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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.

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.

Learn more about what you should expect from your employer as you return to work after the coronavirus pandemic.

This page has been updated on 26 May and is correct at time of publishing. We will continue to update this page as we get new information.

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.

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What is the current advice regarding work? 

(Updated 25 May at 9.00am)

Right now, Government advice is to avoid any unnecessary contact with other people, which means working from home, if you can.

If you can't work from home, you’re encouraged to go into work and your employer should help you find ways to avoid unnecessary contact. This could include:

  • letting you travel at a time when public transport is less busy
  • not asking you to attend face-to-face meetings, or arranging to hold them online
  • finding car parking spaces so more vulnerable employees don’t have to travel on public transport
  • reorganising your workplace to ensure safe social distancing.

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

(Updated 25 May at 9.00am)

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.

People who are at significantly higher risk and are classed as being in a clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable group should not be required to go back to work.

Currently, there are still a lot of workplaces that aren’t allowed to be open yet and the furlough scheme has been extended until October, albeit in a more limited way, to accommodate this.

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

(Updated 25 May at 9.00am)

First, you should check to see if you’re classed as being in a clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable group, as the advice for people in these groups is still to stay at home or shield, respectively. You should have received notice from your medical team if you need to shield.

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.

For everyone else, the government advice at the moment is that if you can work from home you should, but if you can’t then your employer should put measures in place to keep you safe. This includes allowing flexible working, so you can travel outside of rush hour if you have to use public transport, and adhering to social distancing.

Talk to your employer about your concerns, especially if you have an ongoing health condition which puts you at additional risk, as they should make reasonable adjustments. The government has also advised wearing a face-covering if you’re in an enclosed space and unable to social distance (like on public transport).

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What rights do I have as an employee?

(Updated 25 May at 9.00am)

It’s difficult to talk about rights as none of the current measures are enshrined in law and each person will have their own idea of risk, which is informed by their own situation. 

However, basic employment rights haven’t changed. 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.

If, after having these conversations, you’re still worried your employer isn’t keeping you and other workers safe, or is putting you at risk, you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive, who can take a range of actions, including requiring your employer to take additional steps, where appropriate.

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What if I also need to look after my children?

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?

If you're following government guidance because you have coronavirus symptoms, you'll be considered unfit for work. You'll also be considered unfit for work if you're staying at home, or 'self-isolating', because you've been in contact with someone with coronavirus.

You'll get statutory sick pay (SSP) if you're considered unfit for work and are usually entitled to it. If you’re not entitled, your employer will give you an SSP1 form that you can then use to claim benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) depending on your circumstances.

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

If you're not sick but have been told to self-isolate and can't work from home, you should still get your contractual sick pay on top of SSP up to a maximum of your full salary.

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What if my employer needs to close my workplace?

(Updated 25 May at 9.00am)

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

When this scheme began in April, you weren’t allowed to do any work for your employer while on furlough. Now that the scheme has been extended to the end of October, there have been some changes.

From August, 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. It is not clear exactly how this will work yet but the general opinion is that the employee will do whatever hours or work are available for which the employer will pay as normal with any shortfall still coming from the furlough scheme - but this has not yet been confirmed.

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Am I eligible to go on furlough?

(Updated 25 May 9.00am)

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.

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 19 March 2020. 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.

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.

If you’re shielding in line with public health guidance, then you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough.

The grant will start on the day you were placed on furlough and this can be backdated to 1 March.

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

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 25 May 9.00am)

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 get 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 for the next three months. This may be extended if necessary.

Who can apply

You can apply if you’re a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and you:

  • have submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19
  • traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • are trading when you apply, or would be without COVID-19
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19.

Your self-employed trading profits must also be less than £50,000 and more than half of your income from self-employment. This is determined by at least one of the following being true:

  • you have trading profits/partnership trading profits in 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your total taxable income
  • you have average trading profits in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your average taxable income in the same period.

If you started trading between 2016-19, HMRC will only use those years for which you filed a Self-Assessment tax return.

If you haven’t submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19, you must do this by 23 April 2020.

HMRC will use data from the 2018-19 returns already submitted to identify those eligible and will risk assess any late returns filed before the 23 April 2020 deadline in the usual way.

How much you’ll get

You’ll get a taxable grant which will be 80% of the average profits from the tax years (where applicable):

  • 2016 to 2017
  • 2017 to 2018
  • 2018 to 2019

To work out the average, HMRC will add together the total trading profit for the three tax years (where applicable) then divide by three (where applicable), and use this to calculate a monthly amount.

It will be up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for three months.

They will pay the grant directly into your bank account, in one instalment.

How to apply

The Self- employed income support scheme is now open and HMRC have contacted people who they consider eligible by email, text or by letter and given them a date on which they can apply online for the scheme. 

If you think you are eligible but have not received an invitation to claim, you can check your eligibility on gov.uk.

After you’ve applied

Once HMRC has received your claim and you’re eligible for the grant, they will contact you to tell you how much you’ll get and confirm the payment details.

If you claim tax credits you’ll need to include the grant as income in your claim.

Other help you can get

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

  • deferral of Self-Assessment income tax payments due in July 2020 and VAT payments due from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020
  • grants for businesses that pay little or no business rates
  • 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 02 April at 3:30pm)

You should attend your usual appointments but, for the time being, these are being done by telephone or online - for example Jobcentre Plus appointments and work reviews. The government has postponed all face-to-face medical assessments - for example for ESA, Universal Credit or PIP - and awards that are running out are being automatically extended for three months, so your DLA, PIP etc. will still be paid at the current rates. Appeal hearings are also being changed to either paper- based hearings or being held by video conferencing or telephone. 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'll need to use your online journal to keep in touch with your work coach rather than attending the job centre.

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 25 May 9.00am)

Mortgages and credit cards

The government has asked the mortgage companies to offer a three-month payment holiday to anyone with a mortgage who is struggling to pay due to coronavirus.

What this means is that for up to three months you may not have to pay your mortgage and those three months will be added on at the end of the mortgage term, so you’ll pay the same amount but your mortgage will end three months later. It’s important you contact your mortgage company immediately if you’re having difficulty and keep them up to date with the situation.

There have been similar calls for people with credit cards and while you should prioritise your mortgage or rent payments, it’s also important you keep the credit card company up to date with your situation and ask them for help if you’re having difficulty making a payment.

Some credit card companies are already contacting their customers asking them to get in touch if they’re having difficulty.

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Rent

There’s also been some help offered to tenants who can’t afford their rent. The government has announced measures to protect tenants from eviction for at least three months, so during this time no-one can be evicted for rent arrears, either from social housing or privately rented accommodation. 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 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.

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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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