Your finances and COVID-19

Introduction

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. Ireland is trying to reduce transmission of the virus by implementing a range of measures. You can read more about the measures currently in effect.

You may be worried about falling into financial difficulties during this period. For example, if your income drops due to coronavirus restrictions or you incur unexpected expenses, you may find you don’t have enough to cover your usual outgoings.

This document answers some of the questions you might have around paying your bills and meeting other financial commitments. As this situation is rapidly changing, the information here is likely to change in the week ahead.

Please check back as we will continue to add information as it is announced. You can also check twitter.com/citizensinfo for updates.

What financial supports are available?

If your income drops due to coronavirus restrictions, you may be entitled to income supports. You can also see our document on your employment rights during COVID-19 restrictions.

  • If you are sick and cannot work: Find out what your employer’s position is on sick pay. The Government has introduced a number of temporary measures to help you if you have to take time off work to self-isolate or if you are ill. You can get more information on Illness Benefit during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • If you cannot work because you have to take care of children or dependents: First of all you should find out what your employer’s position is on leave to look after children. The Government has asked employers to be as flexible as possible in allowing staff time off to look after their children or other members of their families. It was announced on 30 March 2020 that if you cannot work because you are caring for children during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can apply for the new COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
  • If you have no work or reduced hours: You may be eligible for support from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) or your employer may be able to continue to pay you under the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme. You can get more information on the special COVID-19 Pandemic payment and on social welfare supports and COVID-19.

What to do first if you have lost income

If you have been affected by a loss of income or think you will be in the near future, you should try to take the following steps:

  1. Check to see what financial supports are available, depending on your own situation (see above).
  2. Develop a short-term budget for a period of 3 months to give yourself a better understanding of money coming in and money going out and identify any shortfall. The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) website has a budgeting tool and a Household Budget Sheet (pdf).
  3. When you prepare your budget, focus on priorities – food, utilities, accommodation, phone and broadband connectivity, medical care and expenditure on your children or dependants.
  4. If, after you have developed a budget for the next 3 months, you think you are going to have a difficulty in making payments or repaying loans you should contact your creditors by email or phone. It is fine to contact by phone but you should always follow up in writing. It was announced on 18 March that banks will offer a series of measures to support people and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (see ‘Can I get support from my bank?’ below)
  5. Creditors are aware that COVID-19 is going to impact on people’s income. They should be willing to work with you to reschedule over the short-term, where this is necessary based on what you can afford to pay. It is important to get in touch early.
  6. If possible, try to avoid borrowing more as a solution to a drop in income. Where you can, avoid high cost credit like moneylending loans.

Which outgoings should I prioritise?

If your income drops due to coronavirus you may find you don’t have enough to cover your usual outgoings. Here are some steps you can take:

Step 1: Focus on priority living costs, you should prioritise spending on food, medical care and utilities to prioritise your health and wellbeing.

  • Food: You can get recipes to plan and get best value for your money in this MABS resource (pdf)
  • Medical costs: You should monitor and follow the health advice from the HSE
  • Utilities: You should continue to make payments on utilities such as gas and electricity to avoid disconnection. If you are eligible and not already on the vulnerable customers register, you should register now by contacting your supplier.

Step 2. Make a list of all your debts and bills - your debts might include, for example:

  • Mortgage or rent
  • Credit card
  • Overdrafts
  • Loans
  • Hire purchase payments
  • Utilities such as phone or internet bills
  • Payments to Revenue

Make a list of who you owe money to and how much your debts or bills are each month. Make sure you can pay for your priority living costs before you prioritise payments of other bills and debts. You can use the MABS Household Budget Sheet (pdf).

Step 3: Prioritise your payments - work out which debts you need to pay first after prioritising food, medical and utility costs. Some debts are more important than others. Generally, these are where creditors have extra powers to, for example, repossess property or evict you.

  • Mortgage payments: if possible, you should continue to pay your mortgage. If you don’t think you can make the full repayment due to a drop in income you should contact your lender as soon as possible. You may be able to avail of a payment break on your mortgage. You should maintain the maximum payment you can afford towards your mortgage.
  • Rent payments: this is a priority because you want to maintain payments to support your tenancy. If you are having problems meeting your rent payments, contact Threshold, the national housing charity, which provides information and advice to people in private rented housing.

Step 4: Contact your creditors if you feel that you may fall behind on your payments.

What support can I get from my bank?

On 18 March 2020, the 5 retail banks (AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC, Permanent tsb and Ulster Bank), along with their representative body the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) announced a series of measures to support people and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The measures have been extended to include non-bank mortgage lenders and credit servicing firms.

These include:

  • A payment break of up to 3 months for businesses and personal customers
  • A simplified application process to make it easy for businesses and personal customers to get support from their bank
  • A solution to ensure that COVID-19 application for a payment break will not affect your credit record
  • Deferral of court proceedings for 3 months

You can get more detailed information in the BPFI’s COVID-19 support FAQ or from mabs.ie.

How does a payment break work?

A payment break is also known as a temporary deferral of payment, payment holiday or moratorium. It is an agreement with your lender allowing you temporarily to stop your monthly mortgage or loan repayments.

Lenders may offer you one of the following types of payment breaks:

  1. ‘Moratorium’ payment break – this means full loan repayments stop for an agreed period. Once this moratorium period has finished, future loan repayments on the mortgage or loan will increase. This happens because the loan must be repaid in full during the agreed term.
  2. ‘Interest only’ payment – you only pay interest on the loan during the agreed period. Your monthly repayments will be less during this period. However, because you are not paying any capital (the amount you borrowed), your loan balance will not reduce during this period.

The BPFI’s support FAQ has a worked example of how a payment break works in practice.

Will it impact on my overall cost of borrowing or my credit record?

You will still have to pay the unpaid interest and capital repayments (known as deferred or postponed payments) at a later date. It is likely that your lender will spread deferred payments over the term of your loan. This will result in an increase to the cost of credit on your loan. This means that when your repayments start again they will be for a higher amount as your lender will add the deferred payments to your overall loan balance and keep the term the same. The shorter the term left on your loan or mortgage, the larger the increase in your monthly payments, once the payment break is over.

It is possible some lenders will consider increasing the length of your mortgage or loan term so that your repayment amount can stay the same.

If you agree to a payment break with your lender under a COVID-19 application, your credit history will not be affected.

How can I apply?

If you want to request a payment break, you should contact your bank directly.

Lenders have agreed to implement a fast-tracked COVID-19 application and approval process. The BPFI and lenders are working to agree a simplified application process. Updates will be added here as soon as more information becomes available.

You should monitor the websites of the Central Bank of Ireland and the BPFI for updates on the supports banks will make available to customers affected by coronavirus.

Will my bank, credit union or post office stay open?

At present, all retail services at Post Offices nationwide are still working. Since Friday 20 March, the majority of Post Offices are open from 8am to facilitate older customers who want to conduct their business ahead of other customers. You can keep up to date with any customer notices on anpost.com or An Post’s social media channels.

Retail banks are operating as normal, however some banks have temporarily closed some of their branches due to COVID-19. You can keep up to date with any customer notices on your bank’s website.

Some credit unions may be operating an online only service to members as a temporary measure. You should contact your local credit union to check if services are working normally.

Can I get any support from my landlord?

Emergency measures were announced on 19 March 2020 to protect tenants who have been impacted by COVID-19. These are:

  • A moratorium on notices to leave rental accommodation and a moratorium on rent increases for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • An increase in the notice period for tenancies of less than six months from 28 to 90 days

While tenants are expected to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, income supports and Rent Supplement are available to you if you are struggling to pay. These supports are provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Any rent arrears built up will be payable, but landlords have been asked to show understanding and reach local arrangements in these circumstances.

Our overview document on COVID-19 gives information about organisations that support tenants.

What support can I get from my utilities supplier?

With effect from 8am on 17 March, the following measures have been put in place to help you remain connected to your electricity and gas supplies during this period:

  • Domestic disconnections are suspended until at least 19 April
  • Emergency credit levels for prepaid (Pay As You Go) gas meters will increase from €10 to €100
  • Suppliers will offer online and over the phone top up services if you have a prepaid (Pay As You Go) electricity meter and cannot reach a shop

You can read the full announcement on the website of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities.

Can I get any support from Revenue?

If you have overpaid income tax or Universal Social Charge (USC) because of being laid off, any refund due to you will be administered by your employer and paid to you through payroll. Refunds will be repaid to your employer through Revenue’s COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme. You should contact Revenue directly if you run into, or are facing difficulty in meeting a tax repayment or underpayment.

Revenue will work with you to resolve your payment difficulty on a case-by-case basis.If you opted to pay the LPT due for 2020 in one payment using a single debit authority, your LPT amount was due to debited from your account on 21 March 2020 (unless you opted to pay at an earlier date). Revenue has announced that the payment date will be changed automatically to 21 May 2020.

Protect yourself from COVID-19 scams

Scams target people of all ages and backgrounds. Scams are about tricking you into parting with your money and are becoming more and more sophisticated and difficult to spot. Sadly, during the coronavirus pandemic, fraud and other scams are increasing.

Gardaí have issued a warning in relation to a number of COVID-19 related scams. Examples include:

  • Online shopping scams involving sought-after items like face masks and hand sanitiser
  • People calling to your house offering services in relation to Covid-19, including services for medically-related tests
  • Phising emails with an attachment claiming to contain vital information about the virus and prompting you to open the attachment
  • Hoax websites asking you to make a donation to a fake charity supporting a coronavirus cause

How can I protect myself?

There are things you can do to protect yourself from scams. You should:

  • Know who you are dealing with: Research the company to make sure it is a legitimate business or charity
  • Be alert for suspicious behaviour: Be aware of offers that seem too good to be true. Check the website is secure by looking for a closed security padlock symbol in the browser window bar. Don’t click or download anything you don’t trust.
  • Protect your personal information: Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Don’t give out personal information in an email or when chatting online.
  • Protect your money: Never send money by bank transfer unless you are absolutely certain you are sending it to someone you know and trust. Sending money by bank transfer is like sending someone cash and generally once you send it, it’s gone. Always use a secure method of payment such as credit card, debit card or other payment services such as PayPal (that offer a payment protection scheme). You can ask your bank or card provider to reverse the transaction through a process called chargeback.

The CCPC has more advice about how to watch out for scams.

The CCPC publish regular consumer warnings about misleading or fraudulent websites.

Where can I get more help?

The COVID-19 emergency is unexpected, sudden and overwhelming. The resources below may be useful if you are experiencing stress related to COVID-19:

Page edited: 1 April 2020