Tue, 24 Mar 2020
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The Government has unveiled an unprecedented range of measures to help workers and firms facing financial pressures due to the coronavirus pandemic – but just how do you go about claiming if you find yourself out of work or ill?
We take a look at the options open to workers and the steps you need to take.
Q. Will my job be safe during the crisis?
Depending on what sector you work in will determine the risk your role will be at as a result of the changes to our lives.
However, the Government has vowed to support firms who retain staff even if they are forced to close or who cannot cover staff costs as a result of the crisis.
Unveiled last week, the coronavirus job retention scheme is designed to support firms from making mass redundancies during this challenging period.
In short, it means if the work dries up, staff will still receive a wage even if they have to be furloughed – in other words, be told not to work for a period of time.
It means you remain employed (and receiving a regular wage) with your employer choosing whether to fund the difference between the 80 per cent and your full salary if they wish to. They are not, however, obliged to.
You will be notified by your employer if they intend to access the payments the Government is making available. You will not be able to work if you are to benefit from the Government-funded support package.
If your salary drops to a level where you would normally be able to claim benefits, you will be able to do so.
The scheme has been put in place for three months from March 1 – but the Government says it will be extended if necessary.
What if I am told to to work from home?
The Government has urged as many people as possible to work from home where possible to prevent the spread of the virus.
If you are asked to do so, you should work your normal working hours – unless a more flexible approach is agreed with your employer to take into account child-care following the closure of schools – and you should receive full pay.
Employers should provide you with the necessary equipment to be able to fulfil your role remotely.
If in doubt, check with your manager.
Acas – the Government-run Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – has issued guidelines for both staff working remotely and employers when it comes to health and safety requirements.
It says: "Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety.
"Anyone working from home should keep in regular contact with their manager. They should also tell their manager about any health and safety risks and any homeworking arrangements that need to change."
It is worth quickly setting up a routine and being disciplined when it comes to working from home – reducing distractions wherever possible.
Will I get paid if I'm too ill to work or have to self-isolate?
The majority of companies will have sick pay policies built into your contract for the first few days of your illness, but you should also be aware of other options.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) is a fixed amount paid for long-term sickness. It currently stands at £94.25 per week, This is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. Depending on the terms your employer offers, you may get more, but you will not get less.
To qualify, you need to be earning at least £118 per week.
Emergency legislation means you will also get SSP from the first day you are forced to self-isolate and cannot work.
To qualify for SSP you need to have been off work sick for four or more days in a row.
To access SSP consult your employer.
What if I am on a zero-hours contract or self-employed?
The Government says it is working on additional measures for the self-employed, those on zero-hours contracts or those who work in the gig economy.
If you work for you yourself but find themselves unable to work due to illness or self-isolation or from work drying up, you will need to claim universal credit. You can also call them on the universal credit helpline on 0800 328 5644. However, expect long waits as the service is experiencing heavy call numbers.
Last week, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, confirmed the minimum income floor, which the Department for Work and Pensions uses to set benefit payments, will be suspended for the duration of the crisis.
It means the self-employed will find themselves on a level-playing field with employed people.
The result is that you too should be able to claim universal credit equivalent to the £94.25 offered by statutory sick pay.
For those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESP) – a benefit for those who have a health condition or disability that affects how much you can work – you will be able to claim from your first day of sickness.
It is worth noting that even if you are on a zero-hours contract but earned a regular wage, and were on their PAYE (pay-as-you-earn tax system) with an employer forced to close or furlough staff (see first question) you may still be entitled to claim 80 per cent of your wages to avoid being made redundant. Speak to your employer about such a step.
Will I need to obtain a sick note from my GP?
Under normal circumstances, if you are off work due to illness for longer than seven days you will need to produce a note from your GP.
However, the Government has advised employers to "use their discretion" during the coronavirus outbreak given the range of isolation requests made by the government which may force people into a position where they are not able to work or unable to fulfil their duties by working from home.
If you are required to provide proof of self- or household isolation beyond seven days, you should not attend your GP but can now access an isolation note through the NHS website and NHS 111 online. These were announced by the Government on Friday, March 20.
After answering a number of questions, an isolation note will be emailed to you or, if you do not have an email address, sent direct to your employer or "trusted family member or friend". Those unable to use online services can nominate someone to fill in the details on their behalf.
What if I cannot afford to pay my mortgage or rent due to loss of income?
The first thing is not to panic. Clearly it is not in anyone's interest to find themselves homeless during this period.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed all mortgage lenders will offer a three-month payment holiday for those struggling to make payments as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The payments will, however, have to be paid eventually, so expect the interest to be added to your future payments – although this will only see a small rise in future payments.
With interest rates slashed as well to a record low, those on tracker and variable rate mortgages will also see a dip in their monthly payments.
During this period, no-one can have their home repossessed.
With renters the situation is a little different with only those currently claiming benefits able to access additional funding - but the situation is under review.
It is worth noting that landlords will be able to claim the mortgage holidays if necessary – and no-one can be evicted from their home for at least the next three months.
If you find yourself struggling to meet payments, either speak to your lender or landlord to discuss the options.