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Covid-19 Q&A

As the coronavirus situation continues to dominate the news, we have answered some of the key questions the RAF Family may have. If you have a question which is not covered, please send it to advice@rafbf.org.uk and we will continue to update this page with commonly asked questions.

Please note that government guidance and advice in relation to coronavirus is changing on a daily basis. This page was last updated on 03 July 2020.

Questions on benefits

 

Q1: Will I be able to claim any benefits if I can't work because I have coronavirus, or because I am following guidance to stay at home (self-isolating or 'shielding', not just social distancing)?

If you have coronavirus, or are following guidance to self-isolate, you might be entitled to Contractual Sick Pay (which will depend on your employer and which might be more than the standard rate of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)), or the standard rate of SSP. If so, SSP can be paid from day one of illness rather than day four (which is usually the case). For further information visit: gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay. Note: Until 01 August the above is also the case for those who are staying at home because they are at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (called ‘shielding’).

If you are not entitled to SSP you might be entitled to 'New-Style' Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) instead. This is a benefit for those who are unable to work due to health reasons and who have a sufficient NI contribution record. If so, this can be paid from day one of illness rather than day seven (which is usually the case). For further information visit: gov.uk/employment-support-allowance.

If you are not entitled to SSP or ESA, or if you need additional help on top of one of these, you might be entitled to Universal Credit (UC) which is a means-tested benefit. If you claim UC you will have to sign something called a 'claimant commitment' which outlines what work related requirements you need to meet to be paid the full amount of UC. These requirements were initially eased because of coronavirus, but this easement has now stopped. For further information visit: gov.uk/universal-credit. It is very important to note that if you (or your partner) are already getting any of the following benefits or tax credits: Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits, we would advise you not to claim UC and instead to speak with a benefits advisor to get a benefit check, to work out your best options financially. This is because if you claim UC, all of these benefits or tax credits that you (or your partner) get will stop, and you will not be able to re-claim them, which might make you worse off financially.

If you are on a low income, you might be entitled to Council Tax Reduction/Support, which is a means-tested scheme administered by local councils. For further information on your local scheme, visit your local council’s website.

If you want to speak with a benefits advisor to get a benefit check you can contact the Fund on advice@rafbf.org.uk or 0800 169 2942. Alternatively, you can search for local organisations which offer benefits advice on this website: advicelocal.uk. If you would like to use an online benefit calculator, we have a free one on our website (provided by the charity Turn 2 Us), which you can see here: rafbf.org/benefitscalculator.

If you are already getting benefits, please see Question 3 below.

Q2: Will I be able to claim any benefits if I can't work at the moment, or have lost my job, due to the coronavirus situation?

If you are a jobseeker you might be entitled to 'New-Style' Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). This is a benefit for those who are looking for work and who have a sufficient NI contribution record. For further information visit: gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance.

If you are not entitled to JSA, or if you need additional help on top of this, you might be entitled to Universal Credit (UC) which is a means-tested benefit. If you claim UC you will have to sign something called a ‘claimant commitment’ which outlines what work related requirements you need to meet to be paid the full amount of UC. These requirements were initially eased because of coronavirus, but this easement has now stopped. For further information visit: gov.uk/universal-credit. It is very important to note that if you (or your partner) are already getting any of the following benefits or tax credits: Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits, we would advise you not to claim UC and instead to speak with a benefits advisor to get a benefit check, to work out your best options financially. This is because if you claim UC, all of these benefits or tax credits that you (or your partner) get will stop, and you will not be able to re-claim them, which might make you worse off financially.

If you are on a low income, you might be entitled to Council Tax Reduction/Support, which is a means-tested scheme administered by local councils. For further information on your local scheme, visit your local council’s website.

If you want to speak with a benefits advisor to get a benefit check you can contact the Fund on advice@rafbf.org.uk or 0800 169 2942. Alternatively, you can search for local organisations which offer benefits advice on this website: advicelocal.uk. If you would like to use an online benefit calculator, we have a free one on our website (provided by the charity Turn 2 Us), which you can see here: rafbf.org/benefitscalculator.

If you are already getting benefits, please see Question 3 below.

If you are still employed but your employer can't keep paying you during this time, then in addition to looking into benefits, you should see if your employer can access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which until the end of July can cover 80% of employees' wages (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month). As of August the scheme changes slightly. For further information visit: gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme.

If you are self-employed and your income has been negatively impacted due to coronavirus, then in addition to looking into benefits, you should see if you can access the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. This scheme can currently provide a grant worth 80% of your profits (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month), paid in a single instalment covering 3 months' worth of profits. To claim this current grant you must make your claim on or before 13 July 2020. This scheme is being extended and you will be able to make a claim for a second and final grant in August 2020. To see if you are eligible for this scheme, and for further information, visit: gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme.

Q3: If I already get benefits or tax credits, will they change if my income has dropped due to the coronavirus situation?

If you already get benefits or tax credits, you should let the relevant departments know if you have stopped working or if your income has changed.

The government has confirmed that Working Tax Credits can continue for people who are working reduced hours because of coronavirus and for people who have been furloughed because of coronavirus, as long as they are still considered to be employed or self-employed. This should be the case until the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme closes. In addition, if you are off work and claiming SSP, ESA or are self-employed and this is the reason you cannot claim either of these, you should continue to be treated as working your normal hours for Working Tax Credit Purposes for up to 28 weeks. In terms of the amount of Working Tax Credits, if your income during the tax year 2020/2021 will be at least £2,500 less than it was in the tax year 2019/2020, you should let the Tax Credit Office know as it might increase your Tax Credit amount. In addition, the government has increased Working Tax Credit rates which could mean an increase of up to £20 per week (depending on your circumstances), for up to a year.

If you are getting Universal Credit (UC), your benefit will be re-calculated if your income has dropped. The government has increased the UC standard allowance which could mean an increase of up to £20 per week (depending on your circumstances), for up to a year. Deductions made from UC for benefit overpayments and social fund loans were paused until around the end of June, which meant many claimants would have seen an increase in their UC during this time. However, it has now been announced that these deductions will be recommenced, although the DWP has said that people who are experiencing real financial hardship can request a deferral of repayments by contacting the Debt Management line 0800 916 0647. Finally, if you are claiming UC and are self-employed, the 'Minimum Income Floor' requirements have been temporarily relaxed for the duration of the outbreak.

If you are getting help with your rent though UC or Housing Benefit, and are privately renting, you will be impacted by the 'Local Housing Allowance'. This is being increased, which means the amount of help you get with your rent might increase. If you get the Housing Element of UC or Housing Benefit, but if this doesn't cover all your rent, you can apply for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) through your local council.

If you want to speak with a benefits advisor to get a benefit check you can contact the Fund on advice@rafbf.org.uk or 0800 169 2942. Alternatively, you can search for local organisations which offer benefits advice on this website: advicelocal.uk. If you would like to use an online benefit calculator, we have a free one on our website (provided by the charity Turn 2 Us), which you can see here: rafbf.org/benefitscalculator.

Q4: I have claimed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and was meant to have an assessment soon / I already get PIP and am due to be reassessed soon. What will happen with this?

If you have made a new claim for PIP, or another sickness or disability benefit such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance, ESA or UC, face-to-face assessments had initially been suspended until around the end of June. It has now been announced that this suspension is still currently in place, although it is not known how long for. This page will be updated when further information is known. If your claim has been referred to an assessment provider, they should be in touch regarding your claim. You may be asked to attend a telephone assessment instead.

If you already get a sickness or disability benefit, such as PIP, DLA, Attendance Allowance, ESA or UC, your payments will continue to be made as normal. If your award was due to expire before the end of June, and you hadn’t already started the review/reassessment process, your end-date should have been extended by up to six months. However, it has now been announced that reviews and reassessments for PIP and DLA will be resuming.

Q5: I have claimed under the War Pensions scheme, or the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, and was meant to have an assessment soon. What will happen with this?

If you have made a new claim for a War Pension or the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, face-to-face assessments had been suspended until around the end of June. If you had a date for an assessment during this time, you should have been contacted by the DWP's Centre for Health and Disability Assessments to confirm cancellation. It is not yet clear what is happening with this, for example whether this suspension will be extended or not. This page will be updated when further information is known.

If you already get a War Pension or a payment under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, your payments will continue to be made as usual. If you have any problems with your payments or have an urgent question you can email Veterans-UK@mod.gov.uk.

Q6: I look after my mother and get Carer's Allowance, however I have had to self-isolate due to having symptoms of coronavirus and so have not been able to provide care. Will I lose my Carer's Allowance?

The government has announced two temporary measures to help those getting Carer's Allowance.

Firstly, if you get Carer's Allowance but cannot care for the person you normally look after because either one of you are affected by coronavirus (so if either of you have it, or are following guidance to self-isolate because of it), your entitlement to Carer’s Allowance won't end.

Secondly, providing emotional support will count towards the 35 hours of care per week required to be entitled to Carer's Allowance.

Questions on housing and children

 

Q7: I'm worried about being able to pay my rent, is there help available?

If you are worried about being able to pay your rent, you should make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to, as some can help with rent payments. There are some questions above which are about benefits.

If you still feel unable to pay your rent, you should speak to your landlord, to see if you can come to a manageable agreement.

If you have tried the above avenues, but are still in temporary financial distress, we might be able to offer some assistance. For further information visit: rafbf.org/how-we-help/request-our-help-today, or you can call 0300 102 1919.

If you are worried about being evicted, then it is worth knowing that due to coronavirus, there is a new law which means that until 30 September, if a landlord wants to start possession proceedings they have to give tenants three months' notice. In addition, it has been announced that all court action for eviction is on hold until 23 August.

If you need legal advice, we now offer access to such advice through a telephone helpline service called Law Express. Law Express would be able to advise on your rights and options. To use the service please contact 0300 222 5703 or legal.advice@rafbf.org.uk.

For online housing advice and guidance visit the Shelter website.

If you are in rent arrears, you can search for local organisations which offer debt advice on this website: advicelocal.uk. Alternatively, you could contact one of the national debt charities such as StepChange or National Debtline.

Q8: I'm worried I'm not going to be able to pay my mortgage, is there anything I can do?

If you are worried about being able to pay your mortgage, you should make sure you are claiming all the benefits you are entitled to. There are some questions above which are about benefits.

If you still feel unable to pay your mortgage, you should speak to your mortgage lender, as your mortgage lender may be able to offer a payment holiday of up to three months where this is needed due to coronavirus, or may be able to offer another way of helping if a mortgage holiday is not an option for you.

If you have tried the above avenues, but are still in temporary financial distress, we might be able to offer some assistance. For further information please visit: rafbf.org/how-we-help/request-our-help-today, or you can call 0300 012 1919.

If you need legal advice, we now offer access to such advice through a telephone helpline service called Law Express. Law Express would be able to advise on your rights and options. To use the service please contact 0300 222 5703 or legal.advice@rafbf.org.uk.

For online housing advice and guidance visit the Shelter website.

If you are in mortgage arrears, you can search for local organisations which offer debt advice on this website: advicelocal.uk. Alternatively, you could contact one of the national debt charities such as StepChange or National Debtline.

Q9: I still need to go to work, can my child still attend school/nursery?

Government guidance is that if children who have not been invited back to school can stay safely at home, they must, to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Schools and childcare providers have been, and are still, open for those children who absolutely cannot stay at home, which includes children who are vulnerable and children whose parents are critical to the coronavirus response and who cannot be cared for safely at home.

For details of what work is considered critical to the coronavirus response, and for further information, visit: gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision.

If you need legal advice, we now offer access to such advice through a telephone helpline service called Law Express. Law Express would be able to advise on your rights and options. To use the service please contact 0300 222 5703 or legal.advice@rafbf.org.uk.

Q10: I used to get free school meals for my children but now they aren't going to school, is there anything I can do?

Normally, schools are not expected to provide free school meals to eligible children who are not attending due to illness, or if the school is closed. However, during the coronavirus outbreak, schools are expected to continue to provide support to children who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals.

The steps schools will take to support such children will depend on the school's circumstances. For example, schools might be able to provide eligible children not attending school with meals or food parcels through their normal food provider, or if not, schools might be able to provide vouchers which can be used in a range of supermarkets.

For details of what steps your children's school is taking, you should contact the school directly. For further general information, visit: gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools.

Q11: When are schools re-opening and what does this mean for my children?

There has been lots in the news about schools in England re-opening for certain year groups. For details on exactly what is happening in your children's school, you should contact the school directly.

For some general information on the situation in England, visit: gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers/reopening-schools-and-other-educational-settings-from-1-june.

For some general information on the situation in Wales, visit: gov.wales/how-schools-will-work-during-coronavirus-pandemic.

For some general information on the situation in Scotland, visit: parentclub.scot/articles/reopening-schools.

For some general information on the situation in Northern Ireland, visit: nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-schools-colleges-and-universities.

Other questions

 

Q12: This whole situation is really affecting my mental health, what support is available?

With coronavirus dominating the news and social media, we might find that our mental health is affected.

For members of the RAF Family who are in need of some extra emotional support, our Listening and Counselling Service is open and providing counselling via telephone or video calling. For further information visit: rafbf.org/how-we-help/veterans/emotional-wellbeing/mental-wellbeing or email support@rafbf.org.uk. We also now provide access to a 24-hour emotional support helpline run in partnership with Vita Health. The helpline is run by trained counsellors, so even if you only have ten minutes, you can call and speak to someone who can support you at any time of the day or night. To find out more please call 0300 222 5703.

Those serving in the RAF, and their partners, can access a Headspace membership. Headspace is a meditation app which has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and improve sleep.  To request a membership please visit: rafbf.org/headspace-request-form.

There are some websites which give useful information on looking after your mental wellbeing:

Q13: This whole situation is really making me feel isolated, what support is available?

The websites on Question 12 touch on connecting with others, which can be a real help if you are feeling lonely or isolated.

RAF veterans might be interested in our telephone friendship groups, which connect members once a week over the telephone. For further information visit: rafbf.org/how-we-help/veterans/relationships/telephone-friendship-groups.

In addition, we are carrying out one off  'check-in' calls to vulnerable veterans who we are aware of, to check on them and identify any needs they may have. Any veterans who would benefit will then get weekly 'keeping in touch' calls or will be offered a telephone friendship group place.

Q14: I think I am getting all of the money/benefits I am entitled to at this time but I am still really struggling financially, can the RAF Benevolent Fund help me?

We may be able to provide temporary financial assistance, please take a look at our website for further information, please visit: rafbf.org/how-we-help/request-our-help-today, you can also call 0300 012 1919.

Q15: Where can I find medical advice and guidance on coronavirus?

We cannot provide medical advice and guidance, but please visit the following websites:

Q16: Where can I find further information?

We hope that you have found this information helpful. For the most up to date information on all areas/issues related to coronavirus, visit the following websites:

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