Covid-19 or with any other health conditions, it’s important you don’t put off asking for help. Health bosses in England, Scotland and Wales all stress that the NHS is open for business, and even though you might not necessarily get a face-to-face appointment with your GP, help is at hand from your surgery or by calling 111. You can read more about NHS Direct and how to access support here. Similarly, if you or someone in your family experiences a health emergency, you should go to A&E where treatment for non Covid-19 related conditions continues.
If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety then you’re certainly not alone. Individuals of all ages and backgrounds are experiencing a major impact on their mental health because of the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. Again, it’s really important you don’t put off contacting your GP if need support or medication. There are lots of other resources designed to offer support, from apps which can help you to lower your anxiety levels, to online guides from a range of charities such as this resource from Mind. Mental Health Mates is a support group set up by the Journalists’ Charity’s Special Award winner and Telegraph writer Bryony Gordon. Even though physical meet-ups might not be an option now, there’s a range of support on offer from real people who’re experiencing a range of issues.
If you’re in crisis, you can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123. The charity offers a range of other resources here.
If you’re feeling unsafe or threatened at home by a partner, relative or anyone else, help is available.
The government has compiled an online resource here which includes how to access support and report abuse. There’s also help available from the following organisations:
All: Refuge runs the national domestic abuse helpline, available free 24/87, 08082000247
Women: Women’s aid offers an online chat and email service.
Men: Respect men’s advice line, 0808 8010327
LGBT+: Galop national abuse helpline, 08009995428
Our thanks go to Donna Ferguson @DonnaLFerguson & @WIJ_UK for their help in compiling this guide.