What can I claim if I am too sick to work?

Last updated: 21 Dec 2021

Covid-19 update: If you are self-isolating you can get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one of your absence, rather than day four (the usual rule). If you are claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for Covid-19 reasons, you can get it from day one, rather than day seven (the usual rule). In response to the rollout of Covid-19 booster vaccinations, the government has issued temporary guidance to allow you to self-certify sickness for up to 28 days. If you are off sick from 10 December 2021 up to (and including) 26 January 2022, you do not need to provide a medical certificate to your employer or for claiming benefits such as SSP or ESA, until you have been off for 28 days or more.

If you are unable to work due to sickness there may be several benefits you can claim, however, this will depend on your circumstances.

An easy and quick way to check what benefits you might be entitled to is to use a benefits calculator.

If you have a long term medical condition or disability please see our guide to benefits for disabled adults.

Statutory Sick Pay

Who can claim Statutory Sick Pay?

If you are an employee (including agency workers) you might be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for the first 28 weeks that you are ill. To qualify for SSP you must earn an average of £120 a week (2021/22) and have been off work for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days). SSP is £96.35 a week (2021/22) and is paid from day 4 of your sickness.

Periods of illness separated by 8 weeks or less can be linked. This means if you had a period of sickness where you qualified for SSP less than 8 weeks ago, and you are sick again, you would not have to wait another 3 days in the second period of sickness to get SSP.

Usually, after 7 days of absence, your employer will ask you to provide a medical certificate from a doctor. It is for your employer to decide if you are incapable of work, in doing this they may take advice from a company doctor, your GP, or, in rare cases the HMRC Medical Service.

SSP is paid by your employer in the same way as your usual wages, e.g. monthly, weekly, 4 weekly.

What if I am self-employed, haven’t earned enough to get SSP, or it has run out?

If you are self-employed, earn less than £120 a week (2021/22), have been sick for longer than 28 weeks, or you leave your job, you may be able to claim New-Style Employment and Support Allowance instead of SSP.

What if SSP isn’t enough to meet my living expenses?

If SSP doesn’t pay enough to cover your bills or other living costs, there may be other benefits you can claim. If you are not already claiming any other benefits the main benefits you might be entitled to are Universal Credit and Council Tax Reduction. Please see below for more information on other financial support that may be available to you.

Other benefits and financial support

If you are already getting other benefits

If you already get Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit or Housing Benefit, these benefits can reflect your changed income when you are off sick. You should let the office which pays your benefits know what your income is. Tax Credits may not adjust immediately as they look at income over the whole tax year. If you are getting Working Tax Credit your entitlement may end if you are off sick for more than 28 weeks.

New-Style Employment and Support Allowance

If you are unable to work due to ill health or disability, you might be entitled to New-Style Employment and Support Allowance (NSESA). You cannot get NSESA at the same time as SSP, however, you can apply for NSESA up to 3 months in advance. If you are on SSP and think you will be off sick for more than 28 weeks it is worth making a claim for NSESA in advance as this will mean your NSESA will start being paid as soon as your SSP ends.

To qualify for NSESA you must have paid sufficient Class 1 or Class 2 National Insurance contributions in the last 2-3 years. NSESA does not take into account your household income or savings, however, if you have a private pension this can reduce the amount of NSESA you get. Some people on NSESA are allowed to do permitted work. If you are doing permitted work your earnings may affect the amount of NSESA you get.

After you apply for NSESA you will have a work capability assessment where the DWP assess how your condition affects your ability to work. You usually have to fill in a form and might have a medical assessment. After you have been assessed the amount of NSESA you get might increase. Some people can only get NSESA for a maximum of 1 year.

NSESA does not include extra amounts for children, a partner if you live together, or rent. For extra financial support you might be able to claim Universal Credit. You can claim both NSESA and Universal Credit at the same time, but your Universal Credit will be reduced by your ESA amount.

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is the main benefit for people on a low income who are not already on other benefits or Tax Credits. If you are on other benefits or Tax Credits you should get further advice as you could end up worse off if you claim Universal Credit.

You can receive Universal Credit if you are off sick from work or if you are not working at all due to sickness or disability. You can get Universal Credit on top of any SSP or NSESA you get (*but not income-related ESA), or instead of these payments if you can’t get them. If you claim Universal Credit at the same time as SSP or NSESA, your Universal Credit payments will be reduced, but it is still worth checking if you are entitled to some Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is usually a monthly payment to cover your living costs. How much you get will depend on your circumstances. It takes into account your whole household income and savings. You can’t get Universal Credit if you and/or a partner you live with have more than £16,000 in savings or other assets. Your Universal Credit payment is made up of a ‘basic allowance’ but you may get more money if you have children, pay for childcare, rent your home, have a disability or health condition, or if you are a carer or care for a disabled child.

*Please note income-related ESA is not treated the same as new-style ESA by Universal Credit. Income-related ESA is part of the old benefits system and is known as a ‘legacy benefit’. It is not possible to make a new claim for income-related ESA. If you are getting income-related ESA you should not claim Universal Credit without getting further advice as claiming Universal Credit will end your income-related ESA and you will not be able to go back on to it, even if you are worse off on Universal Credit.

Tax Credits

It is no longer possible to make a new claim for Tax Credits as they have been replaced with Universal Credit. If you try to make a new claim for Tax Credits you will be told to claim Universal Credit instead.

If you are already claiming Working Tax Credit, you continue to be treated as working for 28 weeks if you are getting SSP or new-style ESA (or National Insurance Credits due to being incapable of work or having limited capability for work). The maximum you can be treated as working is 28 weeks, regardless of whether you get SSP, ESA, or a combination during the 28 weeks. If you are claiming as a single person you will lose your entitlement to Working Tax Credit and if you are claiming as a couple you will lose your Working Tax Credit if your partner is not working the minimum required hours. However, you will continue to get any Child Tax Credit you’re claiming. If you return to work or your partner’s working hours increase to the minimum required for Working Tax Credit, you can add Working Tax Credit back on to an existing Child Tax Credit claim.

If you lose your Working Tax Credit you might be better off claiming Universal Credit. You should get further advice if you are in this situation as you may be better off on Universal Credit in the short-term, but could end up worse off in the long-term and you will not be able to go back on to Tax Credits if you claim Universal Credit.

Housing Benefit

You cannot make a new claim for Housing Benefit unless you are over State Pension age or live in certain types of supported or temporary accommodation. If you are renting and/or have service charges and you are not currently getting Housing Benefit, you may be able to claim help with housing costs through Universal Credit.

If you already have an existing claim for Housing Benefit you can continue to get it when you are off sick from work. If you are not getting full Housing Benefit, you might be entitled to more if your income is reduced during the period you are off sick. You should let the office which pays your Housing Benefit know that your earned income has decreased for the period that you are off sick.

The housing element of Universal Credit

If you are not already on Housing Benefit and need help with rent and/or have service charges, you may be able to claim help with housing costs through the housing element of Universal Credit. The amount of help you can get with rent depends on your circumstances and may be different depending on whether you are renting from a council or housing association or from a private landlord.

Help with mortgage costs

If you pay a mortgage you may be entitled to Support for Mortgage Interest which is a DWP loan that has to be repaid. Support for Mortgage Interest is only available after 9 months on certain benefits (for Universal Credit, you must also not have any earnings). It is not part of your benefits and has to be applied for separately. If you are of State Pension age and on Pension Credit, different rules apply and you can get the loan payments straight away, if you choose to take the loan.

Council Tax Reduction/Support

Council Tax Reduction can help you with the costs of your council tax bill. This is a separate application to Housing Benefit. Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support) depends on your local authority (council) and so you should check on their website to find out more. Council Tax Reduction is not being replaced by Universal Credit, so you can receive it while also claiming Universal Credit. If you live in Northern Ireland, you can get help with the rates instead.

Personal Independence Payment

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a benefit that can help with some of the extra costs if you have a long term ill-health or disability. You might be eligible for PIP if you find it hard to do everyday tasks or get around because of a physical or mental condition.

PIP does not take into account your household income or savings and can be paid to people regardless of whether they are in work, off sick or unemployed. You can claim it at the same time as other benefits such as SSP, ESA or Universal Credit and it will not affect these benefits. To be eligible for PIP you must have found everyday tasks or mobility difficult for 3 months and expect it to continue for another 9 months.

Other support

Help with health costs

You may be eligible for help with health costs, such as prescriptions, glasses and dental treatment if you are on benefits, including Tax Credits and Universal Credit.

Free school meals

You may qualify for free school meals if you’re on benefits, including Universal Credit, however, if you are on Tax Credits, you’ll only qualify if you get Child Tax Credit, not Working Tax Credit.

Warm Homes Discount

You could get £140 off your electricity bill for winter 2021 to 2022 under the Warm Home Discount Scheme if you get certain benefits or if you have a low income.

Benefit calculators and further advice

If you need further advice about what you can claim if you are off sick from work you can ring our helpline or contact us on our advice form.

To work out what benefits you might be entitled to you can use a benefits calculator.

You can also get further advice from Citizens Advice.

If you are a lone parent, you can contact GingerbreadOne Parent Families Scotland, or in Northern Ireland, GingerbreadNI.

Challenging a benefits decision

If you have applied for any of the benefits listed above and you have been told that you are not entitled and you disagree, you can challenge it. To do so, you need to request a mandatory reconsideration within one month of the date of the decision. You can request it verbally over the phone by calling the number provided on the decision letter, however, it is always best to make a request in writing on the relevant form or your Universal Credit online account. If you’ve missed the deadline, it is still worth asking for a mandatory reconsideration as there are circumstances where you may be able to make an out of time request if you have good reasons for why you are late.

For more detailed advice, contact the Citizens Advice. In Northern Ireland see here.

Working Families cannot help you to challenge a benefits decision.


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.