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Home Advice for Parents & CarersCoronavirus (COVID-19) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Rights for carers

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Rights for carers

Last updated 14 May 2020.

*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE IN CONJUNCTION WITH THIS ARTICLE AS GUIDANCE ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IS CHANGING DAILY*

This article covers FAQs on coronavirus for carers and those who who live with someone who is shielding.

You might also want to look at our other coronavirus pages:

Care for vulnerable individuals

Schools are still open for ‘vulnerable children’. Who is covered by this?

Schools and colleges remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children who cannot be cared for at home. See here for the government’s list of critical workers.

‘Vulnerable’ children include children that have a social worker (including children who are in foster care) and those up to the age of 25 with education, health and care (EHC) plans. It also includes children who have been assessed as otherwise vulnerable by educational providers or local authorities, and who are therefore in need of continued education provision. This might include children on the edge of receiving support from children’s social care services, adopted children, or those who are young carers. The government will also support schools who wish to help other children facing social difficulties. 

If your child falls under this category, it may still be possible for you to look after them at home. If your child has an EHC plan and you can look after them at home, the school or college should carry out a risk-assessment together with you and the local authority to work out the best way forward during this time. This can include, for example, having carers, therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide essential services. 

But if you are not able to look after your child at home for whatever reason, they can continue going to school or college.

For more information, the government has produced detailed FAQ guidance on education for vulnerable children and young people. Here is the latest government guidance on schools and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak.

I’m a critical worker, but my child is in the ‘high risk’ group for coronavirus. Do I have to send them to school?

No, if you do not want to send your child to school then you do not have to. The government has said that if you are able to care for your child at home, you should continue doing so. You do not have to send your child to school if you do not need, or want to.

If your child is in the ‘high risk’ group for coronavirus, you may have received a letter from the NHS to tell them that they need to be shielding. The instructions in this letter are very clear. They must stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, except from you as their carer and healthcare workers continuing to provide medical care. There is more information on shielding on the government’s website.

If this is the case, then you should not continue sending your child to school and if you are an employee, you have a right to take time off work if there is nobody else to help with childcare. See our question on going into work for more information.

I am a critical worker. Can I leave my children with a family member or friend for the shifts that I have to do outside school hours?

Government guidance makes it clear that local authorities are responsible for providing childcare for critical workers during the day, but that does not deal with childcare outside school hours or where your children are too young to access the childcare.

England only:

The current guidance on social distancing suggests that in most circumstances taking children to grandparents/other carers isn’t allowed, because it is unlawful to visit friends and families inside their homes, apart from limited exceptions.  There are some exceptions for children whose parents are separated for example, or for people who need to go and provide essential care to a vulnerable relative, but childcare is not listed as an exception. That said, you may be able to argue that someone who regularly provides care for your children, could fall within the definition of a person who has “care of” a child (Regulation 7(d)(vii) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020). Note that the definition of “parent” includes someone with “care of” a child.

We understand that the police seem to be taking a very practical and pragmatic approach to the situation. If the grandparents are the only people you can rely on for childcare, our view is that you should be allowed to continue to use them to allow you to work as a critical worker without issues from the police. “Emergency assistance” is listed as a reasonable excuse to the restrictions to movements in the Regulations, and in a Police briefing of 31 March 2020. The briefing also makes it clear that police officers need to consider safeguarding issues and understand that it may not be safe for everyone to be at home (it would obviously not be safe for your children to be left home on their own). However, note this briefing may be out-of-date, as the Regulations have changed since then.

I am a critical worker. My children are usually looked after by their grandparents – but they are shielding and can no longer help. Can I get any help with additional childcare costs?

The schemes for childcare vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. Since the pandemic, and the closure of schools, critical workers can send their children to school at no cost (see above). For children who are too young to attend school, the usual childcare schemes still apply. We understand local councils are keen to help critical workers and may be providing additional support for critical workers.

So as a first step, we recommend you get in touch with your local council childcare team. We also suggest you ask your workplace if they are arranging any support for childcare costs.

If you live in Wales:  the government has announced that funding will be diverted so that key workers can access free childcare for their pre-school age children under the Coronavirus Childcare Assistance Scheme.

If you live in Scotland: the government has not made any specific provision for pre-school age children. However they have set out guidance on who is a key worker (which is different to the guidance issued by central government) and made clear that decisions on key workers and childcare are taken locally in line with national criteria. Importantly only key workers who cannot fulfil their functions when they are working remotely from home can qualify for critical childcare.  

If you live in any other part of the UK: unfortunately the schemes in the rest of the UK have not been amended in light of the pandemic. The government have announced that local authorities are able to redistribute funding across settings accordingly to enable local authorities to ensure that critical workers, including NHS staff, are able to access childcare where they need it.   The government has issued guidance as to how childcare settings will operate. We await further guidance on support with childcare costs. In the interim, the normal rules around childcare therefore continue to apply. Please click here for details.

Shielding

Someone in our household is in the ‘high risk’ group for coronavirus. Should the whole household be self-isolating?

No, this alone does not require you all to self-isolate. Government guidance only requires people to self isolate if they are displaying symptoms of coronavirus or someone in their household is displaying symptoms. Self-isolating is very extreme: you should stay at home at all time and avoid any face-to-face contact. You can see more advice on self-isolation on the NHS website. The government have also published guidance on shielding.

If nobody in your household is displaying symptoms, you would not be required to self-isolate but you should still stay home whenever possible, especially given government guidance that nobody should leave their house except in limited circumstances.

If you live with an extremely vulnerable person, then the government recommends taking extra precautions to minimise the risk of exposure to the vulnerable people you live with. 

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, you will have received a letter telling you this from the NHS, or been told this by your GP.  You must stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, except from carers and healthcare workers continuing to provide medical care.

I care for a vulnerable person who is supposed to be ‘shielding’. What does this mean for our family?

‘Shielding’ is a measure recommended by the government to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, by minimising all interaction between those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and others. 

The NHS has directly contacted people with these conditions to provide further advice. You may have received a letter yourself, either as someone in this ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group or as the named carer of someone else who is. 

If a person you care for has received this letter, the instructions are clear. They must stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, except from you as their carer and healthcare workers continuing to provide medical care.

See the question below for your right not to go into work. If the person in your household who is shielding does not depend on you for their care, it might be trickier to argue that you are entitled to time off for dependants. But all the other options (furlough, working from home, parental leave if the person is your child and under 18, special leave or annual leave) should be available to you.

Taking time off work and working from home

Do I have a right not to go into work if the person I care for is vulnerable to coronavirus and supposed to be ‘shielding’?

If you can work from home

If you live with someone who is shielding and it is at all possible for you to work from home, then you should. The impact that working from home has on your employer’s business should not be taken into account when making the decision about whether or not you can work from home, as it would be for a normal flexible working request – the government has advised that anyone who can work from home should do so

If you cannot work from home and your employer is asking you to come into work

FurloughThe government guidance also makes it clear that employees can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to childcare commitments. It also mentions that you can be furloughed if you are shielding in line with public health guidance or need to stay home with someone who is shielding and you are unable to work from home.

If your employer refuses to put you on furlough, you could still have a right to be off work. You could attempt to say as your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety and if one of your ‘dependants’ (family members like children who live with you and need you) has a pre-existing condition which would make them very vulnerable to coronavirus, it would be a breach of your employment contract (more specifically, a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence) to force you to come to work. You could use this argument to attempt to negotiate paid leave, but we can’t guarantee that this would be successful. If your employer doesn’t agree to your request and you don’t attend work, they can treat this as unauthorised absence and could refuse to pay you or take disciplinary action against you. So instead, you may be able to take unpaid time off for dependants, parental leave, or annual leave.

Time off for dependants: If the person in your household that is shielding depends on you for their care and there is no one else to help for the time being, then you have the right to take time off for dependants.

Time off for dependants is unpaid unless that’s a perk in your contract/employer’s policy or practice. This concerns not just children, but other dependants too, like a partner or parent. You can take time off which is necessary because of an unexpected disruption of care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days, it is aimed to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant. But for now, our view is that this could last for much longer (and at the very least it should last for the amount of time that your dependant has been told to shield by official public health guidance). 

The exact rules on social distancing may change in the coming months. If social distancing rules are relaxed, your employer may be able to argue that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because you have now have the possibility to arrange alternative care for your dependant. But whether or not the time taken off is reasonable and necessary all depends very much on your individual circumstances, including:

  • whether or not your dependant is (still) shielding,
  • whether or not you can afford alternative care provisions,
  • whether or not there is someone else who can help, like a partner, relative or friend.

Your employer might also say that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because the disruption in care is no longer “unexpected”. It is true that if you knew about a situation beforehand, this is not normally covered by time off for dependants. But knowing that something will happen in advance does not necessarily mean you cannot have the time off, so long as the time is reasonable and necessary. In the case of Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Harrison 2009 the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that a mother who had two weeks’ notice that her childminder would not be available, and who had tried but was unable to make alternative arrangements for her children, had taken time off for dependants when she was absent from work. If you can show that it is not possible for you to make alternative arrangements and there is nobody else who can help, then you should be able to make use of time off for dependants even if you knew this was going to be the case for a while.

Time off for dependants does not have to be taken in blocks of 1 day, it may only need to be for a few hours. There’s also no limit to how often you can take time off for dependants, the time taken off just has to be reasonable and necessary. So if you only need time off work for part of the day, it would be possible for you to continue working for part of the day (or week) but explain that you take time off for dependants for x number of hours (or days) – these will then be unpaid. Unlike flexible working or parental leave, your employer cannot refuse you this time off as long as it is necessary. You should not be punished for taking this time off (in legal terms, this means you have the right not to be treated unfavourably), so your employer should let you continue working the hours that you are able to work.

Unpaid parental leave: You can also take unpaid parental leave if the person you care for is under 18 years old. You can take 4 weeks per child per year. Your employer might be able to postpone this if the business would be particularly disrupted (whereas they cannot postpone time off for dependants). However, it may be difficult for an employer to argue that it is reasonable to postpone parental leave in the current circumstances. You are entitled to parental leave if you are an employee who has worked for your employer for at least one year. Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave, but given the circumstances, your employer may let you take the leave even if you cannot give the required notice. If your employer insists that you give them 21 days’ notice, you may be able to take time off for dependants to look after your children for this 21 day period. Some employers offer paid parental leave, it’s worth checking your employment contract to see if that is an option. If your child is receiving DLA or PIP, you can take parental leave in blocks of one day (instead of one week). If you cannot take unpaid parental leave, for example because you haven’t  worked for your employer for more than 1 year, or you have already taken the maximum amount of parental leave available to you, you could rely on time off for dependants instead (see above).

Special leave: If you can take special leave (that your employer has agreed specifically because of the coronavirus or as part as a more general kind of compassionate leave policy that some employers have), then this could be a good option.

Annual leave: Your employer may also allow you to take some annual leave. Annual leave could also be useful if the person in your household that is shielding does not depend on you for their care (in that case, arguing for time off for dependants could be trickier).

If you are suddenly left without income, there may be certain benefits that you could claim. Check our page on financial support for working families during the Covid-19 crisis for more information. 

I’m a carer for someone with a disability whose care arrangements have fallen through. Do I have a right not to go to work to care for them?

If you care for a friend or family member whose care arrangements have fallen through, and there is nobody else to help for the time being, then you have a right to take time off for dependants. This concerns not just children, but anyone who depends on you for their care. There are also other options, like asking your employer to be put on furlough

Furlough: The government guidance makes it clear that employees can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to childcare commitments. It also mentions that you can be furloughed if you are shielding in line with public health guidance or need to stay home with someone who is shielding if you are unable to work from home.

If your employer refuses to put you on furlough, you could still have a right to be off work by taking time off for dependants, or requesting to take parental leave or annual leave.

Time off for dependants: If the person you are looking after depends on you for their care and there is nobody else to help for the time being, you

Time off for dependants is unpaid unless that’s a perk in your contract/employer’s policy or practice. This concerns not just children, but other dependants too, like a partner or parent. You can take time off which is necessary because of an unexpected disruption of care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days, it is aimed to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant. But for now, our view is that this could last for much longer (and at the very least it should last for the amount of time that your dependant has been told to shield by official public health guidance). 

The exact rules on social distancing may change in the coming months. If social distancing rules are relaxed, your employer may be able to argue that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because you have now have the possibility to arrange alternative care for your dependant. But whether or not the time taken off is reasonable and necessary all depends very much on your individual circumstances, including:

  • whether or not your dependant is (still) shielding,
  • whether or not you can afford alternative care provisions,
  • whether or not there is someone else who can help, like a partner, relative or friend.

Your employer might also say that you are no longer eligible for time off for dependants because the disruption in care is no longer “unexpected”. It is true that if you knew about a situation beforehand, this is not normally covered by time off for dependants. But knowing that something will happen in advance does not necessarily mean you cannot have the time off, so long as the time is reasonable and necessary. In the case of Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Harrison 2009 the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that a mother who had two weeks’ notice that her childminder would not be available, and who had tried but was unable to make alternative arrangements for her children, had taken time off for dependants when she was absent from work. If you can show that it is not possible for you to make alternative arrangements and there is nobody else who can help, then you should be able to make use of time off for dependants even if you knew this was going to be the case for a while.

Time off for dependants does not have to be taken in blocks of 1 day, it may only need to be for a few hours. There’s also no limit to how often you can take time off for dependants, the time taken off just has to be reasonable and necessary. So if you only need time off work for part of the day, it would be possible for you to continue working for part of the day (or week) but explain that you take time off for dependants for x number of hours (or days) – these will then be unpaid. Unlike flexible working or parental leave, your employer cannot refuse you this time off as long as it is necessary. You should not be punished for taking this time off (in legal terms, this means you have the right not to be treated unfavourably), so your employer should let you continue working the hours that you are able to work.

If the time taken off is no longer reasonable or necessary, you could still take some other form of leave (like parental leave or annual leave – see below). Your employer may also ask you to take some parental leave instead of time off for dependants.

Parental leave: provided you’ve worked for your employer more than a year, you can also take unpaid parental leave if the person you care for is you child under 18 years old. You can take 4 weeks per child per year. Your employer might be able to postpone this if the business would be particularly disrupted (whereas they cannot postpone time off for dependants). However, it may be difficult for an employer to argue that it is reasonable to postpone parental leave in the current circumstances. Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave, but given the circumstances, your employer may let you take the leave even if you cannot give the required notice. If your employer insists that you give them 21 days’ notice, you may be able to take time off for dependants to look after your children for this 21 day period. Some employers offer paid parental leave, it’s worth checking your employment contract to see if that is an option. Parental leave can normally only be taken in blocks of 1 week but if your child is receiving DLA or PIP, you can take parental leave in blocks of one day (instead of one week). If you cannot take unpaid parental leave, for example because you haven’t  worked for your employer for more than 1 year, or you have already taken the maximum amount of parental leave available to you, you could rely on time off for dependants instead (see above).

Special leave: If you can take special leave (that your employer has agreed specifically because of the coronavirus or as part as a more general kind of compassionate leave policy that some employers have), then this could be a good option.

Annual leave: Your employer may also allow you to take some annual leave. The benefit of this is that it is paid, but bear in mind that your employer can refuse if it would be particularly disruptive to the business.

If you are suddenly left without income, there may be certain benefits that you could claim. Check our page on financial support for working families during the Covid-19 crisis for more information. 

If you provide 35 hours or more per week of care to someone who is receiving Attendance Allowance, the middle or higher rate care component of DLA or the daily living component of PIP, you could also get Carer’s Allowance.  This may apply even if you cannot normally get it, if you are currently not earning or earning less than £128 a week.

Carers UK has produced some useful information and FAQs for carers about coronavirus. 

Scope has produced guidance on how to arrange food and essentials for the person you care for.

My employer has said I can’t work from home because I care for someone who is disabled, is that discrimination?

It is true that, when you are working, your employer has the right to expect that you are devoting your attention to working rather than caring for someone.

However, this is an exceptional situation and many employers are exercising common sense and flexibility to allow employees to reduce or vary their working hours or pattern to enable them to work around caring needs.  If you think this is an option in your role, then you should raise that with your employer. Explain how the pattern could work for you and them.

Direct disability discrimination by association

You have the right not to be treated less favourably because you are associated with someone who has a disability. If your employer is letting other people work from home, but they are not letting you work from home just because you care for someone with a disability, then this may be direct disability discrimination by association. 

Indirect sex discrimination

If you are a woman, you can also argue that your employer not letting you work from home is indirect sex discrimination. It is still the case that women tend to have more childcare and caring responsibilities than men. So if employers are inflexible with caring commitments, it is likely to have a disproportionate impact on women and could therefore be indirect sex discrimination. But unlike direct disability discrimination by association, an employer can, in theory, justify indirect discrimination if there is a genuine business need for their actions. This is because indirect discrimination can be justified, whereas direct discrimination cannot. See our page on flexible working and the law for more information. 

Furlough

Can I ask my employer to put me on furlough if I cannot come into work because I care for someone who is vulnerable?

Yes. The government guidance makes it clear that people who are unable to work due to their caring responsibilities can be furloughed. The guidance also says that you can be furloughed if you are shielding in line with public health guidance (or you have to stay home with someone who is shielding). 

You cannot force your employer to put you on furlough, just as they cannot force you to accept furlough. Both parties need to agree. So if your employer refuses to put you on furlough, then you may have the right to take either unpaid parental leave or unpaid time off for dependants instead, depending on your circumstances – see question on taking time off work above for more information. 

We also have a dedicated page on the coronavirus job retention scheme.

Benefits

What benefits can I claim if I’m off work to care for someone?

We have a separate webpage on financial support that is available if your income has gone down because of covid-19.

If you provide 35 hours or more of care per week to someone who is claiming PIP daily living component,  DLA middle or higher rate care component, or Attendance Allowance, you may be able to get Carer’s Allowance. Temporarily, if you are already getting Carer’s Allowance and can’t provide care due to the symptoms of covid-19, it won’t stop (whether it is you or the disabled person who has symptoms). In addition, the DWP will currently count emotional support towards the 35 hours of care.

If you are already claiming benefits (in particular working tax credit, child tax credit, income support, housing benefit and income-based employment and support allowance), your award for these benefits may increase while your income is lower if you are off work. 
 
If you are not already claiming any other benefits, you may be able to claim Universal Credit if you are on unpaid leave or only receiving Statutory Sick Pay. Beware that making a claim for Universal Credit will replace any existing claims you have for working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based employment and support allowance and income-based jobseeker’s allowance. So if you are already claiming any of these benefits, you should seek advice from a benefits expert before deciding to claim Universal Credit instead.

To check your eligibility, use this online benefits calculator on the Entitled To website.

 

Where can I go for more help?

We have created a number of articles on topics relating to coronavirus. Have a look at our general FAQs page on your rights at work, information about furlough and redundancy, our page on what financial support you might be able to claim, our page for new and expecting parents during the COVID-19 pandemic and our page on return to work and health and safety.

To find out what government schemes will help if work has been affected by Covid-19, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have created a decision tree to help you navigate what you may be entitled to, including whether you are eligible to be furloughed.

Links to further resources:


This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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