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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Rights for carers

Last updated 22 September 2020.

*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) AS IT IS CHANGING DAILY*

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

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

High-risk individuals

My child is in the ‘high risk’ group for coronavirus. Do I have to send them to school?

In England & Scotland, the wider government guidance on the reopening of schools (including special schools and specialist settings) now states that clinically extremely vulnerable children should attend education settings. Schools in Northern Ireland are also expected to reopen in the same way on 24 August for most children.

In Wales, whilst shielding will be paused on 16th August, it has been stated that “a review will be undertaken of all children on the shielding list. Although shielding is pausing, the list will be maintained. We will use the latest guidance from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to determine whether each child needs to remain on the list.” Therefore, we would advise that you contact your GP for more information.

Note that in different parts of the UK, shielding will be paused at different points in the summer. See the separate advice for EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland. From 1 August, shielding in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is due to be paused. In Wales, the shielding scheme is due to be paused on 16 August.

In England, the government has confirmed that parents will not be penalised if school was open for a particular year group, but they did not send their children to school in July. From September, children will be expected to attend school again, but government guidance for parents says that parents will not be punished if their child does not attend school following clinical and/or public health advice. You should always check the latest guidance for the part of the UK where you live.

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 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 government’s guidance on who is ‘extremely vulnerable’ can be found here

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. 

See the question below for your right not to go into work, including the right to take parental leave or time off for dependants if you or someone you live with (or care for) is extremely vulnerable to coronavirus and shielding.

Note that in different parts of the UK, shielding will be paused at different points in the summer. See the separate advice for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  In general though, it seems shielding will come to an end in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from 1st August, and in Wales from 16th August. However, this could all change in different areas/at different times so you should check the guidance for where you live.

Taking time off work and working from home

Can I take time off work if I am shielding (or someone in my household is shielding)?

If you can work from home

If you or someone in your household is extremely vulnerable to coronavirus 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. However, as shielding starts to end in different parts of the UK, your right to work from home is not as clear and it will also depend on how safe it is. Guidance on coronavirus risk assessments in England is here, and you can also find links to guidance in other parts of the UK.

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

Sick pay

From 1 August, in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from 16 August in Wales, the shielding scheme will be ‘paused’ meaning you will no longer receive SSP for shielding, unless it is extended or reintroduced in your area. Note that in different parts of the UK, shielding is likely to be paused and restarted at different points in the summer. It is important to keep up to date with the separate advice for EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland. Details of local restrictions for England can be found here.

If you are still unable to work because you are ill, or because your GP thinks it is not safe for you to work, you may still be eligible for SSP, but you will need to follow your employer’s sickness absence procedure and may need to provide medical evidence.

Health and Safety

Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety, including after shielding is paused. This duty doesn’t just apply to you, it can apply to the wider public (and anyone you live with). If someone you live with or care for is particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, you may have a right to stay off work for health & safety reasons. See Our page on health & safety and returning to work has information and a sample letter you can use if you do not feel safe returning to work. You can also use this in England (with links to guidance in other parts of the UK), but remember that guidance is not law, so the results may indicate a workplace is safe but you may not agree. If the guidance is helpful to you though, you can point your employer to it. Do remember as well that your condition that led you to shield may also be a disability under the Equality Act, if so, your employer would also be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

If – particularly once shielding is paused – you are being forced back to work without proper safeguards in place, you should check if you have access to legal services through Trade Union membership or legal expenses insurance (often through your home contents insurance).

Furlough

You may be able to be furloughed. Note that in almost all cases, you can only be furloughed if you were already furloughed on or before 10 June. If your employer is asking you to return to work, you can ask your employer to be keep you on furlough/put you back on furlough if you are shielding or you live with someone who is shielding. You can also be furloughed if you are unable to work because of your caring responsibilities. See our furlough page for more information.

If your employer refuses to keep you on furlough or put you back on furlough, you may be able to argue that they are discriminating against you – see the question on discrimination on our furlough page. 

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.

Time off for dependants and parental leave

If the person in your household that is shielding (or indeed anyone else) depends on you for their care, you could also take time off for dependants or parental leave. Have a look at our question on taking time off work for caring responsibilities for more information. Remember that when shielding comes to an end, you may still be able to make arguments about their need for care, and/or that there remains a risk to that person if you return to work.

Financial support

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 shielding comes to an end, can I still stay off work?

Shielding was paused in most of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland  from 1 August, and it is due to be paused in Wales from 16 August. However, it may be extended in certain areas or reintroduced. It is important you keep up-to-date with the differing advice in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland, and for your local area.  Details of local restrictions for England can be found here. Just because shielding has been paused does not mean that you have to come back to work. You may be able to stay off work for the following reasons:

  • Health & safety:you have a right to stay off work if you have a reasonable belief that there is a serious or imminent risk to your health and safety. The risk does not have to be to you, it can also be to someone you live with or care for. See our return to work and health & safety page for more information. 
  • If you are looking after someone:you could take time off for dependants, parental leave and annual leave (see the question on taking time off work for caring responsibilities for an overview or our employment rights page for more information)
  • If you are extremely vulnerable yourself:check the ‘shielding and vulnerable people’ section on our return to work and health & safety page.
  • Special leave/compassionate leave/carer’s leave:check your employment contract to see if your employer might offer a different kind of leave for carers or because of coronavirus
  • Request to work from home:you may be able to request to work from home or change your responsibilities at work to make the workplace safer for you. See the section on requesting flexible working on our return to work and health & safety page.

Do I have a right to take time off work to look after someone who depends on me for their care?

If you look after someone whose care arrangements have fallen through because of coronavirus and there is nobody else to help for the time being, the first step would be to talk to your employer and explain your situation.

Flexible working

You may be able to work from home or reduce your hours. If you think you may need a medium to long-term adjustment to your working pattern, you could consider putting in a request for flexible working. We’ve created a template letter to request flexible working during coronavirus that you can use.

Furlough

You can ask your employer to be furloughed if you are unable to work because of your caring responsibilities. Note that in almost all cases, you can only be furloughed if you were already furloughed on or before 10 June. See our furlough page for more information.

Time off for dependants, parental leave and other leave

If you need to take time off work to look after someone, you may be able to use:

Read our question on taking time off work for someone who depends on you more information. 

Financial support

If you are suddenly left without income, there may be certain benefits that you could claim. Check our page on financial support 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 your work rather than to 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 shoulder 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, but in almost all cases, you can only be furloughed if you were already furloughed on or before 10 June.

The government guidance on furlough makes clear that employees can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to caring commitments or because someone in their household is shielding. Please see the guidance here.

If you have returned to work from furlough: if you were on furlough on or before 10 June, and you have returned to work, you can ask your employer to put you back on furlough if you can no longer continue working because of childcare or caring commitments.

Remember your employer still has to agree to keep you on furlough or put you back on furlough. It is therefore important to make clear to your employer that furloughing will not have a detrimental impact on them because they can recover 80% of your wages from the government. They can top up the extra 20% of your wages, but they do not have to.

If your employer is refusing to put you on furlough even though they are able to, you may be able to argue that they are discriminating against you – see the question on discrimination on our furlough page. 

If your employer refuses furlough, or furlough is not an option because you are past the deadline, you may be able to take some other form of leave. See the questions on taking time off work for shielding and caring responsibilities for more information.

If the person you are looking after is particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, you can also stay off work for health and safety reasons – read our health and safety and return to work page for more information. 

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. However, you will have to ask for this to be done, and it is not straightforward, particularly in the case of tax credits (where you may risk being overpaid).
 
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.

For more information on other benefits that might be available to you, have a look at our financial support page.

To check your eligibility for benefits, 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. These are linked at the very top of this page.

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:

  • Working Families’ Waving not drowning network for carers, which includes a newsletter and a Facebook peer-to-peer support group. 
  • Contact’s coronavirus page, which includes useful links tips on looking after yourself and educational and physiotherapy resources for disabled young people
  • Scope’s coronavirus information, which includes, among other things, information on how to arrange food and essentials during coronavirus
  • Carers UK’s help and advice section for coronavirus, which includes a large FAQ section and measures you can take to keep your loved ones safe
  • The government guidance on schools and coronavirus for parents (England only)
  • Royal Voluntary Service: If you are caring for someone vulnerable, you can ask a volunteer to go shopping for them or collect their prescription. The person you are caring for can also talk to a volunteer on the phone if they are feeling lonely. You can also make a referral for yourself, if this support helps you to continue in your caring role. Check how to get help from an NHS volunteer on the Royal Voluntary Service website, or call them on 0808 1963646.

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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