The spread of coronavirus, also called COVID-19, in the UK and across the world could have implications for your work, benefits and travel plans. This guide will look at your rights to sick pay, what benefits you can claim if you’re self-employed or not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
Coronavirus, the symptoms and self-isolating
If you have any of the symptoms of coronavirus, such as a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath, it is important you follow the NHS guidelines to protect yourself and prevent the spread of the virus.
Find out more about coronavirus, the symptoms and what to do if you think you’ve caught it on the NHS website
If you have been to an affected area, been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus, or are waiting for coronavirus test results, you must self-isolate yourself for 14 days.
If you have a persistent cough, fever or flu-like symptoms you should self isolate for seven days.
If you’re self-employed or a sole trader
Coronavirus self-employed income support scheme
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The government has launched the self-employed income support scheme. To be eligible, you must earn more than half your income from self employment, have submitted a tax return for 2018/19 and have:
- a trading profit of less than £50,000 for 2018/19, or
- an average trading profit of less than £50,000 for the tax year 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19.
If you qualify the government will pay you a grant for 80 percent of your monthly profits, up to £2,500 a month for three months.
You will get a lump sum payment and it is hoped these will start at the beginning of June.
Payments will be backdated to the start of March and cover a three-month period to the end of May. The government has said the scheme might be extended.
HMRC will use your average trading profits from 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 to work out the size of your grant.
It is a taxable grant, so you will have to declare it on your Self Assessment tax return and might have to pay income tax and National Insurance on it.
If you made a self-employed income during the 2018/19 tax year, but have not submitted a Self Assessment tax return yet, you have four weeks to submit one.
This scheme is open to sole traders and members of partnerships.
If you pay yourself a salary and dividends through a company, you will not be eligible, but might be helped by the coronavirus job retention scheme if you’re earning through PAYE.
If you’ve become self-employed since April 2019, you will not be eligible.
If you are not eligible for this grant, you will still be able access other government support, including benefits and business support grants.
If you want to claim Universal Credit while waiting for the grant to be paid, you need to remember the grant will need to be declared as income. This is likely to significantly reduce or completely remove any Universal Credit payment you will get that month, so you will need to plan ahead for how you will pay costs like rent.
How can I claim this grant?
You do not need to contact HMRC. HMRC will check eligibility against existing information and will contact you about making an online application. It is unclear when this process will start.
Look out for scams
This scheme is likely to be targeted by scammers claiming to be from HMRC. At the moment it is not clear how or when HMRC will contact you about this. But if you’re self employed you should have already received an email from HMRC explaining the scheme and telling you there is no reason to contact HMRC about this.
If you are contacted by email, phone or text by someone claiming to be from HMRC at this time offering you the income support grant, tax refund or any other financial help, this is a scam.
If you can’t work because you’re sick or having to self-isolate
If coronavirus means you’re unable to work and you’ve paid enough National Insurance Contributions, you might be able to claim new style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you’re ill.
The government has said you’ll now get paid from the first day of the claim, rather than after eight days.
If this is the first time you’ve applied for ESA, you’ll have to fill in form ESA 1 and send a fit note from NHS 111 with your claim form to show that you’re not fit for work. You should get the first payment into your bank or building society account within three weeks.
You might also be able to claim elements of Universal Credit if you need help with other costs for children or housing if you and your partner or spouse have savings of less than £16,000.
If your income has dropped significantly
If you are feeling well but your work has dried up and you are planning to apply to the self-employed income support scheme you (and your partner or spouse if you live as a couple) have savings of less than £16,000 you may be able to make a claim for Universal Credit until the self-employed income support scheme starts.
The government has announced the standard allowance will be increased by up to £86.67 a month from 6 April 2020, plus you may be able to claim elements for other costs, such as housing, caring responsibilities or bringing up children.
The amount you get will depend on your circumstances including household income and will be available to new and existing claimants.
If you’re self-employed and qualify to claim Universal Credit, the minimum income floor will be temporarily abolished from 6 April.
The minimum income floor is a formula used to work out how much Universal Credit you should get when you’re self-employed. It is based on national minimum wage and an assumed number of worked hours, regardless of whether you actually work them or not.
Abolishing the minimum income floor should increase the amount of Universal Credit you are entitled to claim if you’re not able to work.
If you are waiting for the self-employed income support grant, you need to remember this will need to be declared as income when it’s paid. This is likely to significantly reduce or completely remove any Universal Credit payment you will get that month, so you will need to plan ahead for how you will pay costs like rent.
Applying for benefits
The application process for benefits can be longer than the 14 days recommended for self-isolation. If you’re claiming Universal Credit you will have to wait at least five weeks for the first payment, so don’t delay making a claim.
You can make a claim for an advance payment while you are waiting for your Universal Credit payment. You can talk to your work coach about how to do this once you’ve made your claim. The advance payment is a loan that will need to be paid back out of future Universal Credit payments, so make sure you only ask for what you need.
If you or your partner or spouse are already getting any of the benefits being replaced by Universal Credit, including Tax Credits, Housing Benefit or Income Support, these benefits will stop and your benefit income for these costs will be reassessed as part of the Universal Credit claim.
If you decide to end your self-employment
You might be able to survive now the government has announced the self-employed income support scheme but, if you decide to end your self-employment and look for paid work and you have savings of over £16,000 you usually won’t be able to claim new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if you were only paying Class 2 National Insurance contributions.
You will not be able to claim Universal Credit either as it is a means-tested benefit. You will have to wait until your (and your partner’s or spouse’s) savings drop below £16,000 before you can make a claim for Universal Credit.
However, if you were working as an employee during the past two to three years and paid enough Class 1 National Insurance or received National Insurance credits, you may be able to apply for new style Jobseeker’s Allowance. You will also be able to make a claim for Universal Credit to help with the costs of housing, caring responsibilities or bringing up children if you have savings of less than £16,000.
If you are not entitled to claim JSA and have savings of less than £16,000 you will be able to make a claim for Universal Credit straightaway.
If you work in the gig economy
Unless it has been agreed as part of your contract, you will not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, sick leave or paid holiday leave.
Some employers have said they will offer sick pay if you have to self isolate because of coronavirus. Others have said they might offer some kind of compensation if you have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
If you’re working in the gig economy, check with the company to find out what your rights are.
You will be able to claim sickness benefits available for self-employed people if you’re eligible.
If you’re employed
The government has announced it will pay your wages through the coronavirus job retention scheme if your business is forced to temporarily close because of coronavirus.
This will be available to anyone on the PAYE scheme and your employer will need to contact HMRC to apply. In order for you to qualify, your employer will have to re-assign your employment status as a furloughed worker’.
The scheme will pay 80 percent of retained workers’ salaries, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated employer National Insurance Contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. Your employer can top up your salary to more than this if they choose to.
Wages under the scheme will be backdated to 1 March and the scheme will be open for at least three months. There is no limit on amount of funding and the government will pay grants to support as many jobs as necessary.
The first of the grants are hoped to be paid before the end of April so it could take a few weeks to get your money.
If you have already been told your job is gone, you should contact your employer to see if they are now willing to take you back on and reassign you as a furloughed worker.
If you have already made a claim for benefits contact the relevant benefit helpline for advice on what to do before you cancel your claim.
If you have already received a redundancy payment and your employer could now take you back on, speak to your employer or the ACAS helpline for advice on what to do.
If you don’t want to go into work because of coronavirus
If you don’t want to travel or go into work because you’re worried about catching coronavirus your rights are more limited. Employers are required to listen to your concerns and try and find a way to work around them. You might also be able to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave.
Am I entitled to sick pay?
Your rights to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) depend on your employment status and earnings.
If you’re an employee and earn more than £118 a week
If you’re an employee and earn at least £118 a week (£120 from 6 April 2020), you will be able to get £94.25 per week (£95.85 from 6 April 2020) for up to 28 weeks. The government has announced SSP will be paid from the first day you are off sick if it is related to coronavirus.
SSP covers you both if you’re ill and if you need to self isolate because you have been in direct contact with the virus. You will still need to provide a sick note or fit note. You no longer have to go to a doctor to get a sick note or fit note. You can get one by calling NHS 111.
Some employers have more generous contractual sick pay schemes. It is worth checking your contract, staff handbook or with your employer.
The government has said that it will bear the costs of SSP for smaller employers, so claiming it should not be a problem. If you do have a problem, contact the HM Revenue and Customs statutory payment dispute team:
Telephone: 03000 560 630
Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 5pm
Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm
Textphone: 0300 200 3212
Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm
If you’re an employee and earn less than £118 a week
If you’re employed but your earnings are too low to claim SSP, you may be able to claim Universal Credit. You can do this online.
Don’t delay making a claim for benefits, even if you think you might have been affected by coronavirus.
However, if you are already getting any of these benefits being replaced by Universal Credit:
- Housing Benefit
- Tax Credits
- Income Support
- Employment and Support Allowance
and need to make a claim for Universal Credit because of coronavirus, check with the Citizens Advice Help to Claim service as soon as possible to find out how they might be affected and to get advice about your situation. If you’re in Scotland, visit the Citizens Advice Scotland website.
Find out more about coronavirus and your rights at work on the ACAS website
If you run your own business
The government has said they will fund the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for employers with workforces of 250 people or fewer for up to 14 days.
You can also apply to HMRC for a grant to cover up to 80 percent of your employees’ salaries, up to £2,500 a month.
The government has announced grants and business rates support for small and medium sized business.
Banks will also be offering loans to small and medium sized businesses under the governments Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme.
If you’re registered for VAT, the government has announced VAT payments due between 20 March 2020 and the end of June 2020 have been deferred.
Find out more about the help available to businesses on the Gov.uk website
The government has announced the next Self Assessment tax return payment – due on 31July – has been suspended until January 2021 and you won’t be charged any penalties or interest for late payment during this period.
HMRC has expanded its Time to Pay Scheme if you are struggling financially because of anything to do with coronavirus and you owe outstanding tax.
If you already have missed a payment or are worried you will miss your next payment, call the HMRC Time to Pay helpline on 0800 0159.
If you’re business is struggling from the impact of coronavirus, then you can call Business Debtline on 0800 197 6026.
If you can’t work because you have to look after someone with coronavirus
You are entitled to time off work if you have to help a child or close relative who has coronavirus, has to self-isolate or needs to go into hospital. This person does not have to live with you.
This also applies if you need to take time off to look after children or arrange childcare because their school has been forced to close.
You have no statutory right to pay during this time, but employers might offer support depending on your contract and workplace policies.
The amounts of time you take off must be reasonable for the situation and you might have to use any unused paid holiday.
If your partner or relative who lives with you gets coronavirus, or has symptoms, they might be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
If your child’s school has closed
Schools across the UK have closed to everyone apart from for the children of key workers. This might be a difficult time for parents, but there are options available to you.
You are entitled to take time off to care for a dependent child. There are no rules around how much time you can take off and you should talk to your employer about your options.
You might also be able to take time off as holiday leave.
If you’re worried about childcare costs
If your hours have been reduced, your income has gone down, you might be worried about how this will affect any help youget towards childcare costs.
With the lockdown in place and some childcare providers closing temporarily, you might also be concerned if you’ve paid in advance to retain your child’s place, or if your childcare needs have stopped completely.
If you claim through the tax-free childcare scheme, this is usually based on a three-month period, so support will depend on when you next need to report your income.
If you’re getting the childcare costs element of Universal Credit, or getting help through tax credits, the number of hours you’re now working and your income can affect how much help you get towards childcare costs.
If you’re getting free school meals
Schools are making provisions to provide meals and food parcels to everyone who is eligible for free school meals.
How this is happening depends on the school your child is attending and where in the country you live.
If you’re worried about losing your job
The government grants, which allow your employer to cover up to 80 percent of your salary up to £2,500 a month, should minimise the risk of losing your job.
However, If you’re worried that you might be made redundant our Redundancy Handbook can help you prepare.
Lay-offs and reduced hours
If you’ve been asked to take unpaid leave, and your contract allows you to be unpaid during this period, you might be able to claim Guarantee Pay.
You might also be able to claim new-style Jobseekers Allowance and, if you need help with other costs, Universal Credit.
Benefit changes because of coronavirus
The Universal Credit standard allowance and working tax credit basic element will both be increased by up to £1,040 a year for 12 months.
This will be available to new and existing claimants regardless of whether you’re employed, self-employed or a job seeker.
The amount you will get depends on your circumstances including household income.
If you’re self-employed, the minimum income floor for Universal Credit will be temporarily abolished from 6 April 2020.
The Local Housing Allowance will increase and some people may get more money to cover their housing costs to cover the costs of the bottom 30 percent of rental properties in your area.
If you’re claiming Universal Credit and are not able to work, attend interviews at the jobcentre because of coronavirus, it’s important you contact your work coach by phone or through your online journal as soon as possible.
The government has said you won’t face sanctions if you choose to self-isolate because of coronavirus.
Coronavirus and disability benefits
All face-to-face work capability assessments for sickness and disability benefits have been suspended until at least the middle of June.
The Department for Work and Pensions has said alternative arrangements could involve telephone or paper-based assessments.
For more information you should contact the Disability Service Centre on:
Telephone: 0800 121 4433
Textphone: 0800 121 4493