Tenant Advice on Coronavirus. Updated!

Update | We have had a few enquiries on topping up utility meters, please see the added point below from Ofgem.

 

With all the information being fired at you in these uncertain times, it may be difficult to sort out the important details that affect you as a tenant.

Given the fast changing and unpredictable nature of the situation, we will provide further information and guidance for you when it’s available.

You should tell your supplier straightaway if you can’t top up your meter. This includes if you are ill with coronavirus or following guidance to stay at home and self-isolate, and if you don’t have anyone to help you.

The government has launched an emergency package with energy suppliers (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-agrees-measures-with-energy-industry-to-support-vulnerable-people-through-covid-19) to ensure you don’t face any additional hardships in heating or lighting your home during the coronavirus outbreak. Customers with prepayment meters who are self-isolating or unable to leave their home can now speak to their supplier on the options. This may include:

  1. someone being sent to top up your prepayment card or token
  2. having funds added to your meter credit
  3. having a preloaded gas or electricity card sent to you in the post.

Note that no credit meters will be disconnected during the outbreak.

Suppliers must tell you:

  1. what customer service support is available, particularly if you are vulnerable
  2. how you are supported if you can’t top up or could go off supply. 

If your meter is outside, it may be helpful for you to leave your meter box unlocked if it’s safe to do so, and if you need someone else to top it up. You may also want to arrange for a trusted person to take your top-up card to the shop if needed.

If your local top up shop closes, Paypoint.com and Payzone.co.uk list alternative vendors online, and the Post Office also provide top ups for some suppliers. Your supplier can also help.

If you have a non-urgent question for your energy supplier, please first check their online and mobile advice if you are able to. Most are regularly updating supporting service information and frequently asked questions relating to the coronavirus national emergency through these channels, as well as via contact centres. This will help ensure the most vulnerable can get through to contact centres to get the help they need. 

If you are a smart meter customer, you should be able to top-up remotely, such as by phone, mobile application or online.

Citizens Advice has published more detailed online advice for prepayment customers (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/problems-with-your-energy-supply/problems-getting-to-or-topping-up-your-prepayment-meter/). You can also their helpline on 0808 223 1133. Calls are free. If you feel overwhelmed, or are unable to deal with your supplier on your own because of personal circumstances, the helpline may also be able to refer you to the Citizens Advice Extra Help Unit. Learn more at: https://ehu.org.uk.

You should keep up to date with and follow the latest advice from Government, the NHS and the Chief Medical Officer.  The position is changing daily and therefore it is important to check that advice regularly.

The Scottish Government’s advice can be found here.

Public health advice for your staff and tenants can be found here.

For the latest advice and information from the UK Government go here.

Health Protection Scotland has published guidance on how to prevent spread of infection in the workplace.

Clear communication is important. Look into the government support being given and then contact your letting agent or landlord to make them aware at the earliest opportunity, so that alternative arrangements can be made to cover the underlying mortgage, insurances and any contractor costs.

There is help available and if you are affected by Coronavirus and are concerned about paying your rent, a claim for Universal Credit from the Department for Work and Pensions which includes support for housing costs, can be made. The UK Government has introduced some temporary changes to make this easier. 

If you are getting Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, but still can’t afford your housing costs, there may be a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) available. Further information on DHPs and how to apply is available here.  

Further support is available for people on low incomes from the Scottish Welfare Fund, if you’re facing an emergency.  Information on how to apply can be accessed here

Whilst it is suggested that there may be a three-month mortgage holiday for some landlords, it is currently suggested they would need to prove that their tenants were in financial hardship to get this.

We will await confirmation as to what tenants would need to provide. At present some landlords are yet to establish if their lenders are offering this and they are naturally worried about being able to pay their own mortgage and their buy to let mortgage if they too fall sick, are unable to work and their rent does not come in.

A three-month mortgage payment does not mean that the money isn’t owed, it just means that the life of the mortgage is extended by 3 months, most likely with interest.

In addition, a large proportion of our landlords are retired and have put their money into property where pension funds were failing and there was virtually zero return in interest from the banks. These landlords rely heavily on the rent as the income they live off and are also very worried.

The Scottish Government has called on all landlords not to evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus. 

Eviction is a lengthy process and is always seen as a last resort. The best solution for you is to investigate and apply for financial support, as mentioned above, to help you pay your rent.

In her statement, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government announced the Scottish Government’s intention to take action to protect tenants in the private rented sector from eviction. The exact details of these changes are currently being considered.

You should contact your Landlord/Letting Agent (via email is best) to notify them, highlighting that your concerns are due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak. 

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