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What support are creditors offering during the coronavirus outbreak?

21/04/2020

If your finances have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, you may be worried about mounting credit card, rent, council tax, mortgage or car finance bills.

Given the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, creditors are, on the whole, showing understanding and lenience to consumers who are struggling to make payments.

Advice varies, but if you’re in difficulty, here’s some general guidance:

  • Contact anyone you are due money to as soon as you can and let them know you might be struggling.
  • Don’t assume that you will be given a payment holiday, an interest-free overdraft or any other form of financial support automatically. In almost every instance, you will have to arrange this support with your creditor.
  • Try to avoid any of these measures unless you really need them. Remember that you will have to find room in your budget for these payments eventually, and as a measure, they are temporary in nature.

There’s no time like the present to take stock of your situation, so read on for our detailed rundown of the help and support that’s currently available from creditors in the UK.

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Car finance

The Financial Conduct Authority has proposed an initial support package to the motor industry for how it should be helping customers with car finance. This includes offering the option of a three-month payment freeze and halting vehicle repossessions. The proposal is still at the review stage, so it hasn’t yet come into force. If approved, it will take effect from 27 April.

For now, it’s best to let your car finance company know if you’re concerned you won’t be able to keep up with your car payments in the immediate term.

And although there’s no blanket guidance in place yet, your car finance company may give you the option to defer payments or extend your agreement if you speak with them directly. You can read our guidance for car owners on the help that’s been announced so far – and keep an eye on the FCA website for any new updates to this developing situation.

Council tax payments

Whether or not you can expect support or flexibility with your council tax payments will come down to your local authority. Some are offering the option to defer payments, for instance, but this isn’t standard by any means.

If you believe you’ll struggle to make payments, there may be the option of applying for a reduction in your council tax – especially if your circumstances have changed due to the coronavirus outbreak and your income has taken a hit.

The best course of action is to contact your local council to find out what help they’re offering. There’s a handy tool on the government website that can help you find their contact information.

Credit cards and loans

Banks and retailers have been officially asked by the FCA to offer consumers the option of a three-month payment break on any outstanding loans, credit card bills or catalogue payments. This guidance has been implemented as of 14 April 2020.

Some banks have made additional support measures available, including:

  • The option to reduce loan repayments entirely
  • Emergency early access to fixed savings without being charged
  • Automatic cessation of late payment fees during certain time periods

It’s always a good idea to check your bank’s website to find out their support measures, as, beyond FCA guidance, policies do vary.

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Energy bills

First things first: whatever happens, your power won’t be cut off. All of the UK’s energy firms are working with industry regulator Ofgem to support vulnerable customers at this difficult time, and the government has pledged that people will not be left without energy. Further support will vary depending on who your energy supply is with.

If you anticipate difficulty in paying your gas or electricity bill, make contact as soon as possible and explain your circumstances, and you might be but given the option to:

  • Freeze or lower your energy payments
  • Apply for a support grant if you’re a vulnerable customer
  • Revise any arrears payments you’re currently making

You can read our full guide on energy bills here.

Mortgages

One of the first, and most significant measures that has been introduced since the pandemic took hold, a mortgage holiday is simply a three-month break from making mortgage repayments.

Depending on your mortgage provider, a mortgage holiday may result in the overall term of your mortgage being longer, or the ‘holiday’ payments being spread across your future outgoings.

It’s worth bearing in mind that any payment holiday is temporary in nature, and if you are adjusting to reduced circumstances because of coronavirus, it may not be the most suitable long-term solution. Because of this, you should consider the long-term impact on your finances if you go down this route, and how well-positioned you’ll be to make payments in three months’ time.

If you are already behind on your mortgage payments, your lender may not be able to offer you this form of support, and as with any payment break, mortgage holidays have to be requested; they are not automatically granted.

Overdrafts

Further to the FCA’s support package announcement, banks can also offer consumers the option of an overdraft of up to £500, interest-free.

As an emergency measure, this may be useful, especially if you know you’ll be able to pay it back in the short to mid-term.

However, if possible, it’s better to budget than to borrow when you’re facing financial strain to avoid getting into difficulty in the future.

Rent

If you’ve found yourself struggling to make your rent payments because of coronavirus, your landlord won’t be able to start eviction proceedings for at least three months (if you live in Scotland, they won’t be able to start for six months).

To safeguard the long-term future of your rental, and maintain good relations with your landlord, you may wish to speak to them as soon as you can if you think you’ll be facing financial hardship. They may be able to show some flexibility with your payments.

If you are struggling with debt or worried about mounting bills, the Creditfix team are here to support you with free advice and to discuss the options available to you. You can speak to an advisor by calling us on 0808 253 3299, today.

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