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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Rights for carers and clinically extremely vulnerable

Last updated: 3 Aug 2021

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

Covid-19 presents a higher risk to certain individuals and categories of clinically vulnerable people have been identified.  These include the over 70s, those with certain underlying health conditions and those who are pregnant. A further group of people are identified as clinically extremely vulnerable (“CEV”) on account of certain existing health conditions. CEV people were officially notified of this by relevant health authorities and for some time, were advised to ‘shield’.

Shielding is a new concept and the legal rights of those who are or have been ‘shielding’ and those who care for or live with those shielding raise some tricky areas of employment and health and safety law which have not been tested in the courts and Tribunals.

Shielding guidance has now officially been paused in all four UK nations. 

This article covers FAQs on coronavirus for clinically extremely vulnerable,  carers and those who live with someone who is vulnerable to coronavirus. We raise some legal points below to discuss with your employer if they are refusing to support you if you are CEV, if you care for someone who is CEV and/or where your child is CEV.

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

Furlough information sheets

This document of key information about childcare, caring, the clinically extremely vulnerable and furlough might be useful to show to your employer.

Key Info for Employers

What to do if your employer refuses to furlough you.

Key info for employees

Template letter to request furlough

This letter provide a template you can use to request furlough for health reasons if you are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Furlough for clinically (extremely) vulnerable

Clinically Extremely Vulnerable and carers

I am Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. Do I need to shield?

There is separate guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Keep up-to-date with the separate guidance as the guidance may change. 

As of 1 August 2021, formal shielding has been paused in all four UK nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable are no longer advised to shield. Although clinically extremely vulnerable people are no longer being advised to shield, they are advised to take extra precautions.

In England, the government guidance states that the Government is no longer instructing people generally to work from home, but that they ‘expect and recommend a gradual return’ to the workplace over the summer. Employers are still required to take steps to protect their employees from risks to their health and safety, including risks posed by COVID-19. 

In Scotland, shielding has been paused but advice depends on your COVID protection level. Currently, all areas are in level 0. The Scottish government advice for those who are on the shielding list in a Level 2, Level 1 or Level 0 area is that you should work from home if possible, but if you are unable to work from home your employer should follow regular and individual workplace risk assessments and your employer should make any changes needed to your workplace to protect you. You should discuss any concerns with your employer.

In Wales, shielding has been paused from 1 April 2021. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should follow the same rules as the rest of the population in Wales, but are also advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from coronavirus. This means you should work from home if possible, but if this is not possible, you can go to work as long as the business is Covid-secure.

In Northern Ireland, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend the workplace. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should work from home if possible. If you are unable to work from home, you can attend your workplace, provided your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing in your place of work, and you can travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing.

If you are CEV and cannot work from home and you are concerned about going to work see the section below on When shielding comes to an end, can I still stay off work?

I care for a Clinically Extremely Vulnerable person who is ‘shielding’. What does this mean for our family?

Shielding is a measure recommended by the government to protect people who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) to coronavirus, by minimising interaction between those who are CEV and others. The NHS contacts people who are considered CEV to provide further advice. You may have received a letter, either as someone in the CEV group or as the named carer of someone else who is CEV. Shielding has now been paused in all four UK nations. 

For those who live with or care for someone who is CEV, the advice is that they should follow the same restrictions as the rest of the population.

In England, the government guidance states that the Government is no longer instructing people generally to work from home, but that they ‘expect and recommend a gradual return’ to the workplace over the summer. Employers are still required to take steps to protect their employees from risks to their health and safety, including risks posed by COVID-19. 

In Scotland, shielding has been paused but advice depends on your COVID protection level. Currently, all areas are in level 0. The Scottish government advice for those who are on the shielding list in a Level 2, Level 1 or Level 0 area is that you should work from home if possible, but if you are unable to work from home your employer should follow regular and individual workplace risk assessments and your employer should make any changes needed to your workplace to protect you. You should discuss any concerns with your employer.

In Wales, shielding has been paused from 1 April 2021. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should follow the same rules as the rest of the population in Wales, but are also advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from coronavirus. This means you should work from home if possible, but if this is not possible, you can go to work as long as the business is Covid-secure.

In Northern Ireland, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend the workplace. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should work from home if possible. If you are unable to work from home, you can attend your workplace, provided your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing in your place of work, and you can travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing.

If you cannot work from home, then you should go to work as long as your employer has made your workplace COVID-secure. For more on health and safety, see our dedicated section on Return to work and health and safety.

My child is Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. Do I have to send them to school?

The latest scientific guidance to the government is that most children infected with coronavirus experience less severe symptoms than adults. GPs have been reviewing all children who were initially identified as clinically extremely vulnerable to confirm whether they are still thought to be at highest risk. You should speak to your GP if you’re unsure whether your child is considered clinically extremely vulnerable.

Shielding has now been paused in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and Scotland.

In England, clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and students should attend their school or other educational setting and follow appropriate health and safety advice. Read the School Guidance here. Children who live in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable are not advised to shield and should attend school or college.

In Scotland, government guidance states that children who are clinically extremely vulnerable can attend school. All areas in Scotland are now in Level 0.

In Wales, government guidance states that children who are clinically extremely vulnerable and have been following shielding measures can return to school when appropriate for their year group.

In Northern Ireland, pupils previously shielding or with a family member who was previously shielding due to being identified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ can continue to go to school., you can read the latest guidance here. If you have concerns about this, you may wish to speak with your GP or hospital consultant. Further guidance is available in the Department of Education’s guidance for education settings.

If your child is clinically extremely vulnerable and has been advised not to attend school, in these circumstances you should ask to work from home or to be furloughed. See our furlough pages for more information. Please note that the furlough scheme is due to end on 30 September 2021. 

More information for parents about educational settings is available here.

Rights to take leave or stay off work

Do I need to go to work if I am Clinically Extremely Vulnerable?

Shielding has been paused in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The government guidance on working from home differs by country. 

In England, shielding has been paused. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable are no longer advised to shield. Although clinically extremely vulnerable people are no longer being advised to shield, they are advised to take extra precautions. The government guidance states that the Government is no longer instructing people generally to work from home, but that they ‘expect and recommend a gradual return’ to the workplace over the summer. Employers are still required to take steps to protect their employees from risks to their health and safety, including risks posed by COVID-19. 

In Scotland, shielding has been paused but advice depends on your COVID protection level. Currently, all areas are in level 0. The Scottish government advice for those who are on the shielding list in a Level 2, Level 1 or Level 0 area is that you should work from home if possible, but if you are unable to work from home your employer should follow regular and individual workplace risk assessments and your employer should make any changes needed to your workplace to protect you. You should discuss any concerns with your employer.

In Wales, shielding has been paused. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should follow the same rules as the rest of the population, but are also advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from coronavirus. This means you should work from home if possible, but if this is not possible, you can go to work as long as the workplace is Covid-secure.

In Northern Ireland, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should work from home if possible. If you are unable to work from home, you can attend your workplace, provided your employer has taken the proper measures to ensure social distancing in your place of work, and you can travel to work in a way which allows for social distancing.

If you are CEV and cannot work from home and you are concerned about going to work see the section below on When shielding comes to an end, can I still stay off work?

Do I need to go to work if I care for someone who is Clinically Extremely Vulnerable?

The government guidance states that the Government is no longer instructing people generally to work from home, but that they ‘expect and recommend a gradual return’ to the workplace over the summer. You can ask your employer if working from home is possible and explain that you have a Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) person in your household. 

If there is no alternative, the government guidance is that you can still go to work if your employer takes the required steps to protect your health and safety, which may include protecting you from risks posed by COVID-19. If your employer is following government health and safety guidance, you can still go to work. You should check this guidance carefully, to make sure that your employer is following it. 

Your employer should be able to explain to you the measures they have put in place to keep you safe from COVID at work. 

If you are still uncomfortable going to work, or you have health and safety concerns, your employer can furlough you if you are unable to work (including from home) due to caring responsibilities because of coronavirus, such as caring for a vulnerable person in the household. See our furlough page for more information.

You could argue that 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 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.

You might be able to refuse to go back to work if you think it would expose you to a serious and imminent danger (this protection comes from sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996). See the return to work section for details. Remember, the serious and imminent danger doesn’t have to be to you as the employee – it could be to “others”, including members of the public in some cases. This might mean that you can refuse to work because of a serious imminent threat to someone in your household, but the law is not clear on this. Your employer, or the Employment Tribunal, might take a different view. So you should be cautious about using this argument.

Whether or not you have a right to refuse to go to work will depend very much on your individual situation. For example, is there anything you could do to reduce the risk to the person who is, or was previously shielding, and still go to work (such as following the government advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable)?

Template letters: If your employer is asking you to return to work and you have concerns about your health and safety, you can use our template letter for employees and letter for workers (depending on your employment status) to raise your concerns and discuss staying off work.

You may be able to take time off for dependantsparental leave, or annual leave. 

I am Clinically Extremely Vulnerable and my employer is asking me to come to work, can I take leave?

If you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) to coronavirus and have been shielding prior to the change in guidance, you may have a right to stay off work for health and safety reasons. Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety.

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. Do remember 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.

Template letters: If your employer is asking you to return to work and you have concerns about your health and safety, you can use our template letter for employees and letter for workers (depending on your employment status) to raise your concerns and discuss staying off work.

If 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).

If you are concerned about attending work, and want to take leave, you may also have the following options:

Furlough

You may be able to be furloughed. If your employer is asking you to return to work, you can ask your employer to furlough you if you are CEV or caring for someone who is. See our furlough page for more information.

Unfortunately, there is no automatic right to be furloughed. 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. 

Sick pay

Shielding has now been paused in all four UK nations, so SSP cannot be paid on the basis of shielding.

If you are 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.

Special leave

Your employer may agree to grant you ‘special leave’. This leave could be due to coronavirus or as part of your employer’s policy on compassionate leave. 

If your employer receives public funding which is used for your salary, then your employer may not use the furlough scheme. They could grant you “special leave” for this time and pay you your salary as normal for the time you have had to take off for COVID-related reasons. 

See our furlough page for more information.

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 clinically extremely vulnerable depends on you for their care, you could also take time off for dependants or parental leave.

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.

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

It is important you keep up-to-date with the different advice in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland, and for your local area.

Shielding has now been paused in all four UK nations. 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: 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 are able to be furloughed, if eligible, if you have caring responsibilities because of COVID.  Ask your employer to be furloughed if you are unable to work because of your caring responsibilities. See our furlough page for more information. Please note that the furlough scheme is due to end on 30 September 2021. 

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.

Furlough

Am I eligible for furlough if I care for someone who is vulnerable?

Please note that the furlough scheme is due to end on 30 September 2021.

The government guidance on furlough makes it clear that employees can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to caring commitments. Please see the guidance here.

If you have returned to work from furlough: if you were previously on furlough, 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 they can recover a percentage of your wages from the government. Your employer can top up the extra percentage of your wages, but they do not have to. The amount of furlough contribution paid by the government is changing, see here for the latest guidance. See our furlough pages for further information.

If you have childcare and/or caring responsibilities and your employer refuses to place you on furlough or flexible furlough, please see our information sheet on what to do if your employer refuses to furlough you.

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, you may be able to take some other form of leave. See the questions on taking time off work for caring responsibilities for more information.

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

Unfair treatment

My employer has treated me unfairly because I’m Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. Do I have rights?

By law, employees and workers are protected against unfair treatment and dismissal if it’s because of a health condition that’s considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010. It does not matter how long they’ve worked for the employer.

This means an employer must not:

  • unreasonably pressure someone to go to work
  • unreasonably discipline someone for not going to work
  • unfairly dismiss someone for not going to work

If you are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable you most likely have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act and you may have additional protections under disability discrimination law.  However, not all who are in the “clinically vulnerable” category will be disabled, some will have a disability but many won’t.

Tribunals will need to take into account the impact of Covid-19 when deciding whether someone who is clinically vulnerable qualifies as being disabled under the Equality Act 2010.  Workers may be able to argue that a physical impairment that makes them vulnerable to Covid-19, now should be viewed as a substantially adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, because of the need to take steps to avoid infection.

This is always down to the individual circumstances and if you are considering bringing a claim, we recommend that you seek specific legal advice in order to fully assess whether you are eligible and which claims you may be able to bring and the procedure for bringing the claim. Your employer will need to consider your own varying individual circumstances and there is no definite answer.

 

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. 

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. Claiming Carer’s Allowance can sometimes affect the benefits of the person you are caring for, so you are advised to seek benefits advice before applying.

If you are already claiming benefits (in particular Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Housing Benefit and income-based Employment and Support Allowance and income-based Jobseekers 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.

Advice contact form

The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.