Cost of living crisis: do you lack the help of your employer? | Social advantages

Many employers are stepping in to help workers cope with the rising cost of living, with some companies offering a one-time bonus or other assistance ranging from enhanced employee discounts to free food.

Some big companies are giving lower-paid workers extra money to help combat the impact of soaring inflation and higher bills.

In the meantime, there may be benefits you haven’t used that could help you balance your budget even if your boss doesn’t give you a raise.

For example, many companies offer perks such as discounts at local businesses, bike-to-work programs, membership loans, free eye tests, and the ability to resell unused vacation time.

Jonathan Watts-Lay, director of Wealth at Work, a financial wellness and retirement specialist, says if you’re struggling with your finances, talk to your employer to find out what help they have. “Even if they’re not offering anything at the moment, sharing the challenges you’re facing can inspire them to build support.”

Likewise, your union – if you’re a member of one – will often offer offers and other help, so take the time to see what’s on offer.

Cost of living payments

Wealth at Work says if you’re having difficulty with your finances, talk to your employer. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Major employers, including HSBC, John Lewis and Virgin Media O2, are paying some workers extra payments to help them cope with the rising cost of living.

Virgin Media O2 announced earlier this month that it would make payments totaling £1,400 to employees earning £35,000 and under.

The first payment of £400 will be issued next month, followed by another £400 in January 2023 and then six payments of £100 per month until July 2023.

Meanwhile, John Lewis recently revealed that full-time staff will receive a one-off £500 cost of living payment – with part-time staff eligible for a lower amount.

Banks including HSBC and Nationwide are offering the lowest paid staff bonuses of £1,500 and £1,200 respectively.

Wage increases

Other companies say they are giving staff a pay rise to combat the rising cost of living rather than making lump sum payments. However, there will often be different reasons why companies raise wages – for example, in sectors such as hospitality and retail, these are likely to be staff shortages and companies competing to recruit and retain workers who are the main factors behind some of the recent wage increases.

That said, some companies target salary increases towards the lowest paid staff members.

English breakfast: fried egg, bacon, beans and toast on a plate close-up.  horizontal top view
Some companies offer free food to workers during shifts.
Photography: Sergii Koval/Alamy

Free food and help with bills

Some employers are handing out free meals and snacks to help workers cope with the cost of living crisis, while others have hardship funds to support staff struggling to pay their bills.

For example, John Lewis and Waitrose will offer free food during the winter and will also double their financial aid fund to help workers pay their bills.

Sainsbury’s says it will give workers access to ‘basic groceries’ during their shifts from this month.

Hybrid work and expenses

Allowing staff to work flexibly between home and the office allows people to weigh the cost benefits, for example, saving money on your commute versus using more gas and electricity while working from home.

You must also ensure that you claim reimbursement for all expenses to which you are entitled. For example, your employer may agree to pay a certain amount for fuel costs or to cover food and beverages if you need to be out of the office.

Discounts

Check to see if your company offers discounts as part of your benefits package.

For example, they may have agreements with local stores or other businesses such as salons and gyms, to give money to employees.

Some supermarkets are increasing their employee discounts as part of their package to help workers cope with the cost of living crisis.

As well as a pay rise for staff, Tesco has increased its Clubcard discount allowance for employees from £1,000 to £1,500, meaning workers can get 10% off – rising to 15% off discount every pay weekend.

Asda has scrapped the 12-week qualification period for workers to access the 10% staff discount. The grocer says there is no cap on how much employees can spend with their card and it saves them around £400 a year.

Meanwhile, Iceland has increased its staff discount offer from 10% to 15% off.

Resell annual leave

Some companies give workers the option of buying or selling vacation days at a certain time of the year.

If you think you don’t need all of your vacation allowance, you may be able to sell some of it back to the company and get paid instead.

Debt help

You may be able to get debt help through your workplace. Many companies offer financial education seminars on debt management to help employees understand how to manage and repay debt, and what help is available, says Wealth at Work. Some also offer loan consolidation through payroll, to support those who need help paying off their debts.

Check with the human resources department to see what your company offers. If there is no specific debt support service available, they should direct you to the appropriate support. For example, a charity such as StepChange or the government service MoneyHelper.

Salary sacrifice, etc.

Someone rides along a cycle lane alongside heavy traffic in Birmingham.
Does your company offer a work-cycle program? Photograph: Jacob King/PA

Many companies offer “wage sacrifice” options like work-to-bike programs or things like loaner season tickets.

With wage sacrifice, payments for the bike, car, or whatever are deducted from your gross income.

These programs will often allow you to spread the cost of big-ticket items over several months and can help you manage your money.

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