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 have stopped working or seen 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 Covid outbreak. Further changes may be announced so this webpage will be updated regularly.

In this article

Help when off work through illness or self-isolation 

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

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.

Statutory sick pay (SSP)

Employees who are unable to work because they are either unwell or sharing a household with someone who has coronavirus symptoms should be able to claim SSP, so long as their earnings are usually more than £120 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. 

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 £120 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 £74.35 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 been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms can instead provide an ‘isolation note’ from the NHS website to give to your employer when you claim SSP. 

If you’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that you’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus, your notification is proof.

If you’ve been advised by your doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery, your letter confirming the date of your procedure is proof.

If you live in an area with local restrictions that include advice to shield and you need to take extra precautions, you should get a letter from your doctor or a health authority telling you this and submit it with your claim. 

Test and Trace Support Payment 

In England, low-income workers asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace Service and unable to work from home during their period of self-isolation, and who lose money as a result, can apply to their local authority for a £500 payment.

You can apply if you are employed or self-employed and have claimed at least one of the following benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit or Housing Benefit. 

Local authorities also have the discretion to make a payment to workers who aren’t on one of these benefits, but who are on low incomes and who face financial hardship as a result of not being able to work. 

In England, you are only entitled to a payment if you are a worker who has been told to self-isolate and have a NHS Test and Trace notification code. This means it doesn’t cover the parents of self-isolating children, where there has been an outbreak in an education or childcare setting. The rules are different in Scotland and Wales where parents of self-isolating children can access a grant.

If you are a parent in England who is not working because your child is self-isolating, get proof of the outbreak from your child’s education or childcare placement and apply for a discretionary payment from your local council.

In Scotland a similar £500 payment known as the Self Isolation Support Grant is available. This can be claimed from the Scottish Welfare Fund run by local authorities. To apply, you must be a low income worker who has been told to self isolate by the Test and Protect Programme in Scotland and will face a loss of income as a result of having to self-isolate. The grant also covers low income workers who are having to take unpaid leave because they have a child who has been asked to self-isolate. 

The grant is targeted at those in receipt of certain means-tested benefits and to those who would be entitled to UC except for their income, workers earning the real living wage and those on a council tax reduction. Local authorities have some discretion to make payments to others in financial hardship.  

The Welsh government have also introduced a £500 payment Self Isolation Support Scheme for low-income workers who are asked to self-isolate by the NHS Wales Test Trace Protect Service, who are unable to work from home and who will lose earnings as a result. You can also apply if you are a worker on a low income who is having to take unpaid leave because your child has had to self-isolate. Apply on-line via your local authority.  

In Northern Ireland a person (or their immediate family member) who has Covid-19, or who has been told to self-isolate in accordance with the latest guidance published by the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being, may be able to access a discretionary Support Self Isolation grant along with other discretionary Covid 19 support. Contact the Finance Support Service in Northern Ireland for more details on eligibility criteria.

Claiming means-tested benefits and tax credits 

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

If you are not working for other reasons than being unwell or self-isolating, 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  

If you’re 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.  Remember that payments from the Coronavirus job retention scheme (better known as the furlough scheme) and grants from the Self Employment Income Support scheme are treated as earnings.

You have the option of claiming Universal Credit rather than your current means-tested benefits.

Note: 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. 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 likely to leave you worse off in the longer term once the situation normalises. See our Universal Credit page for more.

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:

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.

Up until the end of September 2021 HMRC are applying a different policy. If due to the Coronavirus outbreak you are temporarily not working or are on reduced hours temporarily, this will be ignored by the Tax Credits Office. This applies both to employees and self-employed people.   

HMRC have said that you don’t 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. However you should still notify any changes in your childcare costs.

Claimants are also allowed a further eight weeks during which they can be treated as eligible for working tax credit, where they have returned to work but are waiting to resume their normal hours.

These rules only apply where the change in your working hours is temporary. You should still report if you decide to change your hours permanently. You must also tell them if you or your partner loses their job, are made redundant or ceases trading altogether. In these sorts of situations you will cease to be eligible for working tax credit after a temporary four week run-on.

If you’re 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 benefits like Universal Credit will I have to attend interviews or meetings at my local job centre?

Between March and June 2020, people receiving benefits were not required to attend any job centre appointments. Furthermore, those people claiming benefits Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Credit, and who are normally expected to look for work as a condition of claiming their benefit, had any work search requirements suspended during that three month period.  

From July 2020, work-related conditions started to be applied to these claims once more. However, this is at the discretion of your DWP work coach. The DWP have said that those claimants normally expected to look for work will not be asked to do anything ‘unreasonable’ and during the pandemic any work-related conditions will be tailored to reflect coronavirus restrictions.

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

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 Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment 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 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. This rule will end on 31 August 2021.

Alongside this the Department for Work and Pensions allowed emotional support, such as that provided by telephone or social media, to 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. The Scottish government have confirmed that this also applies to carer’s allowance claims in Scotland. These rules will also end on the 31 August. From that date only practical support provided predominantly face to face will count as care.

Help to keep employees in work  

The Furlough Scheme

The ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ is a 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. The scheme is now expected to run until the end of September 2021.

You will receive 80% of your wages for the hours you are furloughed (up to a maximum of £2500 a month). The amount your employer must contribute to this 80% has increased over the last few months. In August and September, the government will pay 60% of wages and your employer will need to pay 20%. Your employer can also choose to make up the extra 20% of your wages not covered by the scheme, but they are 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.

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 or the health and safety of a child at risk. You should also look into whether you have a right to take any leave such as parental leave. 

Who can be furloughed?

In order to be furloughed now, you will need to have been on your employer’s payroll by 2nd March.

You don’t need to have been furloughed previously and it doesn’t matter if your employer didn’t make use of the furlough scheme earlier in the year. 

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.  

Government guidance says that it you were made redundant in the period after 23 September 2020, your employer can choose to re-employ you and furlough you under the scheme. For this to apply you must have been on your employers payroll before 23rd September 2020 and have either been made redundant or left voluntarily after that’ date.  

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

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

Can I work part-time while furloughed?

Initially furloughed workers were not allowed to undertake any work for their employer. However this has now changed and you can now work part-time and be furloughed for the hours you don’t work. Where this happens you will be paid by your employer in full for the hours you work and that they can claim back help with 80% of your wages for the hours you don’t work.

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.

When will the furlough scheme end?

The furlough scheme is due to finish at the end of September 2021.

Help for self-employed people

Self-employment Income Support Scheme

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. 

There have already been four grants paid under this scheme covering between 70% and 80% of average monthly profits.

A fifth and final grant is now available. The grant is aimed at people who expect to lose profits as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak during the period May-September 2021. 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. 

You will need to show that you reasonably believe that there will be a significant reduction in your trading profits between May and September 2021 and that this reduction is caused by reduced demand, activity or capacity or being temporarily unable to trade due to the impact of coronavirus. You will need to make a declaration confirming this as part of the application process.

You must also meet the following rules:    

How much of a grant will I get?

Previous grants under this scheme automatically covered 80% of average profits for a three-month period. The fifth grant works differently. Your grant will either cover 80% or 30% of average profits – which of these two rates you’ll get depends on how much your turn-over has dropped by. You’ll need to give HMRC two different turnover figures so they can compare how your business fared during the pandemic with how it performed before. Normally they will compare turnover in 20/21 with turnover in 19/20, although 18/19 can be used instead in some circumstances.

Applications for the 5th grant are open. If you are eligible HMRC should have contacted you to give you your own specific claim date. This is the earliest date from which you can make an online claim via the site. Claims for the fifth grant must be made on or before 30 September 2021. If you think you are eligible for a grant but haven’t received an email, text or letter from HMRC telling you when you can claim, contact HMRC. When you apply you will not only have to provide details of your turn-over in the two relevant years 20/21 but will also need to provide your:

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

For Universal Credit, a payment from the scheme is only treated as earnings in the monthly assessment period in which the payment was made to you. This means you will not be expected to repay any Universal Credit from earlier months when you were waiting for a payment from the scheme.

I started self-employed after April 2020. 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 19/20. You must also have submitted a tax return for 19/20 by 2 March 2021 at the latest. If you didn’t start self-employment until after tax year 2019/20, you aren’t eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Other financial support for self-employed people

It would also be worth getting advice about other sources of financial 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:

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.

During the pandemic the MIF can be temporarily removed for self-employed people if this is seen as reasonable due to the impact of Covid on your business.  This easement in the rules for self employed people is due to be phased out from the 31 July if it decides that your self employment is no longer seriously effected by Covid.

Other changes to the benefit system

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: