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Coronavirus: what it means for rent, mortgages, savings, borrowing and benefits

We explain the new reliefs for renters and landlords, as well as changes to overdraft charges and bank branch opening hours

Coronavirus: what it means for rent, mortgages, savings, borrowing and benefits

The government, financial regulator and some of the UK’s biggest banks have announced a range of measures to help customers who face financial difficulties if they’re affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, homeowners can apply for payment holidays on their mortgages, renters have been offered protection against eviction, and some banks are allowing borrowers to increase credit card limits and access savings early.

Click the links below to find out which measures have been put in place to aid your finances during the coronavirus outbreak.

You can keep up to date on our latest coverage on our coronavirus advice hub.



FCA proposes new borrowing relief measures

On 2 April, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) proposed a range of temporary measures to offer support to people struggling with their finances due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It wrote to banks suggesting they implement the following rules:

  • Firms should offer a three-month payment freeze on loans and credit cards for consumers facing financial difficulties as a result of coronavirus.
  • Customers who have already been financially affected should be charged zero interest on overdrafts of up to £500 for three months.
  • Firms should ensure all overdraft customers are no worse off than they were before the recent changes to overdraft pricing came into force.
  • Firms should ensure none of these temporary measures will affect credit ratings.

The FCA has requested responses from lenders by 6 April and says that the measures would come into force by 9 April, if approved.

Mortgage repayment holidays

On 17 March, the government announced that homeowners who are up to date with their payments can apply from a three-month payment holiday on their mortgage. A day later, this policy was extended to buy-to-let mortgages.

Borrowers can apply for the holiday by contacting their lender and self-certifying that their income will be directly or indirectly affected by the coronavirus.

You can find out more in our comprehensive story on how to apply for a mortgage payment holiday.

The Bank of England base rate and mortgages

The Bank of England base rate was cut twice in March, from 0.75% to 0.25% on 11 March and from 0.25% to 0.1% on 19 March.

In the table below, we’ve listed the lenders who have passed on these cuts to borrowers by reducing their standard variable rates. Many of the changes below come into force from 1 April.

Lender Reduction in the standard variable rate
Barclays 0.65%
Co-operative Bank 0.65%
Clydesdale Bank 0.65%
HSBC 0.65%
Metro Bank 0.65%
NatWest 0.65%
Nationwide 0.65%
Royal Bank of Scotland 0.65%
Santander 0.65%
Virgin Money 0.65%
Yorkshire Bank 0.65%
Halifax 0.5%
Lloyds 0.5%
Post Office 0.5%
Platform 0.5%
TSB 0.5%

We’ll update this story as and when more lenders announce any changes.

Help for tenants facing eviction

The government has brought forward emergency legislation to protect tenants from eviction.

The reforms mean that from 26 March until at least 30 September, landlords must provide three months notice in advance of starting proceedings to evict private or social tenants.

The courts have also taken measures to suspend all proceedings for, and enforcement of, possession orders for a period of 90 days from 26 March.

The government’s decision to allow mortgage payment holidays for landlords with buy-to-let mortgages is designed to encourage landlords to offer flexibility to tenants if they’re struggling to pay their rent.

Accessing money in savings accounts

A number of banks have relaxed their rules on accessing the money in fixed savings accounts to help people with their cash flow during the crisis.

Barclays, First Direct, Lloyds Banking Group (which includes Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank), Nationwide, RBS and TSB will all allow people with to close their accounts early with no additional charges.

But providers including National Savings & Investments (NS&I) are urging customers to manage their accounts online, if possible, during the outbreak, to free up phone lines for those who need urgent help.

Here is a full list of the banks we’ve heard from so far:

Lender Policy
Al Rayan Bank Will work with customers on an individual basis to assess what help is available and help them manage their finances.
Atom Bank Customers with financial difficulties will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Bank of London and the Middle East No immediate policy changes.
Barclays Fixed savings accounts can be closed early with no charge.
Cambridge Building Society Affected customers should get in touch as soon as possible for help.
Darlington Building Society Affected customers should get in touch as soon as possible for help.
First Direct Fixed savings accounts can be closed early with no charge.
HSBC Early access to fixed savings accounts enabled without penalty charges.
Hinckley & Rugby No immediate policy changes, but keeping the situation under review.
Ipswich Building Society No immediate plans to change savings policy, but will work to help members facing financial difficulties.
Lloyds Banking Group (including Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank) Emergency access to fixed-term savings.
Leeds Building Society No immediate policy changes. Fixed bonds can be broken in exceptional circumstances.
Metro Bank No immediate policy changes; encouraging customers who do need additional support to contact the bank as soon as possible for help.
Monzo Has specialist teams in place to monitor the situation and support people in financial difficulty.
Nationwide Offering penalty-free early access to savings in fixed-term accounts.
Newcastle Building Society Affected customers should get in touch as soon as possible for help.
RCI Bank Has never imposed financial penalties for those who close fixed accounts early. Will handle enquiries on a case-by-case basis and will take factors, such as illness, into consideration.
Royal Bank of Scotland (inc Natwest/Ulster Bank) Fixed savings accounts can be closed early with no charge.
Santander Immediate access to fixed-term cash Isas and savings accounts without penalties.
Skipton Building Society Any customers experiencing payment difficulties should get in contact as soon as possible and their situation will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Tipton Building Society No immediate policy changes.
TSB Fixed Isa accounts can be closed with no charge and fixed bond customers can surrender their policies early.

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Payment holidays for personal loans

A number of personal loan providers have announced that they will offer payment holidays on personal loans and waive fees for missed payments if their customers are facing financial difficulties.

We’ve set out the policy of each lender in the table below.

Lender Policy
Barclays Individual customers can contact a specialist team who can help with financial difficulties. Business customers can get 12-month repayment holidays on loans of more than £25,000.
First Direct Customers with unsecured debt will be offered breathing space, tailored to individual customer need.
HSBC Customers will be able to defer payments for up to three months. Customers just need to fill in an online form.
Lloyds Banking Group (including Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank) No fees for missed payments on loans, plus payment holidays and additional support where customers need it.
Metro Bank No immediate policy changes; encouraging customers who do need additional support to contact the bank 0345 080 8500 as soon as possible for help.
Monzo Has specialist teams in place to monitor the situation and support people in financial difficulty.
Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank) Borrowers can apply to defer loan payments for up to three months.
Santander Affected customers should call 0800 912 3123 to discuss their options.
TSB Personal loans already allow repayment holidays as standard for customers who need short-term relief.
Virgin Money Encourages affected customers to get in touch to discuss their options. It will consider options such as payment holidays and debt restructuring.

New £45 contactless limit on credit and debit cards

The spending limit for contactless card payments will rise from £30 to £45, UK finance has revealed.

From 1 April 2020, an increasing number of retailers should accept contactless payments up to the new higher limit.

The change has been brought forward as part of the industry’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, to help cut queues at the checkout.

Governments and the payments industry in Greece, Ireland, Malta, Poland and Turkey have also worked together to raise the contactless payments limit in response to the crisis.

What are credit card providers doing to help?

A number of credit card providers have said customers will be able to apply for a temporary increase to their credit card limit.

Some will also offer refunds on any fees charged for withdrawing cash on a credit card.

The table below sets out what lenders have announced and told us.

Lender Policy
Barclays Affected customers can apply for a temporary increase to their credit limit. Customers should call its specialist team for advice. Late payment charges and cash advance fees will be waived for 90 days.
First Direct Offering the option to apply for an increased credit card limit.
HSBC Customers will be able to defer payments for up to three months from 6 April.
Lloyds Banking Group (including Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank) No fees for missed credit card payments.
Metro Bank No immediate policy changes; encouraging customers who do need additional support to ask for help on 0345 080 8500 as soon as possible.
Nationwide Increased credit card limits and removal of interest charges for members in financial difficulty.
Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank) Refunds offered on credit card cash advance fees. Affected customers can apply for a temporary increase to their credit limit.
Santander Removing late payment fees and offering cash advances from 30 March.
TSB Affected customers can request an emergency credit limit increase.
Virgin Money Encourages affected customers to get in touch to discuss their options. It will consider options such as debt restructuring and temporary increases in credit.

Rules around persistent debt

The FCA says credit card firms should provide ‘strong support’ by offering’ greater flexibility to customers in persistent credit card debt’.

Currently, lenders need to contact customers who’ve been in persistent debt for 36 months to offer them options to repay their borrowing more quickly. If they don’t respond within a set timeframe, firms must suspend their credit card.

These rules will now be relaxed, with the FCA set to contact lenders to advise them to give customers more time.

Access to cash  and overdrafts charges

RBS and TSB will allow customers to apply to increase their maximum cash withdrawal limit at an ATM to £500.

Lloyds Banking Group is offering increased deposit limits for online banking to help people who may not be able to access branches, including up to £500 using cheque scanning.

Nationwide is increasing overdraft limits and removing overdraft interest charges for members in financial difficulty. On 26 March, Nationwide announced that it will offer fee-free overdraft holidays between 20 April-1 July to those who have been financially affected by coronavirus; requests can be submitted via an online form.

Lender Overdraft changes What else the bank told us
Al Rayan Bank n/a It will work with customers on an individual basis to assess what help is available and help them manage their finances.
Barclays Overdraft interest will automatically be waived from 27 March to 30 April. Offering a fee-free buffer of £15.
First Direct Offering the opportunity to increase overdraft limits. WIll offer a fee-free buffer of £250. Suspended sales of new current accounts.
HSBC From 26 March, interest-free overdraft buffer will increase from £25 to £300 for HSBC Bank Account and HSBC Advance Accounts for three months. This will be allocated automatically.
Lloyds Banking Group (including Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds Bank) £300 interest-free overdraft buffer from 6 April.  Increased deposit limits of up to £500 in online banking (including up to £500 using cheque scanning) to help people who can’t access branches. There is also a new dedicated phone line for customers who are aged 70 or over, have been identified as vulnerable or may need extra support, as in the case of NHS workers. 
Metro Bank Waiving overdraft interest from 1 March until 30 June for personal customers.
Monzo Has specialist teams in place to monitor the situation and support people in financial difficulty.
Nationwide Increased overdraft limits and removal of overdraft interest charges for members in financial difficulty. Fee-free overdraft holidays from 20 April until 1 July to those who have been financially affected by coronavirus; requests can be submitted via an online form.
Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank) Customers can apply for an increased cash withdrawal limit of £500.
Santander £350 interest-free overdraft buffer for three months from 6 April, which is applied automatically. Customers in need of urgent financial assistance should call a new dedicated phone line on 0800 015 6382.
Starling Bank Waiving overdraft charges for three months, but customers have to apply for help.
TSB n/a Customers can apply for an increased cash withdrawal limit of £500. Business banking customers should contact TSB.
Virgin Money n/a Encourages affected customers to get in touch to discuss their options. Will consider options such as debt restructuring and temporary increases in credit.

Reduced bank branch openings

Several banks have announced they will be operating reduced opening hours as well as imposing social distancing measures in their branches.

Many are therefore advising that you only visit a bank branch if absolutely necessary and are encouraging people to use their online banking and app services instead.

Barclays says it will try to keep branches open for as long as possible, but some may temporarily close or have reduced opening hours if staff availability becomes an issue – you can check using its ‘branch finder’.

HSBC branches have adjusted opening hours, but these vary from branch to branch, so you should check the online ‘branch finder’ before you try to visit. Customers will be asked to stay two metres away from each other.

Leeds Building Society has reduced its branch opening hours to Monday to Friday, 10am to 3.30pm. Priority will be given to elderly and vulnerable customers between 10.30am to 11.30am and 2.30pm to 3.30pm. Maximum of two customers inside a branch at any one time.

Lloyds Banking Group (Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Lloyds Bank) has 200 of its 1,600 branches temporarily closed and 100 are operating reduced hours, and social distancing measures are being enforced. The mobile branch service is currently not operating.

Metro Bank branches are open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 5pm on Sundays.

Nationwide is reducing its branch hours to 10am-2pm Monday to Friday and 9am-12pm on Saturdays. There will be a two-metre distancing rule between all staff and customers. It says 50 of its 650 branches have had to close due to staffing issues.

NatWest and RBS branches mostly remain open, but some are operating reduced hours due to staffing issues. Customers are being asked to only come to branches if necessary and social distancing measures will be in place. More details on closures and opening hours are available for NatWest and RBS.

Santander has closed all of its university campus branches; all other branches will be reducing their hours to 10am-4pm Monday to Friday.

TSB is reducing branch hours to 10am to 4pm, closing for an hour at 12.30pm for cleaning. Branches that normally open on Saturdays will be available from 9am to 1pm.

Universal Credit and other benefits

The government has introduced a number of temporary measures to help workers who have to take time off work to self-isolate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that statutory sick pay will be available to all employed workers from day one when self-isolating, rather than day four. 

On Monday 9 March, the government confirmed that any Universal Credit claimants who can’t attend their job centre appointment due to being in self-isolation should tell their work coaches and won’t be sanctioned.

However, this is at the discretion of the work coach, who must be contacted before the appointment is due.

Under normal circumstances, Universal Credit claimants would need to meet their work coach to demonstrate their claimant commitments. Failure to do so results in a ‘sanction’, which is when your benefits are cut.

Self-employed and gig economy workers will also be able to apply for Universal Credit or new-style employment and support allowance (ESA) to compensate for the fact that they’re not entitled to statutory sick pay.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that the pre-existing £16,000 savings limit will continue to apply; anyone with more than £16,000 in savings will be ineligible for Universal Credit payments.

Advances for Universal Credit are available immediately (as the benefit usually takes around five weeks to set up).

Which? advice on coronavirus

Experts from across Which? have been compiling the advice you need to stay safe and make sure you’re not left out of pocket.

You can keep up to date on our latest coverage on our coronavirus advice hub.

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