Coronavirus and welfare benefits

In this article

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.

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:

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.

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 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. 

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 £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 who are asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace Service, and who are 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 Scotland a similiar £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.

Can I get a £500 grant if I’ve had to take unpaid leave because my child is self-isolating due to a Covid outbreak at school?

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.  

Claiming means-tested benefits and tax credits 

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 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 likely to leave you worse off 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 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.

HMRC has said that this policy will last until the end of September 2021. Claimants are also allowed a further 8 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 4 week run-on.

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 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?

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 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 (PIP)

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. This will remain in place until the end of August 2021.

Alongside this the Department for Work and Pensions have said 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. The Scottish government have confirmed that this also applies to carer’s allowance claims in Scotland. 

Help to keep employees in work  

The Furlough Scheme (now extended to September)

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 September 2021.

If your employer has furloughed you, they can apply to HMRC for a grant to help pay your salary. The government will pay 80% of your wages (up to a maximum of £2500 a month) with your employer only being asked to meet any pension and national insurance contributions.

From July your employer will be expected to contribute more towards this scheme. The government will reduce their contribution to 70% and your employer will need to pay 10% of your wages. In August and September the government will pay 60% of wages and your employer will need to pay 20%.

Throughout this period you will still receive 80% of your wages for the hours you are furloughed. 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 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 before May, you need to have been on your employer’s payroll by 30 October 2020 at the latest. If you are furloughed after 1st May you will need to have been on your employers 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. 

Originally it was thought that you could only be furloughed where there was no work for you to do. However, subsequent guidance 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.  

Government guidance says that it you were made redundant in the period after 23 Sept, 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 Sept 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 government has now said that the furlough scheme will be extended until September 2021.

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. 

There have already been 3 grants paid under this scheme covering between 70% and 80% of average monthly profits.

A fourth grant is now available. The fourth grant is a lump sum that will cover a three-month period from February to April. The grant will meet 80% of average profits capped at a total of £7500. For the first time the grant will be opened up to people who became self-employed in tax year 2019/20. Previously applications were only accepted from those who started self-employment before April 2019.

This means that individuals who started self-employment for the first time in 2019/20, might be eligible for the fourth and fifth grants for the first time.

The inclusion of 2019/20 profit figures may also mean that some people who previously received grants get a different amount from what they received before e.g. because their average profits are calculated differently when averaged out over the previous four rather than previous three years. It’s even possible that some may not qualify for the fourth and fifth grants at all, despite getting previous grants.

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. However in order to apply for the fourth grant you must have had a ‘reduced activity, capacity or demand’ during the period Feb-April. This must also be likely to cause a significant reduction in profits during your tax year, compared to what you would have otherwise expected. You must also meet the following rules:    

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

Applications for the 4th grant opened in April but are being staggered to help HMRC cope with demand. If you are eligible HMRC should have contacted by mid April to give you your own specific claim date. This is the earliest date from which you can make an on-line claim via the site. Claims for the fourth grant must be made on or before 1 June 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 by the end of April, contact HMRC.

If you get the fourth grant and you amend your tax return after 2 March 2021 you may need to pay some or all of it back. This will apply if the new amended figures mean that you should have received a smaller amount of fourth grant or that you would not have qualified at all on the correct amended figure.

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.

A fifth grant will be made in the summer. The amount paid in the fifth grant will vary depending on the drop in turnover experienced. Where someone’s turnover has dropped by more than 30% they will receive a grant covering three months at 80% of profits capped at £7500. However, if turnover has dropped by less than 30% the grant will cover 30% of three months profits capped at £2850.

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 2nd 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.

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:

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 during the pandemic the MIF can be temporarily removed for self-employed people if this is seen as reasonable.  This was originally planned to end in April, but the government has now said that the MIF will not be put back in place until August 2021. Even after that date, DWP staff will still have the discretion to extend this for longer in individual cases where COVID is continues to have an impact on self-employment. 

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 suspended all disability benefit reviews and reassessments for a 3-month period between March and June 2020. However, renewal forms are now once more being sent out as normal.  If your child’s DLA or PIP award is coming to an end and you haven’t received a renewal form or been told that it will be temporarily extended, call the relevant DWP office.

Child on DLA turning 16 

If your child is on DLA and turns 16, they are invited to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) shortly after their 16th birthday. Initially during the Coronavirus outbreak the DWP had been extending DLA awards temporarily and asking young people to claim PIP at a later date. However, this policy has now ended and young people on DLA should once more be invited to claim PIP shortly after their 16th birthday (18th birthday in Scotland). If your child is approaching 16 and you have not been contacted by the DWP in writing to explain what to expect, call the DLA Helpline.   

The Covid Winter Grant scheme

All local authorities in England have been given funding by central government to provide support over the winter to families with children and other vulnerable households with the costs of food, heating and other essentials. It is up to each local authority to decide which vulnerable groups to prioritise in their area and also how the help will be provided to families e.g. by cash payments or vouchers. To find out more about how the Covid Winter Grant is being used in your area contact your local authority.  If youre unsure which local authority you come under type your postcode into the search bar at

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: