*PLEASE FOLLOW ANY GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA ON THE CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)*
Throughout this information, we have linked to the guidance for England. You can see links to guidance in the other nations of the UK on that page (under the contents).
This is an in-depth guide about welfare benefits and how they are affected if your income changes as a result of coronavirus.
You might also want to look at our other coronavirus pages:
- What are my rights?
- School closures and childcare
- Redundancy during coronavirus
- Rights for carers (or those that are living with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable or has been advised to ‘shield’)
- Rights for new and expecting parents
- Return to work and health and safety
Support for those who are self-isolating or shielding
This guidance is only for employees. Have a look at the self-employment section if you are self-employed instead.
Can I claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if I’m self-isolating or shielding?
You may be self-isolating because you or someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms, or because you’ve been told to stay at home due to contact with a confirmed coronavirus case. From 30 November 2021, you are required to self-isolate if you have COVID-19 symptoms, you have a positive PCR test, or if you live in the same household as someone who has COVID-19 if you are not fully vaccinated or they have the Omicron variant. If the person in your household does not have the Omicron variant and you are fully vaccinated, you are not required to self-isolate.
You could get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re self-isolating for one of the following reasons:
- you or someone you live with has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
- you’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID-19
- someone in your support bubble (or your ‘extended household’ if you live in Scotland or Wales) has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
- you’ve been advised by a doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery
If you work you might be entitled to:
- Statutory Sick Pay: If you are an employee, and you normally earn £120 per week, you should be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). SSP is paid at £96.35 per week from April 2021.
- Occupational Sick Pay: Your employer may have a company sick pay scheme in place that pays you more than SSP. Have a look at what your contract says or check with your HR department.
Shielding and the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable
In England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland shielding has been paused. You can no longer claim SSP on this basis. If you were previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable you can attend your place of work and your employer should follow COVID guidance for the workplace. If you have concerns you should discuss them with your employer. You should also take advice from your health professional about any further additional precautions.
If you cannot work from home and you believe your workplace is not COVID-19 secure, you may want to speak to your employer about an alternative role on a temporary basis to allow you to work from home. If you are clinically extremely vulnerable and this amounts to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act, it may be that your employer needs to make “reasonable adjustments” to your role to enable you to continue work, including from home. See our section on COVID-19 – Return to work and Health and Safety for more information on your rights.
If you qualify for SSP because you’ve been told to stay at home due to having contact with a coronavirus case, this can only last for a maximum of 10 days (unless you or someone in your home develops symptoms).
If you have to stay at home because you or someone you live with (or someone in your linked household) has coronavirus symptoms, you can get SSP, if you are not fully vaccinated or the person in your household has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant. If you are fully vaccinated and the person in your household does not have the Omicron variant, you are exempt from self-isolating so cannot get SSP.
If you develop symptoms yourself after isolating due to contact with a known case or after a family member developed symptoms, your SSP could last for longer, depending on when you get ill. The NHS has created an online isolation note that you can fill in.
If you are quarantining for 10 days having returned from another country, you are not entitled to SSP, unless you can get it for another reason.
You have not been told to stay at home
Unfortunately, SSP also won’t apply if you are trying to avoid the risk of coronavirus but no one in your household (or linked household if you have one) has symptoms, and you have not officially been told to stay at home due to vulnerability or contact with a confirmed coronavirus case. For example, you cannot get SSP just because you are practising social distancing as part of the general social distancing guidance in England.
You also cannot get SSP just because you are looking after someone who is shielding, or you think you may have had contact with a coronavirus case but you haven’t been officially contacted and told to stay at home.
You can get SSP if you are signed off by a doctor (a ‘fit note’) as usual, including if this is for the ongoing effects of coronavirus.
I’m expecting a baby, will SSP affect my Maternity, Paternity or Shared Parental Pay?
Getting SSP whilst you are expecting a baby or due to adopt can affect your entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Shared Parental Pay. It can mean you are not entitled to these payments or you receive less than they otherwise would be.
For a birth, the crucial period is approximately weeks 18-25 of the pregnancy. You might be able to ask your employer if you can take annual leave instead of SSP to avoid this problem.
In some cases, depending on your job, you may be able to work from home.
I can’t get SSP, can I claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)?
If you are not entitled to SSP and have paid sufficient class 1 or class 2 National Insurance contributions in the last two full tax years before the year you are claiming in you may be entitled to New Style ESA. You can apply for New Style ESA if you’re unable to claim Statutory Sick Pay and one of the following applies to you or your child:
- you might have COVID-19 or you’re recovering from it
- you are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who might have COVID-19 and you are not exempt from self-isolating.
- you’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery
Shielding in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been paused and New Style ESA can no longer be claimed on this basis.
You could also get New Style ESA if you are in quarantine for up to 10 days after returning from another country, if this is not on the exempt list. Medical evidence isn’t needed, but the decision is at the discretion of the DWP.
There is normally a seven day ‘waiting period’ for New Style ESA, but for claimants affected by coronavirus the law now says that benefit can be paid from the first day, at the DWP’s discretion. Even if you discover you’re not entitled to New Style ESA, claiming can mean you get National Insurance credits for limited capability for work. This could be important if you end up being off work for a long time. So it can be worth making what is called a ‘credits only’ claim.
I’ve been asked to self-isolate by Test and Trace or my child has been told to self-isolate, can I claim a support payment?
In England, if you have tested positive for coronavirus you may be eligible for a £500 lump sum payment Test and Trace Support Payment. From 16 August, if you are notified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, if you are not exempt from self-isolation you may be eligible for the payment.
You can get the payment if you’re employed or self-employed, on a low income, can’t work from home and will lose income as a result of self-isolating. You also need to be in receipt of one of the following benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-Based Employment Support Allowance, Income-Based Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit or Pension Credit.
If you’re the the parent or guardian of a child who’s been told to self-isolate
If you’re not legally required to self-isolate, but you are the parent or guardian of a child who has been told to self-isolate, you could be eligible for a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment if all the following apply:
• you’re the parent or guardian of a child in your household who is self-isolating, and you need to take time off work to care for them
• your child is aged 15 or under, or aged 25 or under with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, normally attends an education or childcare setting, and has been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or by their education or childcare setting
• you’re unable to work from home and will lose income because you have to care for your child while they are self-isolating
• you meet all the other eligibility criteria for a Test and Trace Support Payment or discretionary payment
If you are not entitled to a Test and Trace Support Payment you might be eligible for a discretionary payment from your local authority instead if you’re on a low income and will experience financial hardship due to not being able to work whilst self-isolating.
You should contact your local authority to apply for the Test and Trace Support Payment.
The Scottish and Welsh governments have announced similar payments. In Scotland it is called the Self-Isolation Support Grant.
More information about the Welsh scheme is available here.
The scheme in Northern Ireland is a discretionary fund and the amount awarded depends on who is living in the household. It doesn’t rely on you receiving benefits.
NHS Test and Trace App
You might be entitled to the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment if you’ve been advised to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app because you have tested positive for coronavirus. You might be eligible for the payment if you’ve been contacted by NHS Test and Trace by phone, email, letter, text message or the app. From 16 August, if you are notified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, if you are not exempt from self-isolation you may be eligible for the payment.
What can I claim now that my income has gone down
I’m already claiming benefits but my income has gone down – can I get more help?
In some circumstances you may be entitled to increased amounts of benefits you are already claiming. When your income is reduced, you may be able to get a higher rate of income-related benefits. These include tax credits, income support, housing benefit, universal credit and employment and support allowance.
You may have to look for work and be available for work on Universal Credit, but this still depends on your circumstances and your claimant commitment. You are still required to look for work if that is what it says in your claimant commitment, however, you should tell your work coach about any restrictions that affect you (for example, childcare still isn’t available or you are still shielding).
The government has created some guidance to help people understand Universal Credit and any specific coronavirus rules.
Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction/Support
If you’re claiming Housing Benefit, you can ask your local authority to increase your entitlement while your income is reduced. Housing Benefit takes weekly income into account. If your reduced income is going to vary from week to week, the local authority will need an average of your weekly income over an appropriate period to work out your new Housing Benefit award. Council Tax Reduction/Support has different rules in different areas but can also respond to a reduced income.
Tax credits (working tax credits or child tax credit)
If you’re claiming tax credits, it may be possible to get more in tax credits if your annual income for the tax year is going to be at least £2,500 less than the previous year, but this may not help immediately. You should be careful when giving an income estimate for the current tax year. If the estimate is too low and you are overpaid tax credit, you will have to pay it back. If you’re also on housing benefit and/or council tax reduction/support, make sure you tell the local authority if your tax credits change, as well as reporting other income changes.
Working Tax Credit (WTC)
WTC can continue for the first 28 weeks you are off work sick if you are claiming SSP, ESA or national insurance credits for limited capability for work immediately after a period of working. You can also be treated as working for 28 weeks if you are self-employed and you would have got one of those benefits if you’d been an employee immediately before you had to stop working.
Childcare and WTC
If the childcare you get help with via Working Tax Credit stops, reduces or increases, you should tell HMRC. If you start using paid-for childcare again, and you meet (or can be treated as meeting) the working hours conditions for the childcare element, make sure you tell HMRC so that you don’t lose out.
Changing hours after furlough and WTC
If you have been furloughed and this ends on your return to work, you will continue to be treated as working your previous hours for up to eight weeks whilst you establish any new work pattern. If your new hours are not enough to get Working Tax Credit, you will be treated as working your previous hours for a further four weeks after your hours are permanently reduced or your work finishes.
If you have lost your job
If you stop being employed, you must tell HMRC, to avoid an overpayment. It’s also a good idea to tell them if you are going to be getting SSP/ESA or national insurance credits for limited capability for work, as it may be possible to continue to be treated as working. If you’re not sure what you will be getting, tell HMRC what you have applied for.
What can I claim if my income has gone down due to coronavirus? I’m not claiming any benefits.
You may not have been claiming any benefits before the coronavirus outbreak, or you may have been getting Child Benefit only.
You may be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance (see above). If that doesn’t apply, you may be able to claim New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), even if you are still employed, as long as you are not working or working under 16 hours a week.
You need to look for work and be available for work to get JSA if you are told to do so. However, you should tell the Jobcentre if there is anything preventing you from being able to do this, including caring responsibilities.
Universal Credit: If your income goes down due to coronavirus, you may be able to claim Universal Credit (UC). If you have a partner, your eligibility for Universal Credit will take into account their earnings, too. There are a number of circumstances in which you can’t get UC – one of these is if you and/or a partner you live with have over £16,000 in savings or other assets (not including your home).
Claimants may have to look for work, but it will depend on your circumstances (for example, you shouldn’t have to look for work if you’re the responsible carer of a child under 3). You should make sure you tell your work coach about anything which restricts your availability or ability to work.
Remember that if you claim UC, any existing benefits which it replaces will end. This includes tax credits and usually any housing benefit. You won’t be able to go back to these. Claiming UC for a short time may mean you lose out in the long run, so try to get advice.
Always check with a benefits calculator to see if there is anything else you can claim. It’s a good idea to also check what you would get if you started earning again/earning more, so you can see how UC would be affected.
The government has created some guidance to help explain how universal credit works.
I’m self-employed, what can I claim?
I’m self-employed but my work has been affected by coronavirus – what can I claim?
New Style Employment and Support Allowance
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) can only be paid to employees. If you are self-employed (as a sole trader) you may be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) instead.
If you trade through a limited company you should claim SSP through your company as an employee. If you don’t earn enough to be eligible for SSP, or if you have claimed SSP for over 28 weeks, you may be able to claim New Style ESA.
You are eligible for New Style ESA if you cannot work because you have ‘limited capability for work’. You need to have paid (or been credited with) enough Class 1 or Class 2 National Insurance contributions in the last two full tax years before the year you are claiming in. If you are claiming New Style ESA because you are self-isolating due to COVID-19 you do not need a fit note, you can use an NHS isolation note instead.
You can be treated as having ‘limited capability for work’ and claim New Style ESA if you cannot claim SSP and you or your child:
- Have COVID-19 or are recovering from it.
- You are self-isolating because you came into contact with someone who has COVID-19 and you are not exempt from self-isolating.
- You’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery.
- You’re quarantining due to rules about returning from abroad.
Shielding in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been paused so you are no longer eligible for New Style ESA on this basis.
There is normally a seven day ‘waiting period’ for New Style ESA, but for claimants affected by coronavirus (for example, shielding, self-isolating or looking after a child who is self-isolating) the law now says that this benefit should be payable from the first day at the DWP’s discretion. New Style ESA can be backdated for up to three months if you meet the eligibility conditions during that period.
Even if you discover you’re not entitled to receive any money, claiming New Style ESA can mean you get Class 1 National Insurance credits which can help towards your State Pension and other contributory benefits in the future. So it can be worth making what is called a ‘credits only’ claim.
If you’re not covered by any of the categories of people who can get New Style ESA, but you are not currently working, you should check to see if you can get New Style Jobseekers Allowance. To be eligible for New Style JSA, you must have paid (or been credited with) Class 1 National Insurance contributions in the last two full tax years before the year you are claiming in.
If you are already claiming Universal Credit (UC), the amount you receive should go up while your income is reduced (although it may also go down because of the benefit cap). There is normally a minimum income floor rule which can treat you as earning more than you actually are when you are self-employed. This did not apply due to coronavirus between March 2020 and July 2021, but the DWP have started checking again whether you are gainfully self-employed and they might decide to start using the minimum income floor again depending on your circumstances. If coronavirus is affecting your business or preventing you from being able to get work in your self-employment you should tell your work coach. They may decide not to apply the minimum income floor and work out your payments using your monthly earnings instead. If you have been getting the childcare element of Universal Credit, you must tell them if childcare stops being provided or you stop using or paying for it, or if you start using paid-for childcare again.
New Claims for Universal Credit
You can also make a new claim for UC, but remember that if you claim UC, any existing benefits which it replaces will end (including any tax credits, and usually housing benefit), and you won’t be able to go back to these. Claiming UC for a short time may mean you lose out in the long run, so try to get advice. You can still lose out if you move to UC from existing benefits, depending on what you were claiming before. However, if you and any partner you live with are not currently claiming anything (or you only claim Child Benefit) you will not lose out by claiming UC. There is help with eligible childcare costs from UC but only if you, and usually any partner you live with, are working, and only if the childcare is actually available.
The government has created some guidance to help explain how UC works.
What about tax credits?
If you’re claiming tax credits (working tax credit or child tax credit), it may be possible to get more in tax credits if your annual income for the tax year is going to be at least £2,500 less than the previous year. You should be careful when giving an income estimate for the current tax year as if this is too low and you are overpaid tax credit, you will have to pay it back. If you’re also on housing benefit and/or council tax reduction/support, make sure you tell the local authority if your tax credits change.
It is no longer possible to make a new claim for tax credits.
Working tax credit
WTC can continue for the first 28 weeks you are off work if you are self-employed and you:
a. are claiming ESA, or
b. you would have been able to claim SSP or ESA save for the fact that you are not an employee.
If neither (a) nor (b) apply to you, your tax credits would usually stop after 4 weeks. If you are not working enough hours for more than 4 weeks, you would also usually stop getting the childcare element of WTC as this requires a certain number of hours of work. If you stop your self-employment, you must tell HMRC to avoid an overpayment, and explain how long this is likely to last and whether you’ll be getting ESA or national insurance credits for limited capability for work. If you’re not sure, tell HMRC what you have applied for.
You should always tell HMRC if the childcare you get help with through Working Tax Credit stops, reduces or increases, or if you start using paid-for childcare again or the amount you pay increases.
If you’re also on housing benefit and/or council tax reduction/support, make sure you tell the local authority if your tax credits change, as well as reporting other income changes.
See Claiming Benefits or Not Claiming Benefits above for guidance on these benefits and other financial support. And remember to check with a benefits calculator like entitledto.co.uk to see what else you could be eligible for.
I’m struggling to pay my bills and afford food – what other help is available?
If you already get Housing Benefit or your Universal Credit calculation includes a housing element, but you still need help to pay your rent, you can apply to your local council for extra help they might be able to give you, called a discretionary housing payment. If you are worried about rent arrears, there is more information available from Shelter here (this refers to your rights in England so check if you live anywhere else in the UK).
Your local council may have an emergency welfare assistance scheme offering support if you have no money or unexpected expenses, but in England, not all councils offer this, so you will need to check with your local authority. In Wales, the discretionary assistance fund can help with some expenses. In Northern Ireland, there is a discretionary fund which may offer help in certain circumstances. In Scotland, you can apply (via your local council) to the Scottish Welfare Fund.
You should contact your gas or electricity company if you are struggling to pay or top up your meter. If you cannot pay your water rates, you should contact your water company.
There is more information from Citizens Advice.
If you have problems with other payments, such as credit cards, a mortgage, car finance payments and other debts, the Money Helper service may help.
Where can I go for more help?
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but some of the external links are England only or England and Wales only. Where it refers to public health guidance, we have linked to that for England: you should check the guidance for your part of the UK. If you live outside England, Wales, Scotland or N Ireland, 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.