Universal Credit UK: Concern over policy which could be ‘detrimental to tenants’

Universal Credit provides millions across the country with the valuable support they need with the cost of living, and the benefit has become increasingly relied upon in recent weeks. The lockdown measures within the country have driven many people to claim the benefit to provide them with additional support during this time. Additional financial support for claimants can include the Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA), which can be relieving for those who are worried about eviction.

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If a claimant is facing hardship or is behind on rent, arrangements can be made by their landlord to ease their burden.

APA can:

  • Get the rent paid directly to the landlord
  • Allow the claim to be paid more frequently than once a month
  • Split the payments if a claimant is part of a couple

The APA system has been praised for allowing landlords and tenants to request the housing section of Universal Credit be rerouted to the landlord directly without the need for paperwork. 

A new online system has provided particular assistance during lockdown and social distancing measures implemented across the UK.

However, concern was sparked by recent comments made by the current Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey.

Ms Coffey appeared to pour water on the hope that APA could become commonplace within the Universal Credit system.

Taking questions from the Economic Affairs Committee, Ms Coffey discussed the economics of Universal Credit, and how the system has been functioning. 

As part of these comments, Ms Coffey told MPs she does not wish to see a return to the widespread use of direct rent payments to landlords with tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

This is despite the fact Ms Coffey praised the new online Alternative Payment Arrangement system.

Ms Coffey stated reintroducing the default payment which existed before the invention of Universal Credit would “add too much complication” to the system.

Government officials including Ms Coffey, and Neil Couling, Universal Credit Director-General, indicated this system should be set aside for those who are facing particular hardship.

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The APA online system was developed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) alongside Caridon Landlord Solutions, who expressed concern over Ms Coffey’s statements.

The organisation described the comments as disappointing for landlords, but stressed this would also be detrimental for tenants in receipt of Universal Credit.

Sherrelle Collman, Managing Director of Caridon Landlord Solutions said: “We fully understand that one of the key objectives of the introduction of Universal Credit was to simplify the system and make work pay, giving those in receipt of Universal Credit a monthly payment, mimicking how many people in full-time employment receive their salary and preparing them to manage their finances.

“However, we know from experience that rent arrears have not only increased since the introduction of UC, but also a large proportion of claimants are falling into arrears within the first couple of months. 

“Whilst it is important to empower tenants and provide support into independent living, making direct payments to landlords more difficult to access puts the most vulnerable tenants at greater risk.

“Without the confidence to let to tenants in receipt of Universal Credit, landlords will turn their backs on this sector and a time when there is a record number of people in receipt of Universal Credit and rising unemployment as a result of the global pandemic, we should be doing all we can to help make managing finances easier.”

Those who are interested in starting an application for an APA are advised to speak to their work coach.

This will enable them to discuss the options which are best suited to their personal circumstances. 

Source: Read Full Article

Universal Credit advances: How to apply for a Universal Credit advance

Those who apply for Universal Credit are in need of financial support from the Government. But what do you do if you are strapped for cash while you wait for your first payment? That’s where Universal Credit advances come in. Express.co.uk explains how to get a Universal Credit advance.

What is a Universal Credit advance?

It usually takes around five weeks to get your first Universal Credit payment after you have applied.

This is because there is a one month assessment period, and then you have to wait up to seven days for the payment to reach your account.

You will then be paid monthly on the same date, unless your payment date falls on a weekend or Bank Holiday.

This is a long time when you are struggling to pay your bills, so what do you do for cash in the meantime?

If you need help with your living costs while you wait for your first payment, you can apply for a Universal Credit advance.

Who can apply for a Universal Credit advance?

You can apply for an advance payment of your Universal Credit if you are in financial hardship while you wait for your first payment.

The Government gives the examples of not being able to pay rent or buy food as qualified “financial hardship”.

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How much can you get as a Universal Credit advance?

The most you can get as an advance is the amount of your first estimated payment.

The monthly standard allowance for those single and under 25 is £342.72.

For those single and 25 and over, the standard allowance per month is £409.89.

If you are in a couple and you are both under 25, the standard monthly allowance is £488.59 for you both.

If you are in a couple and either of you are 25 or over, the monthly standard allowance for you both is £594.04.

You may get more money on top of your standard allowance if you are eligible.

For example, if you have children, a disability or health concern you will get extra money.

The same applies for carers, and those who need help with housing costs.

If you apply for an advance, the maximum you will get is the amount you will normally be getting each month.

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How to apply for a Universal Credit advance

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account HERE, or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:
• explain why you need an advance
• verify your identity (you’ll do this when you apply online or on the phone with a work coach)
• provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account)

You’ll usually find out the same day if you can get an advance.

Do you have to pay back a Universal Credit advance?

Yes, you will need to pay back your Universal Credit advance a bit at a time from your future Universal Credit payments.

You start paying it back out of your first payment, and you can choose how many months you pay the advance back over.

However, you must pay it back within 12 months.

You do not pay interest on it – the total amount you pay back is the same.

If you no longer get Universal Credit, you will need to pay it back by other means, e.g. from your wages or other benefits.

If you are already receiving Universal Credit you may also be able to get a Budgeting Advance to help pay for emergency household costs, for example, buying a new cooker or for help getting a job or staying in work.

Source: Read Full Article

Universal Credit UK: Claimants could receive extra housing support

Universal Credit is made available to Britons through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which aims to assist those who need a helping hand. Millions have put in a claim for the living support payment during the last few weeks, due to the challenging circumstances brought about by the lockdown measures imposed across the country. Job losses and furloughing has deeply affected many communities, with temporary support necessary to help them get by.

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While Universal Credit varies from person to person, there is a standard basic allowance the government has outlined. 

Single people who are 25 or over can receive £409.89 in monthly standard allowance.

Those in a couple over the age of 25 receive £594.04 per month to split between them.

But it is important to note claimants can also receive additional support with their housing costs.

Housing costs can often make up a significant proportion of expenditure for many families, and the regular payments need addressing.

Those who are eligible for Universal Credit can receive help paying for their housing, in a method known as the housing payment.

This enables Britons to be able to pay their rent to either a private landlord, housing association or local authority, or assists with interest payments on a mortgage. 

For those who own their property, assistance may also be provided to help meet some service charges.

Those in supported, sheltered or temporary housing arrangements can also be helped with their costs, so long as they are not receiving “care, support or supervision” through their housing.

The Universal Credit system also provides assistance with certain bills many Britons are confronted with regularly. 

Eligible claimants who may have fallen on hard times can receive support with several measures implemented by the government. 

Universal Credit claimants on zero earnings can receive BT Basic, a low cost phone service designed for people on low incomes to help with budgeting. 

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People who have specific disabilities may also be entitled to a disabled facilities grant.

This local council grant, which could climb as high as £36,000, allows changes to be made to the claimant’s home to assist them in everyday life.

Examples include providing ramps, widening doorways, installing stairlifts, and adding lighting controls. 

Those who have a Universal Credit payment which is not enough to cover their rent could receive Discretionary Housing Payments.

These provide extra money when a local council decides a claimant needs additional assistance to meet housing costs. 

This can help cover a rent shortfall, rent deposits, or rent in advance if a person needs to move home amongst other circumstances.

These payments depend on a person’s local council jurisdiction, and so relevant websites should be checked or phone calls made to determine whether a claimant could be eligible. 

To assist in the paying of energy bills, the WaterSure programme is available to those with a water meter.

It allows them to have their bills capped to ensure they do not cut back on water usage because of worry surrounding bill payments. 

Those eligible for Universal Credit may also be able to receive a Council Tax reduction – so they are encouraged to check their individual circumstances on the government website to pursue this further.

There are also several government departments and charities which can provide guidance. 

The Money Advice Service, Money Advice Trust and Citizens Advice can all point claimants in the right direction.

Source: Read Full Article

PIP payments: How long does a PIP claim take?

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) can help you with the added living costs that come with having long term ill-health or a disability. You can get between £23.60 and £151.40 a week if you are over 16 and have not reached State Pension age. The amount you get depends on how your condition affects you, not the condition itself. If you think you are eligible for PIP, you can apply in a few different ways. However, it may take you a while to receive your money. Read on to find out how long a PIP claim takes.

What is PIP payment?

Gov.uk says PIP can help you with some of the extra costs if you have a long term ill-health or disability.

When you apply for PIP, you will be assessed by a health professional to work out the level of help you can get.

Your rate will be reviewed regularly, in order to make sure you’re getting sufficient support.

PIP is tax-free and you can get it whether you are employed or not.

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The payment is made up of two parts- the daily living part, and the mobility part- whether you get one or both of these depends on how your condition affects you.

The weekly rate for the daily living part of PIP is either £59.70 or £89.15.

The weekly rate for the mobility part of PIP is either £23.60 or £62.25.

If you have a terminal illness and are not expected to live more than six months, you will get the higher daily living part.

The rate of mobility depends on your exact needs.

You can get between £23.60 and £151.40 a week if you are over 16 and have not reached State Pension age.

How is PIP paid?

PIP is normally paid every month to those who claim it.

You will get a decision letter and it will tell you:

  • the date of your first payment
  • what day of the week you’ll usually be paid

If your payment date falls on a bank holiday, you will normally receive your PIP before the bank holiday.

Other than that, you will be paid as normal.

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How long does a PIP claim take?

A PIP claim can take a while to process.

It can take up to four months from the date you started your application to when you get your money.

However, if you are terminally ill your claim will be processed quicker.

If you already claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and are moving over to PIP, your payments won’t stop while your PIP claim is being processed.

Your PIP payments should start the day after your DLA payment stops, as long as you make your claim for PIP within 28 days of being told by the DWP that you should switch.

How do you apply for PIP?

You can make a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claim by calling the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

If you need someone else to calm on your behalf, you will need to be there with them when they call.

Ring them on 0800 917 2222.

If you need to claim by textphone, use 0800 917 7777.

Before you claim by telephone or textphone, you need:

  • your contact details, for example telephone number
  • your date of birth
  • your National Insurance number – this is on letters about tax, pensions and benefits
  • your bank or building society account number and sort code
  • your doctor or health worker’s name, address and telephone number
  • dates and addresses for any time you’ve spent abroad, in a care home or hospital

You could also apply by post, but this method will slow the claims process down.

You can get a form to send information by post, but you would need to write a letter to ask for the form.

Address the letter to:
Personal Independence Payment New Claims
Post Handling Site B
Wolverhampton
WV99 1AH

What happens after applying for PIP?

You should be sent a form to explain how your disability affects you, but if you need it in braille, large print or audio CD, you should ring the PIP enquiry line on 0800 121 4433 to request this.

The textphone number is 0800 121 4493.

You will then need to return the form to DWP, using the address on the form.

Normally, there would be a face-to-face meeting after applying for PIP.

However, at the moment this cannot happen due to COVID-19.

The DWP will contact you to let you know what to do next.

Source: Read Full Article

China cover-up: Boris Johnson could stop Chinese imports as COVID-19 ravages world economy

Mr Johnson instructed civil servants to end Britain’s reliance on China for both medical and strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak, The Times newspaper reported on Friday. The plans, which have been code named “Project Defend”, aim to identify Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a broader new approach to national security, according to reports.

Efforts are reportedly being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to ensure Britain is protected.

The Foreign Secretary, could lead to the government supporting the “repatriation” of key manufacturing capabilities such as pharmaceuticals as part of a new national resilience framework.

It is also reportedly looking at supply chain issues where critical UK businesses rely on components from abroad to make finished products.

Two working groups have been set up as part of the project, according to the report.

One source told The Times that the aim of project defend was to diversify supply lines to no longer depend on individual countries for non-food essentials.

The Prime Minister told lawmakers he would take steps to protect Britain’s technological base.

The government review is also expected to include personal protective equipment and drugs, the report added.

The development comes as Beijing has been tackling mounting international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China before spreading to the rest of the world.

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Tensions have been mounting between the US and China, with Donald Trump claiming Bejing has witheld vital information about the coronavirus.

However, some critics claim the catastrophic spread of the virus in the US is due to the Trump administration’s handling of the virus.

This follows a number of headlines over the course of the pandemic that show how furious the both the US and UK is over China’s handling of the novel coronavirus.

UK government officials have been accusing China of spreading disinformation about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in its borders.

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Conservative PMs have also been urging the PM not to allow Huawei to build Britain’s 5G networks.

Yesterday, following Conservative MP Richard Drax ‘s questions to urge Johnson to copy France’s review of defence supply chains because of concerns China is buying up companies at risk of going bust during the pandemic.

Mr Johnson told the Commons: “Drax is absolutely right to be concerned about investment, to be concerned about the buying up of UK technology by countries that … may have ulterior motives.”

A coalition of 122 countries are now supporting Australia’s call for an independent probe to investigate the causes of the coronavirus pandemic that started in Wuhan, China.

But, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has felt the wrath of Beijing.

China has now threatened to decimate Australia’s economy unless the inquiry initiative is dropped.

The need for an inquiry will be voted on by 194 nations at the World Health Assembly on Tuesday.

China has increased its belligerent threats towards Australia with a suggestion they may place a crippling tariff on barley exports.

The wording of the inquiry so far fails to mention China, but the nuances all point to an effort to uncover attempts by Beijing to cover-up the outbreak at the early stages.

The UK has signed up to support the inquiry and British Foreign Office spokesman said: “There will need to be a review into the pandemic, not least so that we can ensure we are better prepared for future global pandemics.

“The resolution at the World Health Assembly is an important step towards this.”

The pandemic has caused world economies to fall into recession, with many questioning why they should repay the sovereign debt they owe China after the disease spread from Wuhan because of Beijing’s lack of transparency.

Source: Read Full Article

HMRC scam warning: New scams targeting Britons – what to look out for

Scams looking to exploit the coronavirus crisis have been reported by a number of people who have been targeted. Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber reporting centre, has offered a fresh warning to Britons, urging them to be on the lookout.  It said there were a number of emails purporting to be from HMRC offering tax refunds as a result of coronavirus.

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These emails are likely to be phishing scams, which seek to harvest personal information from unsuspecting victims.

Britons are urged to click links to fill in personal information or credit card details.

Several people have recently used Twitter, even as close as this morning, to draw attention to scams they had received.

In one case, a person received a link which stated: “We identified an error in the calculation of your tax from the last income, amounting to 87.56 GBP.

“In order for us to return the excess payment, we need to confirm a few extra details after wich the amount will be credited to your specified bank account.

“Please click ‘CLAIM’ below in order to submit the refund request. Best regards HM Revenue and Customs.”

Another user said they received a fraudulent phone call asking for similar personal details.

They wrote: “Just had a call purporting to be HMRC. Claims there is a case of tax under my name and to press 1.

“If I don’t do this now, I will be arrested shortly. This is a scam, if you get similar do not press 1. REPORT.”

HMRC has responded to these reports, stating online: “We don’t send any texts or emails regarding tax refunds. You can report these by forwarding them to the following address: [email protected]

Action Fraud recently said a man had pleaded guilty to sending out fraudulent text messages after an investigation was undertaken by the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU).

The organisation stated some of the messages claimed to be from the UK government and offered a tax refund as a result of coronavirus.

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These are referred to as ‘smishing’ scams – where cybercriminals attempt to trick victims into giving them private information via text.

The internet security company, Norton, has stated this form of scam has increased significantly, and is a growing threat.

Although messages may look legitimate, they can often direct users to unofficial and fraudulent webpages which could steal personal information.

The cybercriminals could also use the website to download viruses onto the computers of victims. 

Action Fraud states over 160,000 suspect emails have been reported in recent weeks.

The emails cover a wide range of scams designed to attack Britons in various aspects of life. 

Speaking of fraud arising at this time, Commander Karen Baxter, City of London Police, National Lead Force for Fraud, said: “While the world is coming together to combat this global health crisis, criminals are intent on exploiting our unease, anxiety and vulnerabilities in these unprecedented times.

“The fact the public have taken the opportunity to fight back and show these criminals how unacceptable this is, is fantastic.

“Fraud is an incredibly underreported crime. The more the police know about fraud, and fraud attempts, the better chance they have of tracking down those responsible and bringing them to justice.”

Source: Read Full Article

Mortgage enquiries drop as coronavirus hits the property market

Mortgage enquiries declined by a steep 37 percent from March to April in a shock blow for the UK property market, wreaked by the coronavirus outbreak. The new data from online mortgage broker Trussle painted a stark, yet dire picture for mortgages during the period of lockdown, as implemented by the government. The government effectively placed a temporary freeze on the housing market to prevent transmission of COVID-19 throughout the UK.

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Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, however, recently announced England’s housing market would be restarted, with estate agents now able to open.

Viewings can also be carried out, with conveyancers permitted to return to operations. 

However, social distancing rules must stay firmly in place in order to prevent the disease from spreading with movement of people. 

The question, though, of how the housing market will cope after its stagnation during lockdown is yet to be answered.

It appears first-time buyers have been forced to absorb some of the shock to the market, with mortgage applications reducing by 35 percent year-on-year during April.

Also notable was a 53 percent decrease in submissions between March and April 2020.

While the specific reasons for this decline are not totally clear, mortgage applications were made difficult when brokers pulled products off the market. 

When the Bank of England imposed an unprecedented base rate cut to 0.1 percent in March, brokers rapidly removed some of their products.

Research from Moneyfacts stated the number of available products halved from 5,222 deals at the beginning of March to 2,566 at the start of May. 

And brokers have also been forced to reckon with mortgage payment holidays imposed by the government and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Under these measures, all existing mortgage holders could gain a three month freeze on their mortgage payments.

However, the research from Trussle also showed good news for current mortgage holders.

Applications for remortgage rose by 110 percent year-on-year in April.

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According to the online broker, borrowers who remortgage could save £334 per month.

The data on remortgaging suggests homeowners are looking to save money by finding better rates, and remortgaging calculators can also help with this process. 

However, for those who have been furloughed as a result of the crisis, extra caution should be taken.

While lenders are usually willing to accept furloughed income, it must be proven that a person is going back to work.

Additionally, some brokers are only looking at furloughed salaries when taking into account how much a person can borrow. 

Commenting on the findings, Miles Robinson, Head of Mortgages at Trussle, said: “As the coronavirus crisis continues to impact people’s livelihoods, those who have been furloughed are naturally likely to be concerned about their mortgage applications.

“During these difficult times, many lenders will only consider 80 percent of a furloughed customer’s income in affordability calculations, provided that the applicant has confirmation that they’ll be going back to work. As there’s a monthly cap of 80 percent of salary paid up to £2,500 for furloughed workers, people earning more than this will be impacted more significantly. Many lenders are also hesitant to consider overtime and bonuses at this point in time as it is certainly not guaranteed income.

“While other lenders won’t accept furloughed customers at all, we’ve seen flexibility from those who are accepting customers on furlough and we’ve helped a number of customers in this position to secure mortgages. The criteria has been changing frequently during these times, so anyone who has been furloughed should seek professional mortgage advice.”

Although the property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain closed, it is thought these could open in the coming weeks as lockdown measures change.

Mr Jenrick, however, states plans for England will help give the market a boost.

He said: “Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process, from viewings to removals.

“This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

Source: Read Full Article

Coronavirus Self-Employment Scheme applicants exceed one million – check eligibility

Coronavirus support measures have been implemented by the government, with the most recent Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) proving both necessary and popular. The grant enables self-employed people and those who are members of partnerships whose businesses have been affected by coronavirus to claim 80 percent of their average monthly trading profits. In the first few hours of the scheme, 110,000 self-employed people applied for the grant, but this number has now exceeded one million mere days in.

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Tax officials have said the value of claims on the scheme have so far reached more than £3billion. 

However, for those who have not yet made a claim through the service – how can the self-employed check if they are eligible? 

It is likely those who are eligible to make a claim from the grant have already been contacted by HMRC.

However, the First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive of HMRC has urged those who believe they are eligible but have not been contacted to go to the government website.

Here, they will find the SEISS eligibility checker which will provide them with information as to whether they could receive the grant.

Potential claimants must have their Self Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number to hand. 

They must also have their National Insurance number as proof of their right to work in the UK.

HMRC has assigned eligible claimants a specific date to apply on, between May 13 – 18, and this date should be checked before making an application.

The service provides an all but instantaneous response, stating whether or not a potential claimant has qualified for the scheme.

If not, the calculator also provides potential reasons as to why a self-employed person has not met the eligibility criteria.

This can include trading profits exceeding £50,000, trading profits being less than non-trading income, or failing to submit a Self Assessment tax return for the 2018/9 year.

However, those who submitted their return between March 26, 2020 and April 23, 2020 are being actively encouraged to check the system again.

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This is because the online service has been updated with more data.

If a self-employed person still believes they are eligible to claim after rejection from the calculator, they should contact HMRC to review their eligibility.

Those who are eligible for the scheme should provide information as to how their business has been affected by COVID-19.

They should also provide relevant bank account information for the grant to be delivered to if accepted.

SEISS was rolled out weeks earlier than previously announced to help the self-employed with dedicated support. 

The maximum payment from the scheme is to be set at £7,500 – and will cover March, April and May.

Commenting on the scheme, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We’re working ahead of time to deliver support to the self-employed and from today, applications open for the millions of people eligible for the scheme.

“With payments arriving before the end of this month, self-employed across the UK will have money in their pockets to help them through these challenging times.”

Source: Read Full Article

State Pension age changes today: The change you need to know – check if you are affected

The State Pension is offered to Britons by the government once they reach an eligible age, with those who have made significant National Insurance (NI) contributions standing to benefit the most. Pensioners are given a sum of money each week to provide assistance with living costs and support people in their years after work. The traditional age for retirement usually stood at 60 or 65, however, in recent years, the government announced their plans to raise this age.

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And there is a particular age change taking place today that pensioners and those approaching retirement age should look out for.

On May 6, 2020, anyone who was born between July 6, 1954 and August 5, 1954 will reach State Pension age.

However, this age has automatically risen to 66 in accordance with the government’s wishes.

As a result, those born between these dates are imminently affected by the announcement, and will see their State Pension age as slightly further off.

Changes implemented by the government are a result of the increase in life expectancy – which sees more Britons than ever before spending a longer period of time in retirement. 

The government’s proposals are due to take place in increments, with a new set of potential retirees being affected in the future.

Ultimately, the government plans to raise the State Pension age to 68 – and stated it would do so between 2037 and 2039. 

From 2017 calculations, the government states a 65-year-old can now expect to spend 22.8 years on average in receipt of State Pension.

This is compared to 13.5 years when the State Pension was first introduced in 1948.

The government is committed to protecting those who have offered years of service in work, and have enshrined this commitment in law.

Under the Triple Lock Mechanism, first introduced by the coalition government in 2010, the State Pension rises by a particular amount each year.

This is by whichever is the highest: the rate of inflation, 2.5 percent, or average earnings for that year.

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In the 2020/21 tax year, which commenced in early April, pensioners witnessed an increase of 3.9 percent in line with average earnings. 

Dependent upon circumstances, and indeed years of eligible work, pensioners are entitled to different amounts of the State Pension.

At a maximum, pensioners can expect to receive £134.25 per week if they retired before April 6, 2016.

If retiring after this date, pensioners are entitled to the New State Pension which can offer a maximum of £175.35 per week.

The government provides a tool enabling Britons to check their State Pension online at any time.

This tool provides information on how much a person could receive, and when they will reach State Pension age under the law as it currently stands.

The service also provides future pensioners with advice on how they may be able to increase their pension.

This can be done either through delaying a claim, thereby allowing the pension amount to grow, or through speaking to a financial adviser about personal circumstances.

Additional support is provided to Britons who are struggling financially. 

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FTSE 100 LIVE: Wall Street futures turn negative amid tensions rising between US and China

Wall Street futures turned negative after starting higher, with E-minis for the S&P500 ESc1 off 0.3 percent. China, opening for the first time since Thursday, started on the backfoot with the blue-chip index down 0.6 percent. Australian shares skidded 0.8 percent. “There is a distinct risk-off tone to greet China coming back from holiday,” said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp.

“With Trump and the company still on the Wuhan Lab rampage, traders are incredibly cautious this morning, weighing all the possible China responses. And the one that would hurt the most would be for China to reduce imports of US oil.”

Global financial markets have been caught this month between grim economic figures and worries about worsening US-China relations, and optimism over easing COVID-19 lockdowns in many countries. 

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly taken aim at China as the source of the pandemic and warned that it would be held to account.

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6.02am update: US airlines burn through $10 billion a month as traffic plummets

US airlines are collectively burning more than $10 billion in cash a month and averaging fewer than two dozen passengers per domestic flight because of the coronavirus pandemic, industry trade group Airlines for America said in prepared testimony seen by Reuters ahead of a US Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Even after grounding more than 3,000 aircraft, or nearly 50 percent of the active U.S. fleet, the group said its member carriers, which include the four largest US airlines, were averaging just 17 passengers per domestic flight and 29 passengers per international flight.

“The US airline industry will emerge from this crisis a mere shadow of what it was just three short months ago,” the group’s chief executive, Nicholas Calio, will say, according to his prepared testimony.

Net booked passengers have fallen by nearly 100 percent year-on-year, according to the testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee. The group warned that if air carriers were to refund all tickets, including those purchased as nonrefundable or those canceled by a passenger instead of the carrier, “this will result in negative cash balances that will lead to bankruptcy.”

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