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

Covid-19 update: (see here for more detail and follow any government guidance, as this is changing daily) the government has announced that an employee who is entitled to statutory sick pay because they are self-isolating or shielding would be entitled to pay from day one of their absence, rather than day four (the usual rule), and that it will reimburse small employers (<250 employees) any statutory sick pay they pay to employees for the first 14 days of sickness. Similar rules apply to ESA. You can also get SSP if you’re been officially notified to stay at home after contact with a confirmed coronavirus case, for a maximum of 14 days. In addition, if you normally work and get Working Tax Credit, but you’re affected by covid-19, HMRC will continue to treat you as working your normal hours, as long as you are still employed/self-employed.

When do I get Statutory Sick Pay?

Normally if you are an employee (someone else is responsible for paying national insurance for you) then for the first 28 weeks you are ill you will receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), though SSP is not paid for the first 3 days. To receive SSP you must have had earnings of at least the lower earnings limit.  SSP is administered and paid by your employer.

You must be in a “period of incapacity for work”, which means that you must be too ill to work for four or more days in a row.  These include days when you do not normally work, for example, the weekend.  Periods of illness separated by  eight weeks or less can be linked, so once you had qualified if you went back to work for a bit you would not have to wait another three days in the next period of incapacity before you claimed. 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.

If you are not an employee but you are an Agency Worker, you are still entitled to SSP if you meet the conditions.  Your earnings must be at least the lower earnings limit, and you must usually be absent from work for four days to begin with.

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

If you are self-employed (you are responsible for your own national insurance), you leave your job, you have been sick for longer than 28 weeks, or you don’t earn enough to get SSP, you may be able to claim contributory (you will need to have sufficient national insurance contributions) Employment and Support Allowance.

What other benefits can I claim?

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 not claiming any of these benefits, you may be able claim Universal Credit on top of any sick pay or ESA you get, or instead of these payments if you can’t get them. If you claim any of the benefits that UC is replacing, you should get advice before claiming it as these benefits will usually stop when you claim UC, and you may end up worse off.

If you usually get Working Tax Credit you should check to make sure you are still treated as working. After 28 weeks of sickness, you usually cannot be treated as working any longer, and this could affect your entitlement.

You will find more information on SSP and ESA on the GOV.UK website. If you have problems with daily living or mobility (such as needing help with personal care, communicating with people, or problems getting around), then check whether you might also be able to claim Personal Independence Payment.

If you are struggling with rent or council tax payments whilst you are off sick, check whether you can get help with your local council to pay the council tax. If you are already getting help with Housing Benefit payments or with your council tax you should make sure you tell the council about any changes in your income.


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


Have you heard about your right to request flexible working? Watch our film to find out more.

DonateReceive updates button