Coronavirus and welfare benefits

The Coronavirus outbreak has been a source of uncertainty and stress for many families. As well as worries about the health loved ones, you may also have concerns about the financial implications for your family, particularly if you or a partner are likely to have to stop working or see a significant drop in earnings.

This page answers some of the common questions about benefits that parents with a disabled child might have.

There have already been a number of changes to the benefits system in response to the current outbreak. It is likely that further changes will be announced in the near future so this webpage will be updated regularly.

What benefits can I claim if I need to take time off work because I have coronavirus or am following government guidance and self-isolating? 

You may be entitled to certain sickness benefits if you cannot work because you either:

  • Have coronavirus.
  • Have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough.
  • Someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms.
  • You've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.

If this applies to you, you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or new style Employment and Support Allowance (new style ESA). However, these payments may be a lot lower than your normal earnings. For that reason, you may also need to claim income-related benefits to top these up.

Who can claim statutory sick pay (SSP)?

Employees who are unable to work because they are either unwell or sharing a household with someone who has Coroavirus symptoms should be able to claim SSP, so long as their earnings are usually more than £118 per week. Employees on a zero hours' contract can still claim SSP as long as they meet the normal rules.

New rules state that SSP is payable from day one of your isolation. SSP is claimed from your employer. The maximum rate of SSP is currently £94.25 per week. Depending on your contact of employment you may also be entitled to occupational sick pay. 

Who can claim new style Employment and Support Allowance (new style ESA)?

Some people are not eligible for SSP. For instance, self-employed people or employees who usually earn less than £118 per week. If you cannot get SSP, you may be able to claim new style ESA instead.

New style ESA is a contributory benefit. This means that whether you get new style ESA will depend on your national insurance record. For people aged over 25, new style ESA is usually £73.10 per week, although it may increase after 3 months depending on the outcome of a medical assessment.

Do I need to submit medical certificates to claim these benefits?

Normally in order to claim benefits like new style ESA or Universal Credit on the basis of ill-health, you need to submit medical certificates from your GP, known as a statement of fitness for work. However, people who are claiming these benefits on the basis that they have coronavirus or are self-isolating don't have to provide a medical certificate. 

It appears that this exemption on providing medical certificates only applies to those in the four groups mentioned above. It does not appear to apply to those who are self-isolating for other reasons, such as shielding a vulnerable household member.

This means that those who are unable to work because they are shielding a family member are unlikely to qualify for SSP or new style ESA unless they themselves are experiencing health problems and are provided with medical certificates from their GP.  

Will I have to attend a medical assessment as part of a claim for these benefits?

People who claim new style ESA or Universal Credit on the basis that they have health problems are often expected to take part in a face to face assessment with a health professional.

However, these face-to-face assessments are being scrapped for three months from 16 March 2020. Decisions will instead be made on paper evidence or a telephone assessment. This also applies to face-to-face assessments for Personal Independence Payment. 

In addition there for a three month period there will be no further reviews or reassessments of disability or incapacity benefit awards with existing awards instead continuing at their current rate for a temporary period. 

Claiming means-tested benefits and tax credits instead

If you do not qualify for SSP or new style ESA, you may be able to get help via means-tested benefits instead. You may also be able to get means-tested benefits to top up your SSP or new style ESA if this is not enough for you to live on.

If you are not off work because you are unwell or self-isolating but are not working for other reasons, you may also be able to claim means-tested benefits, as can some people whose earnings have reduced, including the self-employed. Whether you get means tested benefits and the amount paid will depend on your individual family circumstances  

Already on means-tested benefits or tax credits?

If you are already on means-tested benefits like Housing Benefit or tax credits, tell the relevant office paying you this benefit about your reduced income. This may lead to an increase in the means-tested benefits that you receive.

However, if you receive tax credits this is based on your annual income rather than your weekly or monthly income. This means that the Tax Credits Office will ask you to provide an estimate of what your annual income is likely to be before they can work out your tax credits.

If you under-estimate your likely income, this could result in you receiving an overpayment that you are asked to pay back at a future date. Another particular issue with tax credits is that the first £2,500 of any drop in annual income is not taken into account. 

You also have the option of claiming Universal Credit rather your current means-tested benefits. However, if you do this your current means-tested benefits and tax credits will stop and you will not be able to reclaim them at a later date. Some people are worse off if they move from existing benefits to Universal Credit. The mere act of making a claim for Universal Credit will bring any existing means-tested benefits and tax credits to an end - this remains the case even if you are found to have a nil entitlement to Universal Credit.

You can check what benefits you might receive and how much your payments would by using an online benefits calculator such as those available at:

Even if you are better-off on Universal Credit in the short term during the current crisis, you need to take into account whether being on Universal Credit is likley to leave you worse off on Universal Credit in the longer term once the situation normalises. This is because once you claim Universal Credit, you cannot revert back to your old means tested benefits at a later date. 

Not currently getting any means-tested benefits or tax credits?  

It is no longer normally possible for most people to make new claims for income-related benefits such as tax credits, housing benefit or income support. Instead new claims for these benefits have been replaced by Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is a means-tested benefit so whether you get Universal Credit will depend on your income and savings (and those of your partner if you have one) as well as your other family circumstances.

If I claim Universal credit will I still have to wait 5 weeks for a payment?

Unfortunately, no changes have yet been announced concerning payment of Universal Credit. The benefit is paid monthly in arrears, so new claimants will usually have to wait around five weeks before receiving their first monthly payment.

You can apply for an advance payment. This is a loan payment and will be expected to repay it by way of regular deductions from your monthly Universal Credit payments once these start.  

If I claim benefits like Universal Credit will I have to attend interviews or meetings at my local jobcentre?

The government has announced that for a three-month period starting on 19 March 2020, people receiving benefits will not be required to attend any job centre appointments. Job Centres will remain open to help anyone who is unable to claim benefits on-line or by telephone.

Will I be able to claim Carer's Allowance for looking after someone in my household who has Coronavirus?

You can only claim Carer's Allowance if you are looking after someone who is on qualifying disability benefit such as the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) at the middle or highest rate or the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment. 

These disability benefits are only paid to people with long-term disabilities or illnesses. Because of this you are unlikely to be able to claim Carer's Allowance for looking after someone with Coronavirus unless they are already getting a qualifying disability as a result of pre-existing disabilities or health problems.

If your child gets the relevant rates of DLA or PIP you may be able to claim Carer's Allowance if your earnings have stopped or have dropped below £123 per week after deductions (£128 per week from April 2020). 

What help is available if my employer tells me not to work because of the impact that the Coronavirus is having on their business?  

On the 20th March 2020, the government announced the 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme', a new type of financial support to help employers carry on paying their workers.

If your employer agrees to furlough you, i.e. to keep you on payroll rather than lay you off, they can apply to HMRC for a grant to cover 80% of your salary (up to a total of £2500 a month). You will remain employed while furloughed although you cannot undertake any work for your employer during this time.

Your employer can choose to make up the extra 20% of your wages but is not obliged to do so. If they choose not to, you should seek advice about whether you qualify for any income-related benefits to top up your reduced earnings. This will depend on your individual family circumstances. If you already get income-related benefits such as Housing Benefit or tax credits these may be increased as a result of your lower earnings. Alternatively you may be able to claim Universal Credit instead.

The scheme is an entirely new type of financial support and detailed information is not yet available. For instance, how this will apply to those on zero hours contracts is not yet clear. The government says that it intends the scheme to run for at least three months from 1st March 2020 but will extend it if necessary. It will be a few weeks until the scheme is up and running properly but grants can be backdated to the beginning of March 2020.

The scheme only applies to employees and not to self-employed people.  

The scheme only applies if your employer agrees to furlough you. If your employer takes the decision to lay you off, the scheme will be of no assistance to you.

Instead you will need advice about what benefits you may be able to claim as a job-seeker or as a carer. For instance depending on your national insurance record you may be able to claim a benefit called contributory Job Seekers Allowance. Depending on your other circumstances you may be able to claim certain means tested benefits.  

What help is available for self-employed people whose business is adversely effected by the pandemic? 

The government has announced a new self-employment income support scheme, providing a HMRC grant of 80% of your average monthly profit as calculated over a three year period and with a cap of £2,500 a month.

This will be paid as a one-off lump sum payment in June 2020 and will cover the period March, April and May. 

You will be eligible for this HMRC grant if all of the below apply to you: 

  • You have lost profits as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.
  • You are already be in self-employment and have a tax return for 2018/19. If you missed the filing deadline in January, you now have four weeks to submit your tax return.
  • You have traded during tax year 19/20 and are still trading (or would be were it not for the pandemic) and intend to continue trading in 2020/21.
  • Your trading profit is no more than £50,000.
  • The majority of your income is from self-employment.

The scheme is not yet open. HMRC will use their records to identify eligible self-employed people and will contact them at a later date inviting them to apply on-line.  

If I am self-employed and claim Universal Credit, will I be treated as having an assumed minimum income from my business?

Normally some self-employed people who claim Universal Credit are treated as having an assumed income from self-employment. This is called the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) and is based on the equivalent national minimum wage that would be paid for the number of hours you work.

However the government has announced that the MIF will be temporarily removed for all self-employed people who are claiming Universal credit.  

What benefits can I claim if I am not unwell but am unable to attend my work because I have to care for my children as a result of their school closing?

Schools and nurseries have now closed for the majority of pupils. However, it is still possible to send your child to school if they fall into certain categories. This includes children with Education Health and Care (EHC) plans, children receiving support from social services, young carers and those who have a parent who is defined as a 'critical worker'.  

If this does not apply or you choose to keep your children home and as a result you are unable to work because you need to look after children, you won't get 80% of your wages paid under the 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme'. This it because it only applies to workers where their employer has no work for them and not to those who are unable or unwilling to attend their work.  

Some workers may have a contractual right to paid parental leave but this will depend on your contract of employment. For most people parental leave is unpaid. You can get advice on your employment rights from ACAS or Working Families.

However, you should also get advice about what other benefits you might be able to claim if you or a partner has seen their earnings stop or drop significantly because your are unable to work due to childcare responsibilities. See earlier section on 'Claiming means tested benefits and tax credits'. 

Other benefits help

As well as the specific measures mentioned above the government have announced a number of changes to the benefits rules to help during the Coronavirus outbreak. These include: 

  • Increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance and the basic element of Working Tax Credit by £20 per week. This increase will apply for a temporary period of 12 months.
  • Increasing the local housing allowance rate used in capping the amount of help with rent private tenants get under Housing Benefit and Universal Credit. This will be increased to ensure that it covers at least 30% of rents in any particular area. 
  • Supending all benefits reviews and reassessments for a period of at least 3 months, starting from 23 March 2020. 
  • Provided local authorities in England with a £500 million Council Tax Hardship Fund to use in reducing council tax bills and to fund emergency support such as local welfare or hardship schemes.