2021’s kicking off with some very familiar music across the UK. We’re diving straight into another full lockdown, with high streets closed, pub doors bolted and weeks more of separation from friends and family to look forward to.

At the same time, though, we’ve learned a lot about getting through a lockdown over the last year. This time, many of the financial, social and practical lifelines we clung to through 2020 are already in place. No one’s pretending it’s going to be an easy ride, but here’s a quick run-down on the kind of support you can turn to when your money situation tightens up.

Mortgage holidays

For most of us, our mortgage is the single biggest debt we’ll rack up during our lives. Last year, some help was available for struggling households in the form of a payment break on their mortgage payments. If you haven’t already taken one of these up, you’ve now got up until the end of March to grab yourself 6 months of breathing space on those repayments.

As always, keep in mind that a payment holiday’s not the same as free money. You’ll still have to pay back the full amount, just under slightly different terms. Depending on your situation, you might want to take some advice from your lender before making a decision you’ll have to live with.

Even if you’ve already taken all the payment breaks you can, it could still be worth talking to your bank or building society. There’s a decent chance you could head off any upcoming financial trouble if you send up a distress flare early enough.

The furlough scheme

The government’s ambitious Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended, which has come as a relief to many UK employees and businesses. The scheme means that workers can be put “on furlough”, with the government stumping up a percentage of their pay while they’re unable to work. The furlough support had been tapering off throughout 2020, but the new lockdown has seen the government’s contributions climbing back up to 80%. As long as you were on your employer’s books before the 31st of October last year, you should qualify for some support.

Working from home allowance

For people who’ve had to shift to working from their homes during the pandemic, there are a few tax rules to keep an eye on. It can be surprisingly expensive to run a home office, so the government helps out with some tax relief – up to £125 a year’s worth. You won’t need to do any serious paperwork to claim this tax break, and even working from home for a single day could see you making a full year’s claim. Check the government web page for more details.

The self-employed aren’t being left out, either...

There’s a third round of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme running, covering the months from November 2020 to January 2021. The amount was originally supposed to be 40% of your average monthly earnings, but that’s been nudged up to 80% (topping out at £7,560). There was a prevoius announcement that the increase to 80% would only be for November, but they later bulked it up to 80% for the whole 3 months.

There’ll be a fourth SEISS grant later in the year, to cover the period between February and April. More details on this will come out closer to the time.

The other stuff

Not every scrap of support you can get comes in the form of big government schemes. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few other changes and developments to keep up with:

  • The ban on bailiff evictions has been extended until at least the 21st of February. Given the 2 weeks’ notice bailiffs already have to give, this effectively means they won’t be putting anyone on the street until the 8th of March at the earliest.
  • People looking after kids aged 4-16 could qualify for free school meal vouchers. To be eligible you have to clear a few hurdles, like claiming Universal Credit or another qualifying benefit.
  • Vulnerable people unable to work from home can qualify for sick pay during the lockdown. There’s also a one-off £500 payment for people who can’t work because they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Refunds may be available if you’ve had a holiday or wedding cancelled because of the pandemic. Watch out for the trap of cancelling your own flights, though. You might not qualify for a refund if you make the cancellation yourself.
  • While we’re talking about refunds, check what your rights are over cancelling or pausing things like gym memberships. Some retailers are extending their return and refund policies as well, so that’s worth looking out for.

That’s the basic lay of the land for the moment. As always, stay safe and keep contacting RIFT with any money or tax worries.