If you are a journalist feeling anxious about your income during the coronavirus crisis, we have some good news: there are many places you can go to get support. This is true for staffers and freelancers alike.
The government has announced packages of support for both employed and self-employed workers. You can find out more about the government assistance you can potentially get at the end of this article.
However, Women in Journalism is aware that not all journalists will be covered by these government support schemes, and that some of you may need more urgent financial assistance.
We therefore wanted to highlight to our members the charities that offer hardship funds specifically for journalists needing emergency financial assistance.
Here’s a quick round-up of what’s on offer from the four main charities that have funds for this purpose:
The Journalists’ Charity
You are eligible for emergency financial assistance from the Journalists’ Charity if you have been working as a journalist (and earning your main income from journalism in any format) for at least the past two years.
The charity is ready and willing to help employed and self-employed journalists who have lost their income and cannot pay their bills due to the coronavirus outbreak. “If you have a payment to make immediately, you can contact us and explain you’re in an emergency,” says CEO James Brindle.
Specially-trained case workers will talk to you about your needs and ask questions about your financial situation. You‘ll need to provide evidence of your employment and your income as a journalist, such as articles you have written if you are a freelancer or a wage slip if you are employed. “It’s not particularly burdensome, and your application can be done very quickly and processed.”
Each application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis but Brindle says the decision is positive more often than not. The charity awards £350,000 to £500,000 in total to journalists in need each year. Individual grants vary according to personal circumstances, although if an applicant asks for over £5,000, the charity may want to do a home visit and speak to them in person “as an extra checking step”.
Decisions about applications can be made very quickly. “If people are really desperate, we try and get them help as soon as possible, and sometimes that is on the same day, if we’ve got the information we need and it’s an emergency. We will move heaven and earth to get journalists their support.”
If you are particularly vulnerable to the virus and must self-isolate for a long period, the charity may be able to help you if you expect to struggle financially over the next few months. Similarly, call up for advice if you suddenly find yourself the sole earner in the household, unable to make ends meet, because your partner has lost his or her job due to COVID:19.
Don’t wait until the situation escalates. “It’s absolutely right to seek support,” says Brindle. “If the government ends up providing support, fine – but if people need emergency help now, they need it now, and not in a few weeks’ time.”
How to apply for help: Visit https://journalistscharity.org.uk/how-we-help/advice-financial-assistance/, download the form and fill it in. Or for help, advice, and guidance around an application you can call number or email email@example.com For help, advice, and guidance around an application, email firstname.lastname@example.org
How to donate: Visit https://journalistscharity.org.uk/support-us/ to make a donation to support other journalists in financial hardship at this difficult time.
You are eligible for emergency financial assistance from the National Union of Journalists’ hardship fund, NUJ Extra, if you have less than £12,000 in savings and have been a full member of the NUJ for at least a year.
The charity says it will consider applications from any eligible journalist who has lost significant income as a result of the coronavirus. However, it will prioritise: NUJ members who are carers; NUJ members with financial dependents, who are the sole income earners in their household; and NUJ members who have no other available support.
“We’re asking anybody else if they can survive for another week or two, please do, because we think we’re going to have to deal with quite a large number of claims coming in,” says Chris Weal, trustee of NUJ extra.
The charity will prioritise paying journalists’ bills, where failure to do so would lead to imprisonment. “If you don’t pay your council tax and your TV licence, bizarrely, you can go to jail for it. It’s an offence.”
He says the charity will expect applicants to have claimed every state benefit they are entitled to, including mortgage holidays and statutory sick pay, where applicable. You will also need to show evidence of cancelled contracts or lost pay and, ideally, you should show you have sought other forms of income, including non-journalistic work.
“We want everybody to have claimed every single penny they can, and then we will look at contributing to important bills or to get them some food.” The charity will take an individual approach to applications to start off with, but if it gets inundated with requests, Wheal says this may have to change. “The issue we have is: if this goes for six months or longer, we are not going to have the money to fund people’s loss of earnings, long-term. We just won’t have it.”
How to apply for help: Fill in the application form https://www.nuj.org.uk/work/nuj-extra/application-form/ and email it to email@example.com
How to donate: Visit https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/433#!/DonationDetails
The Printing Charity
The Printing Charity is a very old charity that aims to help people working in print, publishing, packing and the graphic arts. This means that, for example, journalists working in print can potentially access its hardship fund and get practical, emotional and financial support from the charity.
To be eligible, you must have worked in print, publishing, packing or the graphic arts for three or more years.
The financial support you will be offered will be based on assessment of your overall financial position and access to state support and other benefits.
It’s worth noting that, although you may not have heard of it, The Printing Charity is one of the best-funded charities offering journalists support. According to its latest accounts, it has long-term investments valued at £31.8m.
The charity’s chief executive, Neil Lovell said: “We are working to support people during this unprecedented public health emergency; helping our existing beneficiaries and responding to new requests for help. If we are not able to help financially, we will look at signposting to other services and information.”
How to apply for help: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01293 542 820 to discuss what you need.
How to donate: Call 01293 542 820 to find out how to do this.
The Rory Peck Trust
Since 1995, the Rory Peck Trust has given support to freelance journalists and their families when they need help. This usually means freelancers who have been seriously injured, threatened, imprisoned, detained, forced into exile or killed as a result of their work.
At the moment, The Rory Peck Trust is trying to understand how it can best meet the needs of freelance journalists and support them through this crisis.
A statement on its website says: “Right now, our team is working hard on a COVID-19 assistance initiative for freelance journalists so we can support some of those whose livelihoods have been worst affected by the pandemic. Please tell us what you need most by completing our short survey. Forward it on to other freelancers so we can tailor our assistance and support as many people as possible.”
The charity is asking freelancers to complete the survey by Sunday 29th March so that it can can the feedback of these journalists into consideration as it develops its programme of assistance.
How to apply for help: Visit https://rorypecktrust.org/freelance-assistance/assistance-grants/, contact the Trust by telephone on +44 (0) 20 3219 7867 or email email@example.com.
How to donate: Visit https://rorypecktrust.org/support-us/#donate
Additional notes from Rory Peck Trust
‘We’ve had quite a busy week preparing everything for the Rory Peck Trust’s Hardship Fund for journalists affected by Covid-19, that will be made public in the next few days. Thank you for your patience. Normally, the Trust offers Assistance Grants to active freelance journalists in distress. Through the Hardship Fund, our criteria is focused on the same group, prioritizing the applications from those who have no access to any other type of assistance (governmental or non-governmental) in the country where they are based. As well as those journalists, whose livelihoods have directly been impacted by the current global crisis (i.e. commission cancellation, inability to travel, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown).
To access the Fund, we have developed eligibility criteria and an application form, which includes providing evidence they have been actively working as a freelance journalist for at least the last three months and that journalism is their sole source of income. Our team is small and as such our capacity is limited, which is why we have taken the time to prepare this initiative, to allow us to process requests as they come, however, we estimate that in this case we would be able to respond and award the grants (depending on the number we receive). Once the application process has started the time for us to be able to award a grant depends on the velocity in which the applicant provides us with the evidence we require, to move their case forward.
So far, we have received 12 requests for assistance and information. At the moment we are able to offer between £500-£2000 in individual assistance grants, but for the Covid-19 assistance initiative, we’re probably looking at amounts on the smaller end to help tide people over as well as the possibility of webinars and other non-financial support.’
Cutting your monthly costs
If you need to cut down your monthly outgoings during the crisis, consider the following steps:
- Take a mortgage holiday. Most mortgage lenders now have forms on their websites that will allow borrowers to apply for a mortgage holiday for three months. During this time, you won’t have to make any payments, although the interest on your loan will continue to accrue. Mortgage lenders will not be allowed to charge you a fee for taking out the mortgage holiday, and they will not be allowed to repossess people’s homes during the pandemic.
- Take a rent holiday. Unfortunately this is not as straightforward as a mortgage holiday and you may not be allowed to take one. It is up to your landlord. The best approach is probably to negotiate with him or her for a temporary reduction in your rent payments, but it is likely you will need to commit to paying the rest of the rent you owe in full by a set date, plus interest. Your landlord may expect you to prove that you are unable to pay your usual rent in full. If you need to self-isolate for health reasons, bear in mind that your landlord will not be allowed to evict you for at least the next three months during the pandemic, even if you do not pay your rent in full and on time.
- Get a refund on your commuting costs. If you commute by train or tube and have a season ticket, you should be able to get a refund for the cost of your unused tickets. Visit the website of the company that operates the service you’d normally use to apply for the refund.
- Talk to your energy provider. The government has agreed measures with the energy industry to support customers in financial distress due to the pandemic. Debt repayments and bill payments may be reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary, giving you greater time to pay and potentially even access to hardship funds. If you’re having to self-isolate and can’t pay your bills as a result of this, again, support will be available to you through your energy supplier. For further advice, see the Ofgem guide: Who to contact if it’s difficult paying bills
- Talk to your water bill provider. Water firms are encouraging their customers who are suffering from immediate or short-term issues paying their bills to get in touch. You may be able to take advantage of the schemes they offer that are designed to help people in financial difficulty. You may be offered a payment break or have your payment plan adjusted to reduce your monthly outgoings. The water companies are also stopping new court applications on unpaid bills during the current crisis, and are stopping any enforcement visits. Water UK chief executive Christine McGourty said: “We know that it’s an extremely difficult time for everyone at the moment, and the last thing we’d want is for anyone to worry about how they’ll pay their water bill. If you’re struggling to pay your bill, or you’re worried you might struggle in the future, please approach your water company for help. There are lots of ways that they can support you, and all you need to do is reach out and get in touch with them.” She added: “If you or any of your family or friends need a little extra help due to particular health issues, please make sure you’re signed up to your local water company’s Priority Services Register.”
- Borrow interest-free to pay for essentials. Many UK banks are overhauling their current accounts to enable customers to use their overdraft, interest-free. Typically, you will be able to borrow £300 interest-free from your bank, but each bank is making up its own rules. Find out what your bank is offering.
- Use a 0% credit card if you have to. Another option, if you cannot afford to pay upfront for essentials you need to buy right, is to consider taking out a 0% credit card to use during this difficult period. The best cards offer 27 months’ interest-free spending, during which time you will only need to make the minimum payment on the card each month (usually around 1% of the balance). After that, you will start incurring interest – so keep your spending to an absolute minimum or you will find yourself spiralling into debt when the pandemic is over.
- Speak to your credit card provider. If you are struggling to pay off your credit card this month as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, talk to your credit card provider. They may be more lenient than usual, and wave fee for missed payments or offer you a repayment holiday. Find out what credit card companies are offering.
- Use the money you have been saving for your tax bill in July. This applies to freelancers and should be an absolute last resort. The government is deferring the tax payment you would usually need to make in July this year, to January 2021. If you decide to spend this money, you will have to try to save it all up again later in the year. Then again, if your income falls as a result of the coronavirus, your tax bill in January 2021 should be lower than usual anyway.
- Apply for government assistance. If you’re an employee, you can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re staying at home because of COVID:19. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and have been advised to do a household quarantine. SSP will now be paid from Day 1. If you are self-employed, have COVID-19 or are staying at home because of the virus, you can also claim Universal Credit. The self-employed can access this benefit at a rate equivalent to SSP, ie £94.25. Whether you are employed or self-employed, there’s a useful benefits calculator on the Turn2us website you can use to figure out which benefits may be available to you.
Get help from the government
There are two types of workers the government is intent on helping through this crisis. The first are employees, and the second are self-employed sole traders – but only if they earn their main income from self-employment, have filed accounts for at least the 2018/2019 tax year, and earn profits of less than £50,000 a year.
The finer details of these schemes are still emerging, but it is likely that many journalists will not fall into either of these categories. For example: journalists who set themselves up as limited companies and pay themselves dividends, journalists who are sub-contracted via an agency, and journalists who went freelance after 5 April 2019. The bad news is, it looks as though none of these journalists will be eligible for anything except Universal Credit.
I’m an employee.
If you’re a staff writer, and are unable to work due to the coronavirus outbreak, speak to your employer. If you and your employer both agree, your employer might be able to keep you on the payroll – even if they’re unable to operate or have no work for you to do at the moment. The government defines this as being ‘on furlough’. You can be on any type of contract – including a zero-hour contract or a temporary contract.
The grant will start on the day you were placed on furlough and can be backdated to 1 March. You could get paid 80% of your wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. You’ll still have to pay taxes on that, and you cannot undertake work for your employer while on furlough. The government expects the scheme to be up and running by the end of April.
If you’re a freelance journalist, earning more than half of your total income from self-employment, have filed a tax return for at least the 2018/2019 tax year and your average annual trading profit is less than £50,000, you will be eligible for a government grant for the next three months. This may be extended.
You can apply for the grant if you are trading when you apply (or would be except for COVID-19), intend to continue trading in the next tax year (2020/21) and have lost trading profits due to the outbreak.
If you have not yet submitted a tax return for the 2018/19 tax year, do so by 23 April 2020 to be eligible.
The grant will give you 80% of the average profits of the last three tax returns you filed, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. If you started trading between 2016 and 2019, HMRC will only look at the tax returns you have filed.
HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online. You will be told how much you will get and the grant will be paid directly into your bank account as one lump sum. You do not need to contact HMRC about this and are advised not to do so, as tax officers are busy trying to implement the introduction of the scheme.
The bad news is, the scheme is only expected to launch in June, with payments backdated to cover March, April and May.
Inevitably, scammers will attempt to use confusion about these schemes to try to swindle you out of your cash.
Do not respond to emails pretending to be from HMRC or asking you to click on a link and enter your bank details. HMRC will never:
- Ask for your bank account details or personal information like your name, address, date of birth, bank and credit card details, your passwords and your mother’s maiden name
- Email you or text you about tax rebates, refunds, or personal payment information.
All genuine messages from HMRC will always include your taxpayer reference number.
So, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Contact HMRC directly to check whether an email is genuine. Do not use any phone numbers contained in the email to do this. Read HMRC’s phishing email guide for more information on how to spot a HMRC scam.
If you found this article useful, please share it with other journalists who may be suffering financial hardship at this time.