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How and where can I receive assistance if my financial situation is affected by Covid-19?

Market traders are among the workers whose income has slumped due to the coronavirus crisis.
Market traders are among the workers whose income has slumped due to the coronavirus crisis. / SALVADOR SALAS
  • Unions say many people who have lost income are confused about their situation and what they may be entitled to

The coronavirus and state of alarm have placed many people in Spain in an existential crisis. Companies have been forced to close. Self-employed workers are seeing their income vanish from one day to the next.

The government has taken a series of steps to prevent the health crisis giving way to a social crisis which could be even more severe. In the past few days the Cabinet has approved several decrees to make sure “nobody gets left behind”.

In practice, however, the avalanche of information and figures has meant that many of those affected don’t know where to apply or what steps they have to take to request the assistance to which they are entitled.

Dolores Calvillo of the CCOO union in Malaga says their phones never stop ringing. "There is a great deal of confusion and many people are desperate,” she says.

How can I get this help, and where do I have to go? Those are the questions most frequently being asked at present. To shed some light on the variety of assistance and decrees, we are setting out below a practical guide drawn up from information provided by the unions, the ministers who were involved in creating the so-called ‘social shield’ and the Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE).

Non-essential workers

As the government has now ordered the suspension of all non-essential activity in order to reinforce its social distancing measures, workers employed by those businesses have to stay at home.

They will continue to receive their salaries from their employers thanks to what is known as a Permiso Retribuido. Workers in this situation do not have to do anything. However, the hours they have missed during this lockdown will have to be made up before the end of this year.

How and when will depend on direct negotiation between the company and the workers’ representatives, and the latter will keep the staff informed.

ERTE

An ERTE is a system that allows companies to temporarily lay off workers under certain circumstances. f you are affected by an ERTE, the first thing to do is find out whether your company has applied for one on the grounds of force majeure associated with the coronavirus or whether it has given other causes, such as financial or productive reasons.

In the case of force majeure, the company will organise the lay-off procedure for the worker with SEPE (Servicio Público de Empleo Estatal - the State Public Employment Service) and he or she will automatically begin to receive unemployment benefit. The company carries on paying your Social Security and you will have the right to receive 70 per cent of your basic salary. Any addition to that amount by the company is voluntary and will depend on collective negotiation. The ERTEs which are due to force majeure must end when the state of alarm is officially over.

If the company gives other reasons for the ERTE, this will be extended for the time decided in negotiations between the company and the workers’ legal representatives. In this case, it makes no difference when the state of alarm comes to an end. That is the main difference between the two types of ERTE.

Even though the company handles the process, those included in an ERTE must register as jobseekers with the SAE (Servicio Andaluz de Empleo - Andalusian Employment Service). At the moment, this procedure is done online and by prior appointment. The general secretary of the CCOO, Fernando Cubillo, stresses that it is essential to do this “so that in the future they can’t ask you to pay back the money you receive”.

“When this first avalanche is finished, which I imagine will be in May, they will start to check that the people affected by an ERTE are also registered with the SAE,” he adds.

Self-employed

The government has already charged the Social Security payment for March but has set up a six-month moratorium for payments for May, June and July.

However, this must be applied for during the month of April and will come into force from May. If nothing changes between now and then, it means that self-employed people will also have to pay their Social Security in April.

The application can be made via a ‘gestor’ or appointed ‘mutua’ companies.

The payment of debts with Social Security has been deferred until 30 June.

Some self-employed workers can also apply, through their gestor, for a special benefit for the stoppage of activity, which is the equivalent of unemployment benefit for other workers. Depending on the sector, an ‘autónomo’ may have to prove that income has dropped 75 per cent, and that Social Security payments were up to date at the start of the crisis.

Household utilities

While the state of alarm is in force, the water, electricity and gas cannot be cut off in households which are registered as vulnerable. In fact, the biggest companies have already said they are prepared to extend this to other households as well until the health crisis is over.

Families or people who are due to renew their ‘bono social’ do not have to do anything. It will be renewed automatically until 15 September.

Mortgages

People who become unemployed or lose most of their income due to coronavirus can ask their bank for a period of grace with regard to their mortgage payments. This only applies to the habitual residence.

Those affected have to apply directly to their bank and the application can be made up to 15 days after the end of the state of alarm. The banks have to reply to such applications within 15 days.

In any case, you should be clear that this is only a moratorium for three months. In no case will payments be written-off. Initially, the beneficiaries had to prove that they met the conditions by providing a certificate from SEPE to confirm that they were receiving payments because they are not working. The government has made the process simpler now, however and, in principle, it should be enough to provide a declaration of responsibility.

It is up to the banks whether to approve the moratorium in each case and rules apply.

Rents

According to the information published in the BOE, the State is making a line of zero-interest microcredits available for people who pay rent for a house or apartment.

It can be obtained through the ICO (Instituto de Crédito Oficial). These credits have to be repaid within six years, although in case of difficulty, the term may be extended to ten years. In that case, those affected should contact the ICO.

If after the crisis someone is still in a vulnerable situation, the State might pay their rent up to a maximum of 900 euros, depending on different criteria. However, this point is still to be clarified.

In no cases will the government allow rental payments not to be made. The argument is simple: there are many landlords whose financial stability depends on this income.

Domestic workers

Domestic workers, one of the most vulnerable groups, will have the right to a subsidy if their income has been affected by the coronavirus. The amount of the subsidy will be 70 per cent of their basic salary and it must be applied for online or, in the case of Malaga, by ringing one of these two numbers: 901 010 210 or 952 997 098.

Those affected will have to present a document in which their employer confirms that they have been laid off because of the state of alarm.

Different associations have warned that the decree will leave numerous people out, because it is a sector in which many people work ‘on the black’.

Contracted seasonal workers

In a province with such an important tourism sector as Malaga, many workers have a permanent contract but are only called in to work when needed. These ‘trabajadores fijos discontinuos’ will receive temporary assistance if the companies with whom they have a contract for such seasonal work include them in the ERTEs they apply for.

Those who had been called in to work before the state of alarm came into force should be included in these ERTEs.

The problem is for those who had not been called in to work. Fernando Cubillo, the general secretary of the CCOO union in Andalucía, says “they are all being left out”. The government has not regulated this situation, at least not so far. People in this situation will continue to receive their employment benefit, but they will also see this running out.

Guaranteed credits for the self-employed and companies

The State will guarantee 80 per cent of new loans to the self-employed and small and medium businesses. For bigger companies, the figure reduces to 70 per cent for new credits and 60 per cent for new lines of finance.

In this case, the application has to be made via the bank. In some cases, banks are already ringing business owners to explain the different lines of assistance available. The guarantees will last for the same amount of time as the credit.