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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – School Closures and Childcare

Last updated: 7 Jun 2022
Photograph of an empty classroom from a primary school

*The latest government guidance for schools and early years in England can be found here. The guidance for schools in Scotland can be found here and the guidance for schools in Wales can be found here*

The Government no longer recommends that it is necessary to keep children in consistent groups (‘bubbles’) or to keep groups apart. In cases of an outbreak, a school or childcare provider will implement their outbreak management plan.

You are no longer legally required to self-isolate if you have COVID-19, but the NHS recommends you should try to stay at home and away from others to avoid passing on the virus. It is also recommended that if a child or young person aged 18 or under tests positive for COVID-19, they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least 3 days. This starts from the day after they did the test. The government guidance states that after 3 days, if the child feels well and does not have a high temperature, the risk of passing the infection on to others is much lower. This is because children and young people tend to be infectious to other people for less time than adults

Although there is no longer a requirement to self-isolate if you are a ‘close contact’ of a positive case, parents with children who have to stay home because they have tested positive for coronavirus may have difficulty attending work. 

This article covers frequently asked questions on what to do if your child has to stay home.

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

My child tested positive for coronavirus

My child tested positive – do I need to self-isolate?

Since February 2022, the government rules on self-isolation have changed.

If someone you live with tests positive for COVID-19, you do not need to self-isolate. Even if you are not required to self-isolate, you still may be able to take time off work if you don’t have childcare (see question below).

I have no childcare. What can I do?

Work from home

In England, the Government guidance no longer states that you should generally work from home where possible. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that for many jobs it is possible to work efficiently from home. If you have no childcare available, and if it is at all possible for you to work from home, you should ask your employer to allow you to work from home. You should be aware that your employer still has the right to expect you to be willing and able to carry out your work duties while working from home.

Negotiate a reduction of your hours

You can negotiate a reduction in hours with your employer if this would allow you to balance work and childcare while your child stays home.

If your employer does not agree to your informal conversations, you can put in a formal flexible working request. However, your employer has three months to make a decision and could refuse if it would have a detrimental impact on their business.

For more information, see our page on How do I ask to change my working hours?

Take time off for dependants

You also have the statutory right to take time off for dependants to deal with an emergency involving a dependant – not just children, but other dependants too, like a partner or parent. But this is unpaid unless it is a perk in your contract or employer’s policy.

You can take time off that is necessary because of an unexpected disruption in care arrangements. Time off for dependants usually lasts only a couple of days to allow you time to organise the care of your dependant. There is no limit to how often you can take time off for dependants, but the time taken must be reasonable and necessary.

Your employer can expect you to show that you tried to make alternative arrangements for care. But if you can show there is nobody else who can help, time off for dependants should be considered reasonable and necessary, even if you knew about the situation in advance.

You should not be punished for taking time off for dependants. In legal terms, you have the right not to be treated unfavourably for taking time off for dependants. So your employer should not penalise you in any way once you return to work from taking this type of time off.

Unpaid parental leave

You can take unpaid parental leave if you are an employee, have a child (or children) under 18, and have worked for your employer for at least one year. You can take 4 weeks per child per year, up to a maximum of 18 weeks per child.

Parental leave is a form of statutory leave (like maternity or paternity leave) and must be taken in one-week blocks. If your child is disabled and gets Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, you can take it in blocks of one day.

Parental leave is usually unpaid, but your employer’s policy might be more generous. You should check your contract and employer’s policies.

Strictly speaking, you need to give 21 days’ notice to take unpaid parental leave. But under the circumstances, your employer may let you take the leave earlier than the required notice. If your employer insists that you give them 21 days’ notice for parental leave, you may be able to take time off for dependants instead. 

Your employer cannot deny you your right to take parental leave and cannot change the amount of leave you are requesting. However, your employer might be able to postpone parental leave for up to six months if there would be a serious disruption to the business. If your employer postpones your leave, they must write to you within 7 days of your request explaining why and suggesting a different start date.

Special leave

Some employers offer special leave, such as a form of compassionate leave for special circumstances. If you can take negotiate to take a period of special leave, then this could be a good option. Whether special leave is paid or unpaid is determined by your employer’s policy or practice.

Annual leave

Finally, your employer may also allow you to take some annual leave. The benefit of this is that it would be paid at your full salary. However, it would reduce the amount of annual leave you have for the rest of the year.

Financial support

If you are suddenly left with less income or without income, there may be certain benefits that you could claim. See our page on financial support for working families during coronavirus for more information. 

Can my employer make me take unpaid leave?

Potentially yes. You should check your employment contract and employer’s leave policy carefully to see if they offer a form of paid family, emergency or compassionate leave above the legal minimum.

However, unless you have a contractual entitlement to paid leave, your employer may insist that you take unpaid leave.

Alternatively, if you take annual leave to cover the period where your child stays home, you can be paid for the time off.

If your income is reduced as a result of taking time off work or reducing your hours, see our financial support page for more information on what help is available.

Can my employer make me arrange other childcare?

If your child has tested positive

If your child has tested positive for coronavirus they will need to stay home. See the NHS guidance on when to self-isolate.

If your child has tested positive and needs to stay home, it is important that they do not mix with any other households, including a childcare provider. See the NHS guidance on self-isolating. 

If your employer insists that you attend work, you should explain to your employer that your child is required to stay home, and if it is at all possible for you to work from home, you should. If you are unable to work from home, you may need to take time off for dependants or unpaid parental leave.

I was forced to take unpaid leave and I am struggling, is there any financial support?

If you are worried about the financial implications of taking unpaid leave, see our financial support page for more information.

Here is a summary of some options for financial support:

Universal Credit

If you are not already claiming any other benefits, you may be able to claim Universal Credit if you are on unpaid leave. 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 and you would not be able to return to those benefits.

If you are already claiming Universal Credit, and you take unpaid leave, your income will be reduced. If this is the case, you should inform your Work Coach of your reduction in income. If you are already claiming Universal Credit, your award may increase while your income is lower during the period of unpaid leave.

The government has created some guidance to help people understand Universal Credit and any specific coronavirus rules: Already claiming benefits – Understanding Universal Credit

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have a useful online tool about UC.

Council Tax Reduction/Support

You may be able to claim a reduction in council tax – you should contact your local council to see if you can get a reduction (which your local authority may call “council tax support”).

If you get a reduction, make sure you tell your local authority about any changes to your income, including any other benefits you get. You can apply for a council tax reduction through the government website: Apply for Council Tax Reduction.

Test and Trace Support Payment

The Test and Trace Support Payment scheme in England has now closed. If you were told to self-isolate before 24 February 2022 you can still make a claim within 42 days of the first day of self-isolation and no later than 6 April 2022.

Benefits Calculator

To check your eligibility for these and other benefits, use this Benefits Calculator.

Sending children to school or childcare

My child is clinically vulnerable, do I have to send them to school?

In England, the guidance for schools states children and young people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable should attend school and should follow the same COVID-19 guidance as the rest of the population. In some circumstances, a child or young person may have received personal advice from their specialist or clinician on additional precautions to take and they should continue to follow that advice.

There is similar guidance for Wales and Scotland.

More information for parents about educational settings is available here.

I am worried about coronavirus. Do I have to send my children to school?

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable, the government advises that your children should still attend school.

In these circumstances, if you don’t want to send your children to school and wish them to be home-schooled instead, you could ask to work from home. However, your employer may insist that you make childcare arrangements.

Alternative arrangements / support

Can I leave my children with a friend or family member?

The government guidance recommends if a child or young person has a positive COVID-19 test result they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 3 days after the day they took the test, if they can. After 3 days, if they feel well and do not have a high temperature, the risk of passing the infection on to others is much lower.

If you are a dual-parent household and can split the time off between you, it may be reasonable for your employer to ask you to consider doing this. However, it will depend very much on you and your partners’ circumstances. 

Can I get help with childcare costs?

The schemes for childcare vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. We recommend you get in touch with your local council childcare team.

Will the government continue to pay for free childcare if nurseries close?

In cases of an outbreak, a nursery should implement their outbreak management plan. If the nursery closes you should speak to your childcare provider or local council for further information.


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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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.

We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.