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Benefits, employment and coronavirus

Denise, our experienced benefits adviser, answers your questions about how coronavirus might affect your employment and/or benefits. Updated 3 August 2021.

With the recent updates from the government about returning to work, we know that many people within our community have been left with a few questions. We’ve put together some information and reached out to some experts to help answer some of your questions and also to help you understand your rights within the workplace, enabling you to make the right decision, for you.


If you're concerned about the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, The Brain Tumour Charity provides a free Benefits and Money Clinic twice a week. Appointments are available by phone, so this service will continue during the social distancing measures.

Book an appointment

Where to find official guidance

It is expected that the advice will change as the situation develops so it is essential to regularly review the up-to-date information and advice. We recommend that you take a look at:

Depending where you live in the UK, you should follow your Government’s guidelines:

If you live outside the UK, we recommend you look at the list of international resources put together by the International Brain Tumour Alliance (IBTA).

If you would like to talk through or clarify any of the information on this page, please contact our Support and Information Line by ringing 0808 800 0004, emailing us at support@thebraintumourcharity.org or starting a live chat. The Support and Information Line is open Monday to Friday, between 9.00am and 5.00pm.

What is the current advice regarding work? 

(Updated 3 August 2021)

In some areas of the UK, the Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. However, it’s recommended that businesses empower employees to return to work safely and gradually over the summer.

The Government has encouraged employers and employees to discuss working arrangements and has called for employers to take every possible step to help their staff be able to work from home when necessary. This includes providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

The guidance is the same if you are considered “clinically extremely vulnerable” or have previously received a letter informing you that you need to shield. However, if you still don't feel comfortable returning to work, you should talk to your employer and ask them to explain the measures they've put in place to protect you.

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What should my workplace be doing to make sure it’s safe?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

The Government has released guidance for employers on making workplaces safe, as the actions needed will vary depending on the type of workplace it is. This is separated into different types of work, so you can have a look to see what’s recommended for your industry. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on protecting vulnerable workers, including advice for employers and employees on how to talk about reducing risks in the workplace.

If your employer isn’t taking all practical steps to protect you from the risk of COVID-19, you can report this to your local authority or the HSE. The HSE can request your employer take additional steps where appropriate.

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What should I do if I don’t feel safe going into work because of my condition?

(Updated 3 August)

Your employer has a legal responsibility to protect you from risks to health and safety – including COVID-19.

If your employer expects you to return to work, they should be able to explain the measures they have put in place to protect you from COVID-19. If you still feel unsafe, you should ask your employer about whether you can continue working from home.

If you have a disability or health condition, you should talk to your employer about whether you need any reasonable adjustments before returning.

If you’re considered "clinically extremely vulnerable"

Although people who are considered "clinically extremely vulnerable" are no longer being advised to shield, your employer may be more willing for you to continue working from home. 

If you do need to return to the office, you may want to talk to your employer about additional precautions that could be taken to help protect you, for example asking colleagues to take lateral flow tests before coming into work.

ACAS is an organisation that provides expert advice to employers and employees about their rights in the workplace. They have information about the rights of vulnerable groups at work.

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What rights do I have as an employee?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

If you are concerned that your employer is not taking all practical steps to protect you from the spread of COVID-19, you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive who can take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring your employer to take additional steps.

In addition, basic employment rights haven’t changed and every employer has a duty of care for employees and shouldn’t be putting people at risk. All workers have the legally protected right to a safe working environment

However, as the level of risk will vary from person-to-person and employment-to-employment, voicing concerns and continuing open discussions with employers would be the best way forward. Don’t forget you can contact ACAS in cases of dispute.

You can familiarise yourself with the Government guidance for employers to inform discussion on what should be done to protect you. 

We also have a range of employment resources designed to help you understand your rights following a brain tumour diagnosis. These might also help you have a conversation with your employer.

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What if I also need to look after my children?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

Speak to your employer if you need to take time off work to look after your children. In an emergency, you’re entitled to take time off to make sure your children are looked after. This is known as dependant leave.

Your employer can’t refuse you dependant leave if you have no other choice, and you can’t be disciplined or sacked for taking the time off. However, you’re not automatically entitled to full pay and what an employer will pay can vary.

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What if I’m off sick or told to stay home because of coronavirus?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

When should I self-isolate?

You should should self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test if:

  • you're told you need to self-isolate by an official Test and Trace programme
  • you or somebody you live with tests positive for COVID-19 after taking a lateral flow test
  • you or somebody you live with develops any of the following symptoms:
    • a new continuous cough - this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
    • a high temperature - this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure their temperature)
    • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell - this means you've noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.

You should self-isolate at home while you book the test and wait for the results. If you test positive, you must self-isolate for the day your symptoms started (or the day your test was taken if you do not have symptoms) and the next 10 full days.

Stay at home guidance

If you need to self-isolate and cannot work for more than 4 days because you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19, you can claim SSP from the fourth day of your self-isolation period.

If you need to self-isolate and cannot work for more than 4 days because somebody you live with or somebody you've had close contact with is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19, you can claim SSP for every day you've had to self-isolate. 

Find out more

It's also worth checking your contract as your employer might pay you more than SSP when you're sick. This is called contractual sick pay.

If you’re not entitled to SSP and you can't work because you need to self-isolate, ask your employer for an SSP1 form that you can then use to claim benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) depending on your circumstances.

Self-Isolation Support schemes

If you’ve self-isolated due to coronavirus (COVID-19), you may also be entitled to a lump sum payment of £500, under one of the following schemes:

There is no equivalent scheme in Northern Ireland. Find support if you’re in Northern Ireland.

Self-isolating ahead of surgery or treatment

From 26 August you can also be entitled to SSP for up to 14 days before surgery, if you are to ‘undergo a surgical or other hospital procedure’, you’ve received the pre-surgery notification and are self-isolating as a result. Guidance from NICE and the NHS states that family members, carers and members of the same household or the patient’s support bubble may also be asked to self-isolate, however there’s no statutory provision for those groups to receive SSP solely on that basis.

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What if my employer needs to close my workplace?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

If you and your employer both agree, they might be able to keep you on the payroll if they’re unable to operate or have no work for you because of coronavirus. This is called being ‘on furlough’.

If you're on furlough, you could get paid 80% of your wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. You'll still be paid by your employer and continue to pay taxes on the income

The employer is expected to pay a proportion of the furloughed wages and the employee is now able to do some work for the employer. This means that the employee will do whatever hours of work are available, for which the employer will pay as normal, with any shortfall still coming from the furlough scheme.

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Am I eligible to go on furlough?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (often called the Furlough Scheme) has now been extended until 30 September 2021. 

Any UK employer with a UK bank account will be able to claim, but you must have been on your employer’s PAYE payroll on or before 2 March 2021. You can be on any type of contract, including a zero-hours or a temporary contract.

This scheme doesn’t apply if you’re self-employed or to any income from self-employment.

Both you and your employer must agree to put you on furlough - so speak to them about whether they can claim. You can’t apply for the scheme yourself. Once agreed, your employer must write to you confirming you’ve been furloughed to be eligible to claim.

If you’re on sick leave or self-isolating because of coronavirus, speak to your employer about whether you’re eligible. You should get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while you’re on sick leave or self-isolating, but can be furloughed after this.

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Can I be let go from my job because of coronavirus?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

There could be situations where you’re let go from your job because of a business going into administration or having to downsize, which means you’re being made redundant. If you’ve been employed for two years or more you’d be entitled to a redundancy payment, although even if it's a genuine redundancy and you've received a redundancy payment it may be an unfair dismissal in some circumstances and you should seek advice.

If you're let go because of something related to coronavirus, such as time off work, you should get legal advice as soon as possible as you only have three months to take any action if the dismissal is unfair.

To keep up to date with your rights and the latest information about employment, you can take a look at ACAS, and continue to check the relevant government website:

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What financial support is available if I’m self-employed?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

You can't get SSP if you're self-employed. If you have to take time off work and you don't get paid while you're off, you might be entitled to claim benefits. If you're already claiming benefits, you might be entitled to more money.

If you already get benefits like Tax Credits or Housing Benefit, tell the office paying you that you can't work because you're sick or having to self-isolate. You might be entitled to more money while you're off work.

Self-employment Income Support Scheme

If you're not claiming any benefits you might be entitled to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit to top up your income or help you with rent payments.

You can use the coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme if you're self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income due to coronavirus.

This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Applications for the fifth and final grant are now open for eligible businesses that have been adversely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) between 1 May 2021 and 30 September 2021.

Find out more

Other help you can get

The government is also providing the following additional help for the self-employed, including:

  • deferral of Self-Assessment income tax payments
  • grants for businesses that pay little or no business rates
  • the Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

For more information on financial aid for the self-employed view government advice.

If you’re a director of your own company and are paid through PAYE you may be able to get support through the job retention scheme.

Before grant payments are made, the self-employed will still be able to access other available government support for those affected by coronavirus, including universal credit if you’re on a low income and new style ESA if you’re ill or self-isolating due to having contact with an infected person.

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What if I’m claiming benefits or need to go to a medical assessment?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

You should attend your usual appointments but, for the time being, these may be done by telephone or online - for example Jobcentre Plus appointments and work reviews. 

The Government has now returned to using face-to-face medical assessments - for example for ESA, Universal Credit or PIP  - alongside telephone assessments or paper-based assessments where the benefit is decided based on the paperwork submitted. 

You should continue to appeal if you disagree with decisions and the Tribunal service will manage the hearings in keeping with government guidance.

If you're claiming Universal Credit, you may need to use your online journal to keep in touch with your work coach rather than attending the Jobcentre.

If you call the office paying your benefit or update your online journal and attend any telephone appointments when asked, then you won't be sanctioned and your benefits will continue.

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Is there any other financial help available to me?

(Updated 3 August 2021)

Mortgages and credit cards

Payment holidays were available until earlier this year, but they've now ended for everyone who was on one. So, if you're in financial difficulties now, you'll be offered tailored support based on your individual circumstances.

The Money Saving Expert website has detailed information about what this may look like for different different financial and credit products. 

Find out more

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Rent

Many rules have been changed to support those struggling to pay rent due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Local governments and housing associations have confirmed that no social renter should be evicted due to coronavirus. Although private renters can now face eviction again, extended notice periods of up to six months have been put into place.

If you're struggling to pay your rent, talk to your landlord straight away. You should explain the situation and you could ask for more time to pay or to catch-up any missed payments by installments once the situation improves. If you can't come to an agreement with your landlord, it's a good idea to pay what you can afford anyway and keep a record of what you offered. Don’t forget there’s also help with rent available through the benefits system for people on low incomes, and that eventually all rent arrears will need to be paid.

If your landlord is trying to evict you and you're not sure what to do, we advise speaking to Citizens Advice.

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Funeral Expenses Payments

The last thing a grieving family should have to worry about is whether they're able to pay for the funeral. Funeral Expenses Payments are paid to eligible benefit claimants to help lighten the financial burden on families at this extremely distressing time.

And, from spring 2020, the maximum amount families can claim will rise from £700 to £1,000.

This payment is on top of existing allowances that pay for funeral necessities, such as burial or cremation fees. It can be used to help pay for expenses like the coffin, flowers and funeral directors' fees.

The increased payment follows recent changes that made it easier to apply for Funeral Expenses Payments.

There is also the new Children’s Funeral Fund in England. This can help to pay for some of the costs of a funeral for a child under 18. It is not means-tested, which means that what you earn or how much you have in savings will not affect what you get.

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About the author

I’m a financial inclusion project worker with Citizens Advice in Rushmoor and work with The Brain Tumour Charity twice a week to help deliver their Benefits and Money Clinic. I use my 40+ years of experience working closely with the benefits system to help people affected by brain tumours claim the benefits they’re entitled too and manage their finances with reduced or limited income.

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