Support during the COVID-19 pandemic

Support for those claiming benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Council recognises that its residents may be impacted by the COVID-19 and that this might mean that you are not able to pay your Council Tax.​

Council Tax

If you have lost your job or seen a fall in your income, you may be entitled help towards paying your Council Tax. To find out if you are entitled please use our Council Tax Support calculator in the Related Content section on this page. If this shows you could be entitled then you should make a claim for Council Tax Support.

If you think you will qualify for Council Tax Support don’t delay, claim straight away. Normally any help you are entitled to will only start from the week after we receive your claim. You can claim by contacting us using this contact form or downloading a claim form in Related Content.

If you have recently applied for and been awarded Universal Credit please contact us to claim Council Tax Support. If you have not claimed Universal Credit but your income has gone down you may still be eligible for Council Tax Support. However you will need to complete an application form and provide further information.

Council Tax hardship fund

If you are eligible for Council Tax Support you will also be entitled to further assistance under the Hardship Fund set up by Government by way of an additional award of up to £150.00.  You do not need to make a separate application for assistance under the Hardship Fund this will be awarded automatically to Council Tax Support recipients. Anyone who is of working age and receives Council Tax Support during the 2020-2021 financial year is eligible for this scheme. This is as long as you are due to pay £150.00 in Council Tax from the point your claim starts to 31st March 2021. If you are due to pay less than this, your remaining bill will be reduced to zero.

Local Housing Allowance Increase

The Local Housing Allowance is the maximum amount of help that people renting from a private landlord can claim from Housing Benefit or Universal Credit.

From April 2020, Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates will be set at levels that mean housing support from the benefits system has been increased to cover 30 per cent of all rental properties in the local area. This means that LHA will cover the rents of up to three in every 10 homes in an area. This has not been the case since 2012, and will mean that the number of private rental properties that are affordable to people on Housing Benefit or Universal Credit will increase. For further information please visit see the Local Housing Allowance rates link in the Related Content section on this page.

Following the budget announcement on 3rd March 2021 Local Housing Allowance rates for 2021/22 will be maintained at the elevated rates agreed for 2020/21, with future increases revisited annually as part of the annual review.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates applicable from April 2020 to March 2021 - amendment as instructed by The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations 2020 on the Gov.uk website.

​Universal Credit

From 6 April 2020 the government is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit by £20 per week. This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit customers. This means that for a single Universal Credit customer (aged 25 or over), the standard allowance will increase from £317.82 to £409.89 per month.

Following the budget announcement on 3rd March 2021, the Universal Credit ‘uplift’ of £20 a week will continue for a further six months from April 2021. This means that for a single Universal Credit customer (aged 25 or over), the standard allowance will be £411.51 per month.

If you currently receive Housing Benefit and are thinking about applying for Universal Credit, please ensure that by doing so you will not be worse off. In some situations you may find your Universal Credit award is not as generous as the legacy benefits you currently receive. 

Please note that once you switch from claiming legacy benefits such as Housing Benefit you cannot switch back. 

Before you make an application for Universal Credit please visit https://www.entitledto.co.uk/help/Calculating-Universal-Credit 

Tax Credits

The government has also announced that Working Tax Credits payments will be increased from 6 April 2020 for one year.​ The standard rate for Working tax credits will increase by £20 a week for one year from 6 April 2020. This increase could mean customers will be up to £1,040 better off.

For the financial year 2021/22 the Government is making a one-off payment of £500.00 to eligible Working Tax Credit claimants to provide continued extra support over the next six months.

You can also use the government’s benefit calculator in the Related Content section on this page to find out if you’re entitled to any other help.

Test and trace support payment

The Government announced a new national Test and Trace Support scheme which commenced on 28 September 2020. It is designed to ensure that people on low incomes self-isolate when they test positive or are identified as a contact, and to encourage more people to get tested. This will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and avoid further societal and economic restrictions, including local lockdowns.

Who will be eligible for the test and trace support payment?

From the 8th March 2021, to be eligible for the test and trace support payment you have to apply within 42 days of your first day of self-isolation and an individual must:

  • have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app because they have tested positive for COVID-19; or 
  • have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app because they have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, and are not exempt from self-isolation; and
  • have responded to message from NHS Test and Trace and have provided any legally required information, such as details of their close contacts
  • be employed or self-employed
  • be unable to work from home and will lose income as a result and
  • be currently receiving:
    • universal credit
    • working tax credit
    • income based employment and support allowance
    • income based jobseeker’s allowance
    • income support
    • housing benefit
    • and/or pension credit.

Discretionary Payments

If you do not receive any of the qualifying benefits but meet all the other criteria, we can consider making a discretionary payment.

You must also meet the following criteria:

  • Be on a low income and will face financial hardship as a result of not being able to work while you are self-isolating
  • Your total capital must not exceed £1000. By capital we mean the total of any money, savings and investments you hold
  • be able to explain why you are not currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment & Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit


Rochford District Council is receiving additional funding from  Essex County Council to extend the discretionary scheme to ensure that we reach more people who need support during the pandemic because they have to self-isolate and are unable to work. These changes took effect from 15 April 2021.  If you do not qualify based on the criteria above you may still be entitled to a payment if you do not receive one of the qualifying benefits but meet all the other criteria and:

  • you normally earn less than £500 per week, after tax, national insurance and pension deductions. This includes self-employed and zero-hours contract workers
  • you have savings of less than £16,000

 

From 8 March 2021, the scheme has been expanded so parents or guardians who are not legally required to self-isolate can apply for a Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment if they need to take time off work to care for a child or young person who is self-isolating. This includes parents and guardians who are exempt from self-isolation.

You must also meet the following criteria:

  • You are the parent or guardian of a child or young person in the same household and need to take time off work to care for them while they self-isolate. This is limited to one parent or guardian per household for the child or young person’s self-isolation period. 
  • You are employed or self-employed.
  • You cannot work from home while undertaking caring responsibilities and will lose income as a result. 
  • the young person has: 
    • tested positive for COVID-19 and is aged 15 or under, or aged 25 or under with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan; or 
    • been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19 (by NHS Test and Trace, their education or care setting or the NHS COVID-19 app), is aged 18-25, is not fully vaccinated and has an EHC Plan
  • the young person normally attends an education or care setting; and
  • self-isolating because there was an outbreak at their education or childcare setting, and they have been sent home by their local public health team.
  • You meet all the other means-tested eligibility criteria for a Test and Trace Support Payment or criteria for a discretionary payment. 

How much is the payment?

Individuals who meet the eligibility criteria will be entitled to £500. This will be payable as a lump sum.

Will these payments be taxed?

These payments will be subject to income tax. They will not be subject to National Insurance contributions.

What if my bank account is overdrawn?

You can protect your Test and Trace Support Payment from being applied to an outstanding overdraft by telling your bank or building society it should only be used to pay your rent or other essential bills. This protection is called a "first right of appropriation of funds order".

You need to write to your bank or building society at least seven days before your payment is due.  For example, you may want to instruct your bank or building society:

"On or around (insert date) a one off Test and Trace Support Payment from Rochford District Council will be paid into my current account, (insert account number). I am exercising my first right of appropriation over these funds and wish you to pay the following items from it: e.g. £600 standing order to my landlord, (insert landlord name) on the 20th of the month."

We recommend that you keep a copy of the letter in case there is any dispute later and you may want to ask your bank or building society for a written acknowledgement of your instructions.

You can make an application for a Test and Trace Support payment using this link to the online application form or use the link in the Related Content section on this page, where you can also find our policies relating to this scheme.