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're a disabled person who is classed as extremely vulnerable and have been advised to shield yourself at home .

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 means-tested benefits to top these up.

Before claiming SSP or contributory ESA, you may wish to ask your employer if they are willing to furlough you instead, as this would allow you to receive at least 80% of your earnings. See below for more details. You cannot be furloughed and receive SSP/ESA at the same time. 

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. Instead you can get a 'isolation note' from the NHS website to give to your employer when you claim SSP. 

This exemption on providing medical certificates only appears to apply to those who are self-isolating because they or someone in their household has coronavirus or it's symptoms and to extremely vulnerable adults who have been told to shield because of their own disabilities. 

It is our understanding that those who are unable to work because they are shielding alongside a family member are not exempt from the requirement to provide medical certificates. Parents and other carers who are shielding alongside a vulnerable houseghold 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.  

The Department for Work and Pensions have said that the rules allowing vulnerable adults who shield to claim SSP without a medical certificate will end on 31 July. 

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 need you to provide an estimate of what your annual income is likely to be in 2020/21 before they can work out your tax credits.

If you underestimate 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 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 (for example because you have capital in excess of £16,000). 

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. 

What happens to my Working Tax Credit if I am unable to go to work during the outbreak?  

Normally Working Tax Credit can only continue for the first four weeks after you stop working, unless you are off work due to sick leave, in which case it can continue to be paid for 26 weeks.

However, during the Coronavirus outbreak HMRC are applying a different policy. If due to the Coronavirus outbreak you are temporarily not working or are on reduced hours, this will be ignored by the Tax Credits Office. This applies both to employees and self-employed people.   

Our family finances adviser Derek explains temporary changes to the rules around working hours and Working Tax Credit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HMRC have said that you do not need to contact the Tax Credits Office about a temporary drop in hours or the fact that they are temporarily not working. Instead they will continue to treat you as if you were still working your normal hours. 

You should still report any other changes in income, in your childcare costs or if you decide to change your hours in the longer term. You must also tell them if you or your partner lose your job, are made redundant or cease trading.

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.

Some people claiming Universal Credit or other benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance are asked to look for work as a condition of claiming benefit. However, these work search requirements have all been suspended for a period of at least 3 months. 

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 £128 per week after deductions. 

Changes to Carer's Allowance rules during Coronavirus outbreak 

The government has changed the Carer's Allowance rules so that a break in caring can be ignored if it is caused by either the disabled person or their carer having Coronavirus symptoms. 

Alongside this, the charity Carers UK say that they have been told by the Department for Work and Pensions that emotional support, such as that provided by telephone or social media, will count as care in assessing if a carer is providing at least 35 hours per week care. This is likely to help those carers who don't share a household with the person that they look after and who may have reduced physical contact during the current outbreak.  

Carer's allowance claimants in Scotland receive supplementary payments from the Scottish Government. This is done by a lump sum payment twice a year. Normally carers in Scotland receive a payment of £230.10 twice a year. However in June 2020 the payment is doubled to £460.20. This is because there will be an extra one-off supplement in recognition of the extra pressure carers are under due to the Coronavirus outbreak. 

What help is available if my employer agrees to furlough me? 

The 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme' is a new type of financial support from the government that helps employers to carry on paying their workers. It is better known as the furlough scheme. Under this scheme employers can apply to the government for help to pay the wages of workers who are unable to work during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Since 10th June the scheme has been closed to new applications. This means that your employer can only furlough you if you have been on furlough at least once before 10thJune. So if your employer hadn't furloughed you by this date, you won't be able to access this scheme. The only exceptions to this will be if you have been on parental leave.

Our Family Finances Adviser Derek explains theCoronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the government's initiative tofinancially support people unable to do their jobs during thecoronavirus outbreak.

If your employer has furloughed you, they can apply to HMRC for a grant to help pay your salary. Under the scheme you will receive at least 80% of your wages (up to a total of £2500 a month). 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.

Initially the government met the full 80% of a furloughed worker's wages, however from August employers using the scheme will be asked to share some of the costs of paying furloughed people's wages. You will still receive 80% of your wages capped at £2,500 per month but the following will apply:

  • From August your employer will have to meet the costs of employers' national insurance contributions and employer's pension contributions. 
  • In September, your employer will have to meet 10% of your wages with the government meeting the other 70%, capped at £2,190.
  • In October, your employer will need to meet 20% of your wages with the government meeting the other 60%, capped at £1,875. 

The scheme is expected to end in late October.

What can I do if my employer says they want to end my furlough and that I need to return to work?

You do not have a right to remain on furlough if your employer doesn't agree to this. This means that they can ask you to return to work. If this happens seek advice from an employment adviser. This is particularly important if you think you may have been discriminated against or if returning to work would place your health and safety at risk. You should also look into whether you have a right to take any leave such as parental leave.     

Who can be furloughed?

New applications for furlough are no longer accepted. In order to be furloughed you must be someone who had been furloughed at least once before 10th June.

Originally it was thought that you could only be furloughed if you was an employee where there was no work for you to do. However, guidance published on 4 April makes clear that people who are unable to come to work due to caring responsibilities or who are shielding a vulnerable family member can also be furloughed. However it is up to your employer whether they agree to continue furloughing you; they cannot be forced to agree to this.  

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

Initially furloughed workers were not allowed to undertake any work for their employer. However from 1st of July employers were able to take furloughed staff back to work on a part-time basis. If your employer decides to do this they are responsible for paying your full wages for the part-time hours you are working and you still be able to get 80% of your wages met for those working hours that you remain furloughed.

Any payments you receive under this furlough scheme will be treated as earnings for benefits and tax credits in the normal way. 

How is the figure for 80% of my wages calculated under the scheme?

The amount paid by the government under the scheme is 80% of your usual pre-tax monthly salary. Usually this will be based on your February pay, but if your earnings vary it will either be based on your earnings in the same month of the previous year or your average earnings over the year 19/20.

If you've worked for your employer for less than a year, it'll be averaged over the period since you've worked there.

What sorts of earnings are included in the calculation?

The 80% figure is based on your regular contractual pay. If will only include overtime if you are guaranteed that overtime in your contract of employment. If you earn a commission it will only include any commission that your employer is contractually obliged to pay.

It won't include the value of any benefits in kind nor any payments that are made at the discretion of the employer, for example discretionary bonuses.

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

Self employed people who have lost profits as a result of the coronavirus outbreak may be able to apply to HMRC for a grant via the self-employment income support scheme. Depending on your circumstances you may also be able to claim means tested benefits. 

The first grant under this scheme covered the three month period from March-May 2020 and covered 80% of your average monthly profits. However, applications for that first grant closed on 13 July 2020 so it is now too late to apply.

A second and final grant will be made in August 2020. This will be a single payment covering a three month period. It will meet 70% of your profits as averaged over 3 years, capped at a total of £6,570. You will be able to apply for this second grant, regardless of whether or not you chose to apply for the first grant. 

Because it is a grant rather than a loan, you will NOT have to pay it back. 

You can apply for this second grant if your business is adveresly effected by the coronavirus on or after 14th July. The grant is aimed at people who have lost profits as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. You can apply even if you still have some income from self-employment. You don't have to show that you have no work coming in. 

Listen to our Family Finances Adviser Derek explain the government's scheme to help self-employed workers through the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

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

  • You have lost profits as a result of the coronavirus outbreak on or after 14 July.
  • You are already in self-employment and have filed a tax return for year 2018/19. This means the scheme is not open to those who started self-employment more recently. 
  • 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.

HMRC are used their records to identify eligible self-employed people and invited them to apply for the first grant from 13 May 2020 onwards. The first grant is now closed. Applications for the second grant will not open until 17 August 2020. Once open for applications, you will need to apply online and will have until the 18 October to make your application. 

Any income you receive from this scheme will be treated as earnings when calculating entitlement to means tested benefits and tax credits. 

I started self-employed after April 2019. Does this mean I can't get help under this scheme?

Unfortunately, this scheme is only open to self-employed people who have a tax return for 18/19. If you weren't self-employed until after tax year 2018/19 you aren't eligible for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme.

However, if you live in Scotland you may instead be able to instead apply for a grant under a new scheme called the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund.

It would also be worth getting advice about other sources of finacial support such as the Coronavirus Small Business Grants scheme and the Coronavirus Discretionary Grants Fund.

You may also be able to access financial support in the form of loans available to small and medium businesses or other financial assistance. Most of the schemes are UK-wide, but in some of the nations additional support may be available. 

For more information see:

UK-wide support

Northern Ireland support

Scotland support

Wales support

You should also seek advice about whether you can claim any additional support via the benefits system

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 ask your employer if they will furlough you. It is up to your employer whether they agree to this or not but if they do you will be paid at least 80% of your wages under the 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme'. 

If they refuse you should check whether you have a contractual right to paid parental leave or paid dependents leave. This will depend on your contract of employment. For most people parental and dependents 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'. 

My child's DLA award is due to run out soon. Will I need to make a new claim to get their benefit renewed? 

The government announced that it was suspending all disability benefit reviews and reassessments for a period of at least 3 months, starting from 23 March 2020. This means that if your child's award is due to run out, it should be temporarily extended and you will not be sent a renewal form until a later date.

A recorded message on the DLA Helpline (on 0800 121 4600) currently tells parents that any DLA renewal forms already sent out do not have to be returned and that your child's award will be extended for 6 months.

Your child's DLA award should be extended automatically without you needing to take any steps. However if your child's DLA or PIP award is coming to an end and you haven't been told in writing that it will be temporarily extended, call the relevant DWP office to confirm if there is anything you need to do to ensure their award doesn't stop.  

If your child's needs have increased it is still possible to ask for their existing award to be looked at again in the normal way. However it is best to get advice before doing this as it is possible for an award to be reduced rather than increased if you ask for it to be reconsidered. 

New claims for DLA are still being accepted as normal. It is best to call the DLA Helpline on 0800 121 4600 and ask for a claim form to be sent to you. Normally you are given six weeks to return the completed form. However, a recorded message on the DLA helpline currently says that you now have 90 days within which to return the form. Check the DLA Helpline number for updates on this timescale.   

Child on DLA turning 16 

If your child is on DLA and turns 16, they are usually invited to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) shortly after their 16th birthday. However for the time being it appears that the DWP intend to extend DLA awards temporarily and your child won't be asked to claim PIP until a later date. If your child is approaching 16 and you have not been contacted by the DWP in writing, call the DLA Helpline to check that their award is being extended.   

What other changes to the benefits system has the government announced?

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. 
  • 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. 
  • Suspending the recovery of all benefit overpayments, tax credit debts and social fund loans from benefit awards. 
  • Allowing Child Benefit claims to be made for new-borns without a birth needing to be registered, while General Register Offices remain closed due to the outbreak.