Coronavirus information and advice
We’re still working together safely apart for our customers
To tackle the spread of Covid-19, Scottish Government restrictions continue.
On Monday 4 January 2021, Argyll mainland areas will entered lockdown and island communities remain at Level 3. Our work is considered essential by the Scottish Government so we are able to continue to provide essential services to our tenants and communities across Argyll.
You can find out more by reading the letter from Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning published 06 November 2020. Further to this communication, Kevin Stewart issued another letter on 18 December 2020.
Our service delivery for West Highland customers is outlined below:
- Only emergency repairs and safety-related servicing works will be carried out in lockdown areas while restrictions continue (subject to Scottish Government guidelines and following safety measures)
- We will deliver a normal repairs service for our island communities in Level 3 areas
- We are unable to carry out home visits at this time (subject to Scottish Government guidelines and following safety measures)
- Our offices remain closed to the public (subject to Scottish Government guidelines and following safety measures)
For the latest guidance on COVID-19 and staying safe please visit www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/.
If you have any questions about our services, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. For details of our festive opening hours please click here.
Response times for our enquiries, complaints, repairs and customer services teams may take longer than usual as our call handlers are working from home.
If we attend your home to attend to a repair or essential visit:
We rely on your co-operation to keep us all safe when staff are visiting you. With everyone's safety and wellbeing in mind, our staff have our support in leaving properties where they feel safety measures are not being followed.
If you, or someone in your household, is unwell with symptoms and are self-isolating
Please let us know immediately by calling 0300 323 1170. We’ll put a temporary note on our system to make sure staff and contractors don’t visit you during this period. We need to reduce the risk to staff and contractors whenever possible.
Before entering your home, we will ask if your or anyone in your home has COVID symptoms; unwell or self-isolating - if this is the case, we won't come into your home
If it is safe to enter you and anyone in the property will be asked to wear a face covering for the duration of the visit and socially distance by moving to a room away from any work that is taking place.
FAQs for finances during the COVID-19 outbreak
Please note: This guidance is primarily for West Highland tenants and only West Highland tenants can access our internal advice services.
- 1. I am employed but have been contacted by the Test & Protect Service and told to self-isolate for 14 days. Am I entitled to claim any benefits?
You may be eligible for the Self-Isolation Support Grant. This is £500 and is available by applying to your local council’s Scottish Welfare Fund. You must be either employed or self-employed, unable to work from home, have a loss of income as a result of not being able to work, and be entitled to certain benefits e.g. Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, Working tax Credit.
Your employer should pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day you were advised to self- isolate. SSP is £95.85 per week. If you are not entitled to SSP and or need help with rent costs you may be able to claim Universal Credit. Entitlement will depend on your household income.
If you are already receiving Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit please see question 13.
- 2. I have lost my job/been laid of temporarily with no income. Can I claim anything?
You may be entitled to a payment from your employer through the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’. See question 14 for more details.
You may have to make a claim for Universal Credit, especially if you need assistance with paying your rent. Claims can be made online at www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit. If you do not have access to a computer or iPad, please call Universal Credit on 0800 328 5644.
If you do not qualify for Universal Credit, due to capital or other household factors, you may be able to claim New Style Jobseekers Allowance by applying online www.apply-for-new-style-jsa.service.gov.uk/ or calling 0800 055 6688, or claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance (if you have a health problem) by calling 0800 328 5644 (choose option 2). These new style benefits are based on the national insurance you have paid or been credited with.
You may also be able to claim for a reduction in your council tax.
If you are already receiving Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit please see question 13 below.
- 3. How do I make a claim to Universal Credit (UC)?
Claims can be made online www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit. You will need to create a username and password and answer two security questions. You will then be sent a code by email which you need to enter in the appropriate box which will then allow you to complete your claim.
You must provide details of your rent and services charge amounts separately on the claim to confirm your total monthly rent charge. If you are unsure how much these are, please contact your housing officer.
Couples need to make individual claims to Universal Credit therefore both need to have email addresses, create passwords and security questions. Although the claims are made individually, they must be made at the same time and the claims are joined for entitlement purposes.
You will need to be able to verify your identity to make a claim. The online claim form directs you to the Gov.UK Verify website to do this. We have been advised by UC that you should not verify your identity through this website during the current crisis. Tick the box that states you cannot verify your ID online. You will be asked to telephone the Jobcentre to arrange an appointment. However, due to the current movement restrictions this is not required. A member of staff from the Jobcentre will telephone you to carry out the ID interview.
If you are unable to complete an online claim, please contact Universal Credit on 0800 328 5644.
The Citizens Advice Bureau’s “Help to Claim” service can support you in the early stages of your Universal Credit claim, from the application, through to your first payment. Their National helpline number is 0800 023 2581.
If you are already receiving Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit, please see question 13.
- 4. When will I receive my first Universal Credit payment?
One month plus one week from the date of claim. e.g. for a claim made to Universal Credit 18 October, the first payment will be made 24 November. Any subsequent payments should be paid on the 24th of each month.
- 5. I have no money to keep me going until I get a payment from Universal Credit. What do I do?
You can claim an advance from Universal Credit. You do not have to attend the Jobcentre in person to qualify for an advance. This must be paid back at an agreed amount.
You may also be able to claim for a Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grant from your local council. This is usually payable in the form of food and utility vouchers.
If you require a food parcel you can contact your local foodbank. If you need advice or help with this please contact West Highland on 0300 323 1170.
- 6. Will I need to attend the Jobcentre if I am self- isolating for any claims I make to benefits?
The normal requirement to attend the jobcentre in person, when claiming benefits, has been suspended. The work search and work availability requirements for Universal Credit have been eased but you will need to discuss this with your work coach.
Please contact Universal Credit on 0800 328 5644.
- 7. I am self-employed and due to current situation have no work or I am having to self- isolate, what can I claim?
If you became self-employed before 6 April 2019 you may be entitled to a payment from the UK Government Self-Employment Income Support Scheme for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak. This scheme has been extended until at least April 2021.
Two further grants will be payable, with the first covering a 3-month period from the start of November and will be paid at end of January 2021. Applications for this grant will open on 30 November 2020. The taxable grant payable in January will be calculated at 80% of the average November earnings and 40% for average earnings in December and January, giving an overall average of 55% monthly trading profits across the 3 months, up to a total of £5,160.
The next grant will cover the 3 months from the start of February to the end of April 2021 and will be paid at the end of April. Currently, the UK Government is still to decide on the level of this grant. More information is available online at www.gov.uk/government/publications/self-employment-income-support-scheme-grant-extension/self-employment-income-support-scheme-grant-extension
If you have been contacted by the Test & Protect Service and told to self-isolate for 14 days, you may be eligible for the Self-Isolation Support Grant. See question 1 for more detail.
In the meantime, if you are not eligible for the above or require financial assistance now, claim Universal Credit on line at www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit, or by calling 0800 328 5644. The need for minimum floor income (an assumed level of income) has been suspended.
Alternatively, you can make a claim to New Style Employment and Support Allowance by calling 0800 328 5644 or New Style Jobseekers Allowance by calling 0800 055 6688. The seven day wait for Employment and Support Allowance for new claimants suffering from coronavirus or required to self-isolate will not apply, so it will be payable from day one.
If you are already receiving Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit please see question 13.
- 8. I work a zero-hour contract. If I self-isolate will I get SSP?
People on zero-hour contracts may be eligible for SSP. It will depend on how many hours you have worked regularly, and the income received, but in the first instance, contact your employer directly to find out if you are entitled.
If you have been contacted by the Test & Protect Service and told to self-isolate for 14 days, you may be eligible for the Self-Isolation Support Grant.
See question 1 for more detail.
- 9. I am on partial housing benefit due to my earnings, but my income has reduced/stopped. How do I make up the difference to pay my rent?
Contact your local council’s benefit team and advise them of your change in circumstances. If you are unable to do this your local authority should have a change of circumstances online form for you to complete.
Your entitlement to housing benefit will then be amended to reflect your change in income. If your income reduces, your entitlement to housing benefit will usually increase. It is important to speak to your housing officer to let them know about this change.
- 10. I am currently on Universal Credit and my income has reduced/stopped. How will Universal Credit know?
Let Universal Credit know by inputting a note on your online journal, detailing how and when your circumstances changed, and your Universal Credit award should be adjusted accordingly.
You can ask for a further advance until your Universal Credit is adjusted but remember, any advances will be recovered by deductions from your ongoing Universal Credit award.
- 11. I am in receipt of Personal Independence Payment or Employment and Support Allowance and I completed a review form recently. Will I be called in for a face-to-face medical assessment?
The Department for Work and Pensions has taken the precautionary decision to temporarily suspend all face-to-face assessments for health and disability-related benefits.
This is aimed at reducing the risk of exposure to coronavirus and safeguarding the health of individuals claiming health and disability benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk due to pre-existing health conditions.
A telephone assessment may be offered, and it is very important to participate in this.
- 12. I feel like my situation is critical, I have no one to assist and I don’t know where to turn for help.
Contact West Highland on 0300 323 1170 and request a referral to our advice services. One of our advisors will contact you as quickly as possible to discuss your situation and provide you with any necessary advice or available assistance.
- 13. What if I am working and receiving Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit?
Currently, if you claim Universal Credit your Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, or Child Tax Credit will stop. Universal Credit replaces these benefits and the intention is everyone in receipt of these benefits will move on to Universal Credit over the next few years.
However, if you claim Universal Credit now, these benefits will stop now and, importantly, you cannot reclaim them after this crisis is over.
- 14. My employer has advised me not to come in to work but has not made me redundant.
The UK Government extended the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ to help pay worker’s wages. Although intended to end on 31 October and be replaced by the Job Retention Scheme this has been suspended. The official intent is this will enable most employees who are temporarily not working due to coronavirus to be kept on the payroll rather than be laid-off or made redundant.
Under the scheme, the Government will pay up to 80% of a worker’s wages, up to a total of £2,500 per worker each month. This is more generous that the scheme in October.
Both you and your employer must agree to put you on “furlough” - so speak to your employer about whether they can claim. You cannot apply for the scheme yourself. Once agreed your employer must write to you confirming you have been furloughed to be eligible to claim.
More information is available on the Government’s website www.gov.uk/government/news/furlough-scheme-extended-and-further-economic-support-announced
- 15. My child receives free school meals, what will happen now the schools are closed?
The Scottish Government has stated free school meals will continue with local authorities making them available either through vouchers or through community hubs where the meals can be collected by families.
How you access the meals depends on the area you live in. Check your local council’s website or phone them for more details.
- 16. I am really worried about getting into debt with my bills and who should I pay first.
You should try to pay your priorities first i.e. rent, council tax and utilities. If you are struggling to pay your bills, advice is available from the Money Advice Service www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk or contact your housing officer who will be able to refer you to a money advisor in your area.
- 17. I can't afford to pay my debt due to coronavirus as I've lost some or all my income. What can I do?
Talk to your creditors direct ask them for a freeze on any payments where possible or discuss with them other things they may be able to offer i.e. reduce interest charges or reduce repayments.
- 18. If I get or a freeze on any payments or an increased credit limit due to coronavirus will my credit rating be affected?
No. If a temporary payment holiday is in place your credit rating will not be affected. However, creditors may start to lift payment holidays in November. It is important to speak to your creditor to check if they expect you to start making payments again.
If you require advice and assistance with regards to your money/debt issues, please get in touch with an approved money advisor.
- 19. I have received a letter from the Scottish Government advising I am in the “shielding” group. What help can I receive?
It is important to register for assistance, even if someone is currently helping you with food and medication deliveries. Information on how to register is in the shielding letter you have received. If the current help you receive stops for any reason, you can access support by calling 0800 111 4000.
The line is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. If you need a food delivery – this is delivered once week after you ask for assistance and is free. You will them receive a weekly delivery until you advise you no longer need this.
For more information about shielding and local support, visit the Scottish Government website www.gov.scot/publications/covid-shielding/pages/overview and the Ready Scotland website www.readyscotland.org.
A handy online tool for calculating benefit entitlements can be found here: www.turn2us.org.uk/