Protecting your personal data

The next time you receive a request, by phone, text, or email, that requires you to take an action or verbally disclose information about yourself or your finances, alarm bells need to ring.

Criminals now use every means at their disposal to obtain details that will enable them, ultimately, to cause you financial harm. For example, they might:

  • Pretend they are the tax office and offer you a tax refund or threaten you with legal action if you do not pay tax, you apparently owe.
  • Pretend you have inherited from a distant relative and all you need to do is send them certain personal details.
  • Call your mobile or landline using automated software and offer you some form of reward, financial penalty, or legal action unless you immediately select a number on your keypad.

With your personal details, name, address, etc., they can pretend they are you and borrow money in your name. With your bank details they can transfer money from your bank account.

Criminals can do this from the comfort of their homes, all they need is a computer. And so, be cautious when responding to any request for personal information or bank details. If in doubt, do not respond. Instead, contact a trusted adviser, call the tax office or your bank using contact details published on official websites.

Debt respite scheme launched

A new scheme, aptly named Breathing Space, was launched 4 May 2021.

Breathing Space will give those facing financial difficulties space to receive debt advice, or mental health crisis treatment, without pressure from creditors or mounting debts.

Under the scheme, people will be given legal protections from their creditors for 60 days, with most interest and penalty charges frozen, and enforcement action halted. They will also receive professional debt advice to design a plan which helps to get their finances back on track.

And recognising the link between problem debt and mental health issues, these protections will be available for people in mental health crisis treatment – for the full duration of their crisis treatment plus another 30 days.

People across England and Wales who are struggling to repay their debts could be eligible, and the Government expects 700,000 people to benefit in the first year of the scheme.

Most debts will qualify for this new scheme including credit and store cards; personal and payday loans; overdrafts; utility bills, rent and mortgage arrears; and government debts like tax and benefits.
 

The Mortgage Guarantee Scheme

One of the measures announced at the Budget was the introduction of a new Mortgage Guarantee Scheme to help home buyers purchase property. The scheme was officially made available from Monday, 19 April 2021. The new scheme is designed for prospective home buyers who only have a small deposit and are therefore unable to obtain mortgage finance. Under the scheme, lenders will be able to offer new 95% mortgage products.

The scheme is open to first time buyers and home movers across the UK. Home buyers can purchase properties valued at up to £600,000 and both new-build and existing properties are eligible. The scheme will initially run until 31 December 2022. The government has confirmed that the end date for the scheme will be reviewed and may be extended.

The government will provide lenders with the option to purchase a guarantee on the top- slice of the mortgage (over 80%). Lenders will also take a 5% share of net losses above this 80% threshold. This will help to ensure that lenders are not incentivised to originate poor quality loans. Lenders will also need to pay the government a commercial fee for each mortgage in the scheme. The mortgage guarantee will be valid for up to seven years after the mortgage is originated.

There will be a cap on the size of the government’s contingent liability under the scheme of £3.9 billion although this is not expected to impinge on delivery of the scheme. The scheme is similar to a previous Help to Buy: Mortgage Guarantee Scheme that closed to new applicants on 31 December 2016.

The scheme is available from lenders on high streets across the country, with Lloyds, Santander, Barclays, HSBC and NatWest already launching mortgages under the scheme and Virgin Money following next month.

Commenting on the launch of the scheme, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak said:

'Every new homeowner and home mover supports jobs right across the housing sector but saving for a big enough deposit can be hard, especially for first time buyers.

By giving lenders the option of a government guarantee on 95% mortgages, many more products will become available, boosting the sector, creating new jobs and helping people achieve their dream of owning their own home.'

Passports – expensive items

Many families will be organising UK holidays this year and so passports may be left in draws for 2021.

But when the market for overseas holidays opens up, better check that your passports still meet that important “6 months before they expire” condition if you don’t want to be turned back when you check in for your flight.

If travelling to the EU, you need to have at least 6 months left on an adult or child passport (not including Ireland).

Currently, charges to renew will vary depending on the way you apply. Unsurprisingly, applying online is cheaper than filling out a form.

Current charges are:

How you apply Online By paper form
Adult (16 and over) standard 34-page passport £75.50 £85
Adult (16 and over) 50-page frequent traveller passport £85.50 £95
Child (under 16) standard 34-page passport £49 £58.50
Child (under 16) 50-page frequent traveller passport £59 £68.50
Passport for people born on or before 2 September 1929 Free Free

You’ll pay a different fee if you apply for a passport from another country. 

What is pensions credit?

Pension Credit is an income-related benefit made up of 2 parts – Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit.

Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income if it’s below £173.75 (for single people) or £265.20 (for couples). You may still be eligible if you have savings, a pension or your own home.

Savings Credit is an extra payment for people who saved some money towards their retirement, for example a pension.

You may not be eligible for Savings Credit if you reached State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016. You do not pay tax on Pension Credit.

What you'll get:

  Guarantee Credit per week Savings Credit per week
Single people Top up to £173.75 Up to £13.97
Couples Top up to £265.20 Up to £15.62

You might get more if you’re a carer, severely disabled, responsible for a child or young person, or have certain housing costs.

Use the Pension Credit calculator on the GOV.UK website to work out how much you might get.

If you get Guarantee Credit you’ll also qualify for other benefits such as Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Cold Weather Payments and help with the costs of NHS services. 

Unravelling the jargon: what is a support bubble?

The following notes are copied from the GOV.UK website. At first glance, it would appear that the definition of a support bubble should be fairly easy to grasp. Don’t hold your breath.

Basically, a support bubble is a close support network between a household with only one adult in the home (known as a single-adult household) and one other household of any size.

Once you are in a support bubble, you can think of yourself as being in a single household with people from the other household. It means you can have close contact with that household as if they were members of your own household. Once you make a support bubble, you should not change who is in your bubble.

Continue to follow social distancing guidance with people outside of your household or support bubble. This is critical to keeping you, your family and friends as safe as possible.

You can form a support bubble with another household of any size that is not part of a support bubble with anyone else if you:

  • live by yourself – even if carers visit you to provide support
  • are a single parent living with children who were under 18 on 12 June 2020

You can form a support bubble with one single-adult household who are not part of a support bubble with anyone else.

The government recommends that you form a support bubble with a household that lives locally wherever possible. This will help to prevent the virus spreading from an area where there might be a higher rate of infection.

From 14 September, if you form or continue in a support bubble, you cannot then change your support bubble. It does not have to be the same support bubble you may have been in previously.

If anyone in your support bubble develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus, follow the stay at home guidance.

If you share custody of your child, and you and your child’s other parent are in separate bubbles, members of both bubbles should stay at home if someone develops symptoms. This is critical to controlling the virus, as it will help to stop it spreading across multiple households.

Applying for Green Homes Grants

Home owners and landlords in England can apply for a grant to make their home more energy efficient. The Green Homes Grant will cover at least two-thirds of the cost up to £5,000 per household. For low income households these grants will cover all costs up to £10,000. The scheme runs until 31 March 2021.

The Green Homes Grants provides homeowners, including owner occupiers and social/private landlords, vouchers to install one or more of the following primary measures:

  • solid wall, under-floor, cavity wall or roof insulation
  • air source or ground source heat pump
  • solar thermal

Homeowners and landlords will need to apply for a voucher online. Once the works are agreed, vouchers will start to be issued. HMRC has updated their guidance to confirm that they will start to issue vouchers from early November 2020.

In addition, households can apply for a further voucher to install secondary measures for additional energy saving. Households will need to install at least one of the primary measures above to qualify for further funding for secondary measures. These secondary measures include the following:

  • double or triple glazing/secondary glazing, when replacing single glazing
  • upgrading to energy efficient doors
  • hot water tank/appliance tank thermostats/heating controls

Secondary measures can only be subsidised up to the amount of subsidy provided for primary measures. (e.g. if a household receives £1,000 for primary measures, they can only receive a maximum of £1,000 towards secondary measures).

Claiming Child Benefit for newborns

HMRC has confirmed that parents of new-borns will still be able to claim Child Benefit despite the outbreak of Coronavirus. The weekly rates of child benefit for the only or eldest child in a family is currently £21.05 and the weekly rate for all other children is £13.95. The payment whilst relatively small could be a useful benefit for many new parents facing an uncertain future. Child Benefit claims can be backdated by up to 3 months.

This announcement by HMRC is to be welcomed. Usually, a claim cannot be made until you have registered the birth of your child and have a birth or adoption certificate. This is currently difficult as General Register Offices are operating with reduced capacity.

HMRC has said that to claim, first-time parents will need to fill in the Child Benefit Claim form – CH2 – which can be found online. The completed form must then be sent to the Child Benefit Office. If the birth has not been registered a note of this should be included on the claim form.

HMRC is also reminding new parents affected by the High Income Child Benefit Charge of the importance of claiming Child Benefit, even if they opt out of receiving the money itself.

The High Income Child Benefit charge applies to higher rate taxpayers whose income exceeds £50,000 in a tax year and who are in receipt of child benefit. The charge either reduces or removes the financial benefit of receiving child benefit. Where both partners have an income that exceeds £50,000, the charge will apply only to the partner with the highest income. For taxpayers with income above £60,000, the amount of the charge will equal the amount of child benefit received.