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CORONAVIRUS (COVID 19) – SURVIVING ISOLATION 3 (FINANCE)

RNA sends all shipmates best wishes as we continue to week 6 of lockdown and social distancing. The last briefing provided advice on protecting the mind. This one looks at protecting your finances as lockdown looks set to continue although under regular review. However do not forget the key advice to all remains as Stay at Home to protect your life, others’ lives and the NHS.

We all need to try to keep our finances shipshape during this period of uncertainty whether on pension, employed or self-employed. This briefing gives some commonsense advice, guidance and supplements expert advice and support available from other sources. It also offers guidance on ensuring your wishes are followed should you die or become unable to make decisions. My thanks to shipmates Rita Lock (RNA National Welfare Adviser) and Michelle Bainbridge (RNA Financial Manager) for inputs to this article. So what can you do to protect your finances?

Why not make a will? This may seem strange advice to start the briefing with but making a will ensures that, should you cross the bar, your money will go to those you wanted it to. Far too many people do not have a will. It is not difficult nor need it cost anything. You can engage a solicitor or will writing service with costs of a simple will between £144 and £240 and a complex will between £150 and £300. Free Will writing is available from a number of charities including the Royal British Legion (https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/ways-to-give/leave-a-gift-in-your-will/free-will-writing) or others in exchange for a donation.

In stationery stores there are low-cost templates available and also online low cost templates (eg http://www.lawpack.co.uk/ at £19.99) or free templates (for simple wills only) at the legal advice site https://www.compactlaw.co.uk/free-legal-documents.html .
Complex finances or wishes should always be checked legally or written with legal advice. Only write your own will if your wishes are very simple eg if you're married and want to leave everything to your spouse, and – should they die before you – you then want to leave everything to your children.

Why not leave a legacy to Royal Naval Association (RNA)? Having mentioned the importance of a will, can I suggest that all shipmates consider remembering the RNA In their will? Why you ask? As a member you will have chosen to be part of RNA and have enjoyed its comradeship having been part of the Navy family. Your legacy will help the RNA to continue to support shipmates old and new.

Direct benefits to members and shipmates include Support to those in need; Advice to next of kin when they need it; Provision of facilities for bringing Members together; Providing relief for those in hardship or distress; Advice to veterans and those still serving or about to return to civilian life and finally to Perpetuate the memory of our Shipmates. All good things. It is simple to arrange and a copy of the RNA leaflet about legacy has appropriate wording for your new will or a codicil to an existing will.  

Have you thought of a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)? Should you be unfortunately become incapable of making decisions for whatever reason an LPA eases the situation for family and others at a difficult time Do remember though there are two types supporting decisions in the best interests of the person the LPA covers (the donor). A Property and Financial Affairs LPA enables relatives to access your money to pay for your care and make (or help you make) financial decisions. Without such an LPA, loved ones would need to apply through the courts, which can be long and costly. So getting this sorted is important. A Health and Welfare LPA covers decisions 

about things such as daily routine, medical care and residence. It also covers spend on items maintaining or improving your quality of life. For medical treatment you need to decide and clearly state you are giving your attorney the right to refuse or consent to treatment.

Remember you are not giving up control over your life by having an LPA as you can choose whether it can be used either before, or only when, you lose mental capacity (ability to make decisions). Your designated attorney should only ever make a choice for you if you're unable to make that specific decision at the time it needs to be made eg if you fall into a coma, your attorney(s) would start looking after your affairs. However if you wake from the coma (hopefully), you should be able to make your own decisions again.

LPAs do not need to be complex but they do need to be clear. Costs to register them are £82 in England and Wales, £79 in Scotland and £151 in Northern Ireland. If you are on certain benefits such as guaranteed income benefit then you can register the Property and Finance or the Health and Welfare LPAs are at a reduced rate or free.  All the information is on line for both types of LPA (https://www.gov.uk/lasting-power-attorney-duties/property-financial-affairs or https://www.gov.uk/lasting-power-attorney-duties/health-welfare) or at the Office of Public Guardian (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-public-guardian). You can DIY it by completing the online forms then print off for signatures including a form to request lower or nil charges. 

Many solicitors and firms will write your LPAs at varying prices. Executors should be asked before they are named on the form because they have to sign that they agree. The LPA ends when the donor dies and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) must be informed. You can stop being an Attorney at any time.

Are you struggling with your income? Everyone’s cash flow is under pressure as lockdown continues whether you are on a pension, employed, furloughed or on benefits. Managing your money and use of credit wisely is more important than ever.

Have you drawn up an emergency Budget? Everyone’s personal situation is likely to have changed a lot recently with less spending on social activities or travel but with an increased food bill. Even those who do budget need to review their spends, particularly if income has decreased. Why not check again on the ins and outs from your account and make sure you have enough for essential bills such as food, mortgage/rent and utilities. Moneywise.org.uk has a useful budget planner at https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/coronavirus-and-your-money.

Monitor your bank balances and prioritise payments. Using online banking or an app makes it easy to check your transactions and debits. Think about changing the dates of direct debits or standing orders to match your money coming in. Decide what’s important and pay what has to be paid first, the essentials such as rent or mortgage to protect your home, council tax and energy bills. Keep track of the others and plan to repay eventually.

 Check if you have been given an interest free overdraft. Some banks (Halifax, HSBC and Lloyds) are applying a £500 overdraft automatically whilst Barclays is offering £750 on pre-agreed overdrafts from May onwards. With others it’s worth asking.

Check if your loan provider will offer a 3 month freeze on payments. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on behalf of the government is seeking to introduce this soon for car loans, high cost loans such as rent to own etc and one month for Payday loans

Remember do not just cancel payments on anything! Always talk to your provider and agree it first. Also any deferment or freeze is not free money but will have to be paid back at some point possibly with interest so only do this if you really need to 

What if I have to use credit to manage? This is being forced on many but there are some simple things that may help keep it manageable. Try to pay off more than the minimum every month on cards as it will reduce your debt more quickly and use a direct debt to cover at least the minimum so you do not forget. Pay the most expensive credit card off first if you can and do not forget to check your APR as many cards are offered with a low initial rate that increases after a year or so. Consider switching your credit card to a 0% APR deal if you can find a deal as it will help with managing debt but do look out for the amount of transfer fee charged. These vary a lot between providers. Think about increasing or decreasing your credit limit to cope in the short term: always be sure though that an increase is necessary and whether you can afford to pay back the higher interest and debt. Ask your credit card provider if they will give you a 3 month freeze on your debt.

Have you an instant access savings account? Although interest rates are low if you can build up some cash savings it means it can help in the event of unexpected spends so you can avoid borrowing just to cover everyday expenses. It’s a good habit to have anyway for the future.

I can’t pay everything, what else can I do? The first is to take a breath and realise you are not alone, there is help and support that you are entitled to everyone’s circumstances will be different. Having gone through the above then other questions are below but do ask for help if you need it.

Am I eligible for financial support? Check out and make sure you get everything you’re entitled to. The government guide https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/coronavirus-what-it-means-for-you gives comprehensive details of what support you might be able to claim now if you’re employed or self-employed. There is a Freephone 0800 138 1677 and a webchat facility.

Is Universal Credit Scheme (UCS) available to me? If you are on low income or out of work or you or partner are under State pension age or have less than £16K savings between you then you may be entitled. The minimum income floor for UCS has been removed and the need to visit a job centre relaxed. See Department of Work and Pensions website https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/employment-and-benefits-support/ .

You can check your eligibility anonymously and for free by using an online benefits calculator such as at https://www.turn2us.org.uk/Benefit-guides/Beginner-s-Guide-to-Benefits/Checking-benefit-entitlement or https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/money-legal/benefits-entitlements/benefits-calculator/ . Advances on UCS if approved are possible as well.

How do I manage debts I can’t pay due to Covid 19? If you are struggling then urgently speak to your creditors to make them aware. They do want to help and being upfront can help to come to a short term arrangement. If meeting the rent is an issue, see if your landlord will accept a reduction or deferral, better a good tenant than an empty property. UCS may be able to help with housing costs.  Also do not forget the government has brought in emergency legislation so that no one can be forced out of their home whilst landlords are being offered 3 month mortgage holidays with the expectation that at the end of the three months, a reasonable payment plan will be agreed between the two parties. A similar 3 month mortgage repayment holiday is being offered to home owners but you have to write and ask your provider. Do remember it is only deferment not a write-off of the debt and interest will be charged. Most likely this will be added to future repayments.

Who can advise me? It can feel like you’re going under do not forget others such as family and shipmates who may have a clearer view and be able to offer help. Help and a professional perspective can be obtained from charities such as listed in the previous article on bereavement. The Seafarers' Advice & Information Line (SAIL) at http://sailine.org.uk/ is recommended as the “Citizens Advice” service just for seafarers and their families. Contact them for free advice on benefits, debt, housing etc by Freephone 0800 160 1842 (1000-1600) or email advice@sailine.org.uk or use the online enquiry form. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau also provides free online and in person help on the same problems. See https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/  or call local call rate 03444 111 444.  Turn2Us (as above) provides similar online help and advice.

What else do I need to be careful about now? Do not get scammed and lose money! Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in an increase in the number of financial scams via phone or online. These include plausible fraudsters claiming to be offering government backed grants and other kinds of financial support or queries on your bank account or TV license payments. Banks will never call you and ask for passwords. Be very wary and just apply commonsense. If unsure, just put the phone down and ask others. Make sure any calls and emails you’re getting are from legitimate sources and do not give out any personal information without checking.

I close with expressing strong support for the RNA NHS & Ventilators fund circulated to all shipmates by shipmate Andy Christie. Well worth donating to by individuals, Branches and Areas.   

Please distribute this widely and look after your shipmates and oppos by phone. text, e-media or letter.

Best wishes and stay safe, stay well and stay at home.

Geoff Apperley

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CORONAVIRUS (COVID 19) – SURVIVING ISOLATION 4 (FINANCE 2)

 

RNA Central Office and I hope that all shipmates are staying well and staying at home. According to Boris the new message is “Stay Alert, Control the Virus and Save Lives” at least in England but staying at home remains part of this where appropriate. For most of our shipmates it will “as you were” with no change. The last briefing provided advice on protecting your finances. This one gives advice on banking, avoiding fraud, cancellations, refunds and on saving money.

Need a repayment holiday? Banks and building societies are offering up to three months payment holidays on debt fro those struggling due to Covid 19. This includes mortgages, loans, credit cards, store cards and overdrafts with temporary suspension of charges and can help in the short term.  However do remember this is not a permanent fix. You may accumulate interest and you still need to pay back the deferred debt when the holiday period ends. So do your sums carefully and ensure you both need it and will be able to afford paying the debt back later.

Want to Bank Smarter? Many of us already use our mobile or laptop to manage our finances but millions of us do not. This crisis is an ideal time to think about this, particularly when access to banking is branch may be limited. Online banking can be of huge benefit to older shipmates but we may shy away as being seen as too hard but it does have many advantages. All banks are working hard to increase the uptake of online banking and it’s worth looking at if you are self-isolating.

The hardest part, like many things is getting started. You don’t need to be an internet ace to do this. Each Bank provides an online guide on how to set this up and priority telephone support for those classified as vulnerable. It is straightforward and you will need the usual personal details and details of one of your existing accounts. Then you will be allocated a pass code by post or email which you need to access the account. You can change that to something you will really remember. A similar process is followed for telephone banking where you get things done by speaking to an adviser or you can download an app to your phone for mobile banking. All of these are secure.

If you really can’t do it yourself and/or find it all too confusing you do have the option of getting a trusted family member to sort it out with the bank on your behalf. They will need a completed by you third-party mandate form returned to the bank. However do be sure this is what you really want as it gives that person the right to make calls, query statements and operate the account on your behalf.   

Avoid Fraud! One reason for avoiding on-line banking can be worry about fraud. This is understandable but it is relatively secure. However there are sadly low-life cyber criminals out there who seek out the vulnerable at crisis times such as this pandemic. They may sound very plausible and caring or claim to be your bank or the police but do beware. When in doubt just put the phone down and tell family or a friend. If you remember some simple rules though you can keep you and your money safe!

·         No bank or building society will ever call you and ask for the full security details of your account; the only time that happens is when you start the process of registration or logging in.

·         Never share your personal details with anyone

·         Make sure all passwords or pass code numbers are hard to guess

·         Change your passwords or pass code numbers regularly

·         If you write them down (not recommended) keep them in a safe place

 Fraud risks come in by emails or calls. What warning signs are there and what should you do?

·         Check if it’s being stated as really urgent (to put pressure on you), bad grammar, bad spelling and errors in how it’s addressed to you.

·         If it’s an unsolicited call or email and asks for your personal or financial details don’t be afraid to hang up and do not respond.

·         Remember if claiming to be from your bank, it will never ask for personal security information (see above). 

·         Be very cautions of requests to download update files or click on hyperlinks in the message; they can give access to your computer or take you to fake sites.

·         Be cautions of emails, texts or social media eg WhatsApp about Coronavirus financial support and never click on attachments or links unless you know the sender.

·         Only call organisations using the official phone number on the website, do not accept an offered number.

·         If claiming to be your bank only use the number on the back of your debit or credit card not one given during a call.

·         Offers of sanitizers or face masks should be treated with caution and the seller checked carefully before you part with your money. Any offer of a vaccine should be deleted immediately, there is not one proven yet with only clinical trials ongoing.

·         Make sure your phone and laptop security settings are up to date.

·         When in doubt stop and talk to family or friends about it.

If you want to know more then Take Five to Stop Fraud at https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/ has good advice and banks etc have fraud advice on their websites.

What happens if I am defrauded despite being careful? You may still lose money but do speak to your bank immediately and also report any fraud to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via Actionfraud.police.police.org

What are my rights if I’ve been cancelled on? Everything depends on the T&C of your particular booking so have a look but there are still laws that govern the sale of tickets for events, travel and holidays that can give you rights to refunds. In many cases if you don’t ask, you won’t get them automatically and some firms will try to delay repayment shipmates or just offer vouchers so keep asking if you want the cash. Remember to be reasonable though as since the crisis started many firms will have had many, many requests to deal with.

For ticketed events like a concert or show you can get a refund if booked it through a primary ticket seller like Ticketmaster or the venue if booked directly but beware this may not extend to any booking fees or cost of delivery. You agreed those in T&C sadly just as equally sadly if you bought from a resale site eg Viagogo it depends on the T&Cs and the site.

For travel involving flights, holiday and hotel closure the position is clear. Operators are obliged to offer refunds although you can ask if you prefer to rebook for a later date. Some airlines have been slow to refund and offered vouchers instead. You do not have to accept these, just ask your airline carrier to prove to you where in their T&C this is an option. If your holiday provider is ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s License) or ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) protected this may help in cases of cancellation. ATOL-protected holidays are package holidays that include flights whereas ABTA protection only covers holidays that involve rail, cruise or self-drive but not package breaks where flights are included. Having contacted the provider direct first and failed to agree the next step is to complain if you feel you are still being treated unfairly.

How do I sort that? Routes of complaint are you writing to the provider/seller first setting out your complaint history and claim after first making sure your claim is valid. You can use templates from complaints advice site https://www.resolver.co.uk/how-to-complain  or you can pass to a claim management company to apply on your behalf but beware fees will be charged by the latter and not all companies eg some airlines will deal with them or Resolver. If the company does not move at all then ultimately you have the option to take legal action yourself by making a court claim (previously the small claims court in England and Wales). Tell them of your intention to do so first and see if a helpful response is forthcoming.

However going to court is a significant step involving time and effort to make a good case whilst the whole process can be stressful. It may be a good idea to seek legal advice at this point and do check your home insurance to see if you have legal cover. For guidance and process on small claims see https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money  or local Citizens Advice Bureau if available. Process details differ across the UK so check out the Courts and Tribunals Services websites in England and Wales (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service, Scotland (https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/taking-action/small-claims) and Northern Ireland (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/small-claims-process).

Want to save money? Why not use this time of stay at home to review your outgoings and see if you can get better deals on your spends whether they be utilities, mobile, broadband or TV. You do not have to do it all; there are good comparison sites that will do the work for you. Moneysaving expert offers switching deals in many areas and a comparison tool at https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/ . Surprising what will be offered when you do some browsing and comparison online and then pick up that phone to negotiate. The ultimate lever is to say I’m thinking of leaving. Most providers contact centres will then redirect you at a retentions team as they are keen to keep your custom. These teams have the authority to offer you a deal to keep you with the current provider. TV Sports fan? Don’t forget that for some subscription services eg Sky Sport you can pause your subscription whereas BT Sports require completion of an online form for two months credit.

What about savings? The recent cut in the Bank of England base rate was somewhat unfairly used by many financial institutions to cut their savings rates by much, much more with rates dropping as low as 0.01%. As above, its time to shop around and switch your savings account to one that gives a bit more and there’s up to 1% plus out there still. Certainly worth having. There are a number of money comparison sites but https://moneyfacts.co.uk/savings-accounts/ is worth a look for options.  

Please distribute this widely and look after your shipmates and oppos by phone. text, e-media or letter.

Best wishes and remember to stay safe, stay well and stay at home.

Geoff Apperley

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CORONAVIRUS (COVID 19) – ARE YOU AN APPY SHIPMATE?

Before you reach for the keyboard to remind me to spell check articles, I can spell and the title is deliberate. I do sincerely hope all shipmates are happy in these difficult times but are you "Appy" and getting the best out of Apps on your devices? Apps are a fact of life these days and we all use them. This short briefing explains what apps are and what useful one there are in welfare terms.

What is an app? An app (application) is a type of software that allows you to perform specific tasks and there are applications for desktop or laptop computers called desktop applications, whilst those for mobile devices (smart phones) are called mobile apps. When you open an application, it runs inside the operating system on the device until you close it. There are a huge number of apps covering all aspects of life with a combined total of 3.83 million in 2019 in the Google Play and Apple App Store.

How do they work? Apps are shortcuts to access sites and particularly useful on our smart phones. Many shipmates may not have online access but smart phones are widely used and come with pre-loaded apps and you can easily add more (useful) ones yourself. Apps allow us to access sites for help and information immediately wherever we are. Most shipmates will be using them without thinking and they work on tablets too! So tech lesson over how do they help?

What use are they to me in welfare terms? When you need help or advice you want it quickly and, whilst your Welfare officer or shipmates in Branch or RNA Helpline can help, not everyone is in a branch and/or particularly at this time of social distancing and shielding can meet to help you. It can be daunting too looking online for the best organisation to meet your needs whether health, welfare or other. Apps provide quick 24/7 access to such information in the palm of your hand and a useful means of taking the pressure off NHS 111 for non-urgent NHS information for example.

What Apps can help me find welfare help and advice? Veterans Gateway recently launched a new app to support the Armed Forces community, veterans and their families (see https://www.cobseo.org.uk/veterans-gateway-launches-new-app-to-support-armed-forces-community/ ). This app on a smartphone or tablet helps you to find or finds on a shipmate’s behalf organisations within your local area to help with issues such as finances, housing, employment, relationships, physical and mental health. It is a directory based, user-friendly grouping of all NHS facilities across the country and over 2,000 charitable organisations. It can also be used to contact Veterans Gateway in addition to their usual contact routes. This allows veterans and their families to find and access the local support they need in their area. It acts as a 24/7 signpost to services including NHS in your area that can help with your need.  The Veterans’ Gateway app is available for free on the Apple App Store for iPad and iPhone at https://www.apple.com/uk/ios/app-store/  and Google Play at https://play.google.com/store for Android users.

Forces Connect was launched earlier this year before Veterans Gateway however Forces Connect is currently limited in coverage to South East England (who were first to launch as FCSE), Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and South West England. Others areas are in discussion. What’s the difference? The mission is the same to signpost members of the armed forces community and their families to services and organisations local to them that can offer the support they need. This app is easy to download and very easy to navigate and you can get to where you need in just four clicks. It provides in-depth information and links so a really good tool with everything a veteran would need in the palm of their hand. Its drawback is limited coverage (currently) but it is still useful to those in the areas covered. Forces Connect is available for free on the Apple App Store (https://www.apple.com/uk/ios/app-store/) and Google Play (https://play.google.com/store)

What is this NHS COVID-19 app in the news? This has been developed as a contact tracing app to help track and slow the spread of coronavirus whilst protecting your privacy. This is part of the next phase of the government’s approach to beating Coronavirus. After installation on your mobile phone, it will send you an alert if you’ve been in close contact with other users of the app who have reported that they’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms. You can do what’s necessary to avoid passing the virus on e.g. self-isolating.

What do I need to know? Installation of the app is totally voluntary but you will be helping to slow the transmission of the coronavirus. It’s up to you to decide if you want to tell the app that you’re suffering from coronavirus symptoms. The app does not collect any of your personal data, any information you choose to submit is protected at all times and any submitted information is deleted once it is no longer needed to help manage the spread of coronavirus. It’s your choice shipmates in al respects.

How does it work and help me? The app can detect by Bluetooth if other phones running the app are nearby and calculate how close it has been to other phones running the app, and for how long. The app can then build up an idea of which of these phones owners are most at risk based on reports of Coronavirus symptoms. If the app has been used to report experience of coronavirus symptoms, all the phones that have been nearby will receive an alert from the app so the user will know they may have been near a person with coronavirus and can then self-isolate. If a diagnosis turns out to be wrong, contacted users will receive a second alert to stop self-isolation.

When will it be available? The NHS COVID-19 App currently is on trial on the Isle of Wight but there have been a number of teething problems such as just downloading the app, multiple false alerts to users, compatibility with the Apple iPhone and concerns on effects on battery life. There is a bigger issue though on whether the first NHS approach of storing anonymised data about people infected with Covid-19 and their contacts in a central database is the best way to do this.

The other option is to use a standardised system such as Google and Apple’s standardised system which is largely decentralised and prevents gathering of additional data, such as location but there are concerns with those systems too. Launch of those was scheduled for mid-May as a software update.

You won’t be surprised to know shipmates that NHS is developing both options now in parallel! Which UK app will be used for roll-out is not known yet but we are not the only country struggling; Germany has already switched from its own first app to using the smart phone makers’ system whereas France has decided to do it’s own thing (no change there then and so much for EU consensus). It will be a political as well as a technical and ethical decision. For more information see https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/information/nhs-covid-19-app-explainer

A Virtual Contact App for you -  You may already use Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp but do have a look at the free app ZOOM as it allows several people to speak and see each other at the same time. Ideal for family or shipmate gatherings of varying size. Joining and using were excellently summarised by shipmate Julie Royston in the May Semaphore Circular at https://royal-naval-association.co.uk/members/downloads/2020/ . Zoom is easy to use, just take your time and see more at https://zoom.us/ where you can sign up for a free account. There is a time limit on 40min per session on free accounts after which charges apply but you can always stop and start again. Some small points of etiquette to remember:

Never say anything you don’t want to be heard as your microphone is always ON – unless you mute it 

·         Be aware of background noises in your room/home - it makes it difficult for others to hear

·         Make sure your attire is suitable (so all you closet naturists need to dress appropriately)

·         Do not swear (difficult for some shipmates maybe but there may be ladies present)

Help on problems or want to learn more about how to run a Zoom meeting? Go to the Facebook Pages of the Royal Naval Association Central Office Royal Naval Association: Community Site or call the RNA helpline 07542 680082

Please distribute this widely, keep following government public health guidelines and look after your shipmates and oppos by phone. text, e-media or letter.

Stay Safe, Stay Well and Stay at Home,

Geoff Apperley

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