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*
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?
- Redundancy during coronavirus
- Rights for carers (or those that are living with someone who 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
I’m off work because I’ve been told to stay at home by the government – I am self-isolating or shielding – what can I claim?
This guidance is only for employees. Have a look at the self-employment section if you are self-employed instead.
You may be self-isolating or shielding because you’re extremely vulnerable, 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.
If you are off work because of one of the following reasons, you could get sick pay:
- you are shielding in accordance with official public health guidance because you are extremely vulnerable and are considered to be at higher risk to severe illness as a result of coronavirus, and you have been told to stay at home by the NHS. However, please note, the shielding requirement is due to be paused on 1 August in most of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and on 16 August in Wales. You will no longer be able to get SSP for this reason after those dates, unless you are in an area where shielding has been extended or re-introduced; or
- you or someone else in your household (or linked household) has symptoms of coronavirus (a new continuous cough and/or high temperature); or
- you’ve been contacted by an official source (eg the NHS) to tell you to stay at home due to contact with a confirmed coronavirus case (for example, through the ‘Test and Trace‘system in England); or
- you’ve been signed off by a medical professional (you have a ‘fit note’).
You can claim:
- 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 £95.85/week from April 2020.
- Company 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.
If you are extremely vulnerable and have been told to shield via an official notification (eg from the NHS), you have been able to claim SSP since 16 April. This can last only for the period you’ve been officially advised to shield via a written notification from an official source or until shielding is paused – whichever date is sooner. Shielding is due to be paused from 1 August in most of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from 16 August in Wales. However, you should also check to see if your employer will use the job retention scheme (furlough), as this is likely to be worth more than SSP (your employer can take you off SSP and put you on furlough if they agree to do so and you meet the conditions). Note that in almost all cases, the latest you can be put on furlough for the first time is 10 June.
It is important to keep up-to-date with the different advice on shielding for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for your local area. . Local guidance on shielding may be different between local authorities. Whilst shielding is paused, the government has stated that “you do not need to follow previous advice” – this includes the letter that informed you that you are clinically extremely vulnerable. SSP will no longer be available to people solely on the basis that they are shielding. If you are still unable to work because you are ill, or because your doctor thinks it is unsafe for you to work due to your condition, you may still be eligible for SSP, but you will need medical evidence, usually a fit note from a doctor.
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 14 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 also 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 in quarantine for 14 days having returned from another country, you are not entitled to SSP, unless you can get it for another reason.
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.
If you get SSP whilst you are expecting a baby or due to adopt
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, or your employer might be prepared to furlough you (however, in most cases, the latest you can be put on furlough for the first time is 10 June). In some cases, depending on your job, you may be able to work from home.
Contributory Employment and Support Allowance
If you are not entitled to SSP and have paid sufficient class 1 or class 2 national insurance contributions in the last 2 to 3 years you may be entitled to Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (CESA). You may be able to get this if you or someone in your household has or recently had symptoms of coronavirus, you are shielding after being told to do this by the NHS (this means you have had a letter or text telling you to stay at home and only lasts whilst this is the official advice), or if you are contacted and told to stay at home due to contact with a known coronavirus case.
You may also be able to get this if you are self-isolating or caring for a child who is self-isolating (for example, because of contact with a known case), or if you are caring for a child who is shielding. You could also get ESA if you are in quarantine for up to 14 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.
For most new claimants, contributory ESA is also called ‘new-style’ ESA. There is normally a seven day ‘waiting period’ for contributory 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 contributory 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.
If you are an employee, it’s worth checking whether your employer will agree to use the job retention scheme (furlough) instead. Furlough is likely to be much more favourable than sick pay. Note that in almost all cases, the latest you can be put on furlough for the first time is 10 June.
See also below for other benefits you may be able to claim.
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.
- Universal Credit: If you’re claiming Universal Credit (UC), do not worry about attending the Jobcentre in person or being available for work. Many Jobcentres remain closed to members of the public except in exceptional circumstances, but this will change gradually. From 30th June 2020 (a later date will apply in N Ireland), you may have to look for work and be available for work on Universal Credit, but this still depends on your circumstancesand your claimant commitment (before those dates, the work search requirement was temporarily suspended for everyone). You should tell your work coach about any restrictions which 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. If you were getting a childcare element in your UC but childcare is no longer being provided, or you have stopped using or paying for childcare, you must tell UC, and you should also tell them if you start paying for childcare you are actually using again. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have a useful online tool about UC during coronavirus.
- 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 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. In addition, at the moment, if you are still employed but are not able to work because of coronavirus (e.g. because you are shielding after being officially notified to do so, or because you have no childcare) you can still be treated as working your normal hours by HMRC.
Childcare and WTC: If you are not working enough hours for more than 4 weeks, you would usually stop getting the childcare element of WTC as this requires a certain number of hours of work. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, the law has changed if your hours of work reduce or stop due to coronavirus. You will be treated as working your usual hours, as long as you are still employed. This will last for as long as the job retention scheme (furlough) is available, even if you aren’t using the scheme. If 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.
Working Tax Credit is worth more in 2020/21 due to the coronavirus, so if you are able to get it, you should see an increase.
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, even if you are still employed, as long as you are not working or working under 16 hours a week. However, if you normally work 16 hours or more and you are furloughed, your furlough wages mean you can’t get JSA. Part-time furlough and part-time wages are taken into account in the same way, so again, you won’t be able to get JSA if you normally work 16 or more hours a week. From 30th June 2020 (7 August in N Ireland), you will have to look for work and be available for work to get JSA if you are told to do so (before those dates, the work search requirement was temporarily suspended). 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).
From 30th June 2020 (a later date will apply in N Ireland), 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), and your claimant commitment (before that date, the work search requirement was temporarily suspended for everyone). You should make sure you tell your work coach about anything which restricts your availability or ability to work (eg caring responsibilities or if you are still shielding).
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 have been affected by the coronavirus crisis – what can I claim?
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
If you’re self-employed but your income from work is reduced or has completely stopped due to coronavirus, you may be able to receive help from the government’s Self-employed income support scheme (SEISS). To apply, at least half of your income has to be from self-employment. Self-employment for tax purposes means no one is responsible for paying Class 1 national insurance for you (or would be responsible for paying Class 1 national insurance if you were earning enough).
To be eligible for the SEISS, you need to meet the following criteria:
- You carried out a self-employed trade in 2019-20, and you intend to continue to trade in 2020-21;
- Your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus; and
- You traded in the tax year 2018-19 and submitted your self-assessment tax return for that year on or before 23rd April 2020.
The government guidance says the government will first look at your 2018-19 tax return, but if you are not eligible based on this, they will look at your tax returns from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
There is an exception for new parents: if your trading profits dipped or you stopped trading in the 2018-2019 tax year because you took time out to look after your baby or in the first year after adoption, you can chose to rely on your tax returns from 2016-17 and/or 2017-18. We have more information on our new parents page.
If you’re eligible for the scheme, HMRC will contact you. However, it is always worth checking yourself whether you are eligible. More information is available on the Gov.UK website.
There is a first grant and a second grant, and you will receive different amounts for each:
- The first grant is worth 80% of your average monthly trading profits (capped at £2,500/month max). It will be paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months’ worth of profits, and capped at £7,500 (for the three month period). You must make a claim for the first grant payment by 13th July 2020.
- The second grant will be worth 70% of your average monthly profits (capped at £2,250/month max). It will cover 3 months’ worth of profits, and is capped at £6,750 (for the three month period). You will need to meet the same conditions as for the first grant, but you don’t have to have applied for the first grant to qualify. You won’t be able to apply for this second grant (the final one under this scheme) until 17th August 2020, and the deadline to claim is 19 October 2020. For the second grant, you must be able to show that your business had been adversely affected by coronavirus on or after 14th July.
The grant is taxable and subject to national insurance. It is taken into account as part of your earned income for tax credits, Universal Credit (UC) and other benefits. It is not repayable, and you can continue to work, start a new trade or take on employment whilst you get it.
If you are receiving UC: The grant is not taken into account for a past period for UC, only from when you receive it. So for example, if you received the SEISS grant in June or July for your losses in April, May, and June, your UC claim will only be affected in the UC assessment period (which is a calendar month) when you actually received the grant, not from April-June. You are allowed to carry forward self-employed losses from previous months on UC to set against the grant. However, in some cases the grant may still be so high that it will take you off UC for the month you get the grant. You’ll be treated as making a new claim after that so that you’ll get UC again once you qualify (but some of the grant may be taken into account in the month or months after you received it, if it is very high). If you don’t want to be treated as making a new claim (perhaps because your self-employment has started to make money again and you know you won’t be entitled to UC), make sure you tell the DWP.
Newly Self-employed Hardship Fund in Scotland
If you live in Scotland, and:
- you are not eligible for the Self-Employed Income Support scheme or other support for business,
- you are not receiving Universal Credit or certain other benefits, and
- you do not have sufficient savings or income for basic needs,
then you might be eligible for the Newly Self-employed Hardship Fund in Scotland. This is aimed at people living in Scotland who became self-employed on or after 6 April 2019 and can’t get help elsewhere.
Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
You cannot claim SSP if you’re not an employee. Check whether you pay yourself a wage and have Class 1 national insurance deducted through PAYE though, as this makes you an employee for benefits purposes. If you are self-employed, you don’t currently earn enough to get SSP or your SSP has run out, or you are not entitled to SSP for any other reason, you may be able to claim Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (CESA). For most people, this will be New style ESA.
You are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance if you are not able to work because you have ‘limited capability for work’ and you have paid enough Class 2 National Insurance contributions (if you’re self-employed) in the last 2 to 3 years.
You can be treated as having ‘limited capability for work’ if you actually have coronavirus or have been contaminated, or you are ‘self-isolating’. This may include:
- You have coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating because someone in your household or a linked household has or has had symptoms, or you are looking after a child in these situations, or
- You or a child you care for are self-isolating because you have had contact with a known coronavirus case, or
- You are extremely vulnerable and are considered to be at higher risk to severe illness as a result of coronavirus, and you are shielding after being officially told to do so (this means you’ve had a letter or text advising you to stay at home, and probably only lasts whilst you are officially advised to shield)
- You’ve been told to self-isolate after contact with a known coronavirus case
- You have to self-isolate (‘quarantine’) for 14 days because you have returned from a country which is not on the exempt list.
If you have been getting housing benefit, income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance (or you got these recently) and you also get benefits because you are disabled, new style ESA may not apply to you; instead ‘old style’ ESA may apply (this can be contributory or income-related).
There is normally a seven day ‘waiting period’ for CESA, 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. You can backdate ESA by up to three months, but only if you meet the conditions when you claim, and only to cover a period when you were entitled.
Even if you discover you’re not entitled to receive any money, claiming ESA can mean you get national insurance credits for limited capability for work (these 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.
If you’re not covered by any of the categories of people who can get ESA, but you are not currently working, you should check to see if you can get contributory (‘new style’) Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). However, this will only apply if you have been paying yourself a wage with Class 1 national insurance deducted, or if you were employed in that way (perhaps by an employer) in the two tax years which will be used to assess your claim (2017-18 and 2018-19). In addition, if you get the self-employed income support grant (see above) and you normally work 16 hours a week or more, DWP guidance says that you cannot get JSA.
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 may not apply during the coronavirus crisis, but this decision is up to the DWP and will depend on all the circumstances. However, it is likely that the minimum income floor won’t be applied if you are currently unable to get work in your self-employment. 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. Child Poverty Action Group have a useful online tool about UC during coronavirus.
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. The amount of UC for adults has gone up by about £20 a week from April 2020, but you can still lose out if you move to it 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.
Most people can’t make new claims 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. However, at the moment, HMRC will treat you as working the hours you normally work, as long as your self-employment is continuing. The law says this should apply if your hours are reduced due to coronavirus (for example because your self-employment can’t currently operate, or you are shielding). More information is here. If you stop your self-employment though, 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.
The basic element of WTC increased from April 2020; this will only apply if you work enough hours to get WTC or can be treated as working.
Council tax reduction, housing benefit and local council support
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.
Can my children still get free school meals?
I used to get free school meals for my children but now the schools are shut – what can I do?
If your child’s school is shut, or your child cannot attend at the moment, then there should be a replacement for any free school meals your children were getting. You can ask the school or your local council what arrangements they are making instead. Guidance for schools in England says vouchers must be provided if the school cannot provide meals or food parcels (see also here). In N Ireland, direct payments should be made. In Wales and Scotland, the local council and school will make arrangements. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all committed to continue free school meals provision over the summer holidays in 2020. If you haven’t claimed free school meals, it could be worth checking whether you qualify. You have to apply for them if they are not provided automatically to your child’s year group.
The school should make sure that something is provided. This might be meals you collect from school, or which are delivered to you (for example, if you and your family have to self-isolate). Alternatively, the school may provide vouchers for supermarkets (by email or gift card). You can get in touch with the school to find out what they are doing. You can read the guidance to schools in England here.
If you don’t normally get free school meals because your immigration status prevents you claiming benefits (for example, because your leave to remain in the UK has a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition), then you can get free school meals in England during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can continue to get these over the summer in England. In Wales, whether you can get free school meals will depend on your local authority (council), including whether you can get this help in the summer holidays.
I’m struggling to pay my bills and afford food – what other help is available?
If you were getting free school meals but now your children are not going to school, ask the school or your local council what arrangements they are making instead. Guidance for schools in England says vouchers must be provided if the school cannot provide meals or food parcels. In N Ireland, direct payments should be made. In Wales and Scotland, the local council and school will make arrangements. In England, you may be able to get this help even if you can’t normally do so because of your immigration status. This may also apply in Wales, depending on your local council.
In Wales only, the funding for their free childcare offer for working parents has been diverted to help with the provision of registered childcare for critical workers and vulnerable children until September 2020. You should ask your local council if you think this might apply to you.
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 Advice Service information 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.