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Quarantined upon your return to the UK?

Published on 11 August 2020

The coronavirus situation may mean that you now face quarantine upon your return to the UK from time spent abroad. Here we look at some potential options for financial support if you cannot work as a consequence.

coronavirus quarantine sign on a door
(c) Shutterstock / VirtualShutter

The government has recently announced a two-week quarantine on people returning to the UK from various countries including Spain and Belgium. You may be wondering what financial support might be available if you are affected by this and cannot work.

The official guidance on 'how to self-isolate when you travel to the UK' can be found on GOV.UK, although it does not specifically cover what financial support you may be able to get, if any.

If you are employed

If you can work from home during your period of isolation then obviously you should do so (assuming you stay well enough and your employer agrees). You should receive full pay, as normal, if you do this. However, for some people this is not an option and the alternatives below may need to be explored instead.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Currently, those who are required to quarantine (self-isolate) for 14 days after arriving in the UK from abroad are not entitled to SSP.

GOV.UK clearly states: “You cannot get SSP if you’re self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.”

Your employer could choose to pay you sick pay anyway, but this would be at their discretion.

You may still qualify for SSP if you fall in one of the other categories of those that can claim SSP, for example if you have coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating because you live with someone who has symptoms. You can find out more about the circumstances when you can claim SSP on GOV.UK.

Annual leave

If you have enough annual leave entitlement left, you could ask your employer if it is possible for you to take some paid holiday for the time you are off work so that you can continue to get paid (although you should remember that the purpose of paid leave is for you to rest, relax and enjoy leisure time – which you may not be able to do if you go on to develop coronavirus and become ill – SSP would be more appropriate instead).

Furlough

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) allows employers to claim a grant to help pay your wages for periods during which employees are furloughed.

The Treasury Direction (the scheme rules for the Job Retention Scheme) published on 26 June includes the following wording: “Integral to the purpose of CJRS is that the amounts paid to an employer pursuant to a CJRS claim are used by the employer to continue the employment of employees in respect of whom the CJRS claim is made whose employment activities have been adversely affected by the coronavirus and coronavirus disease or the measures taken to prevent or limit its further transmission”

The CJRS already gave employers quite a lot of flexibility – for example, it may be used in cases where people cannot work because they are shielding or they have childcare responsibilities. The wording above would seem to give employers increased scope to furlough people in other circumstances, even if work would otherwise be available.

The ACAS website also suggests it is possible for an employer to furlough someone who is in quarantine after arriving back in the UK from abroad. If correct, it means provided you have already been furloughed and included on your employer's Job Retention Scheme claim at least once prior to 30 June, you could potentially be furloughed again for the quarantine period and receive 80% of your usual salary. Note that the 3-week minimum furlough period no longer applies from 1 July, so you could be furloughed for only 14 days (or even less, if the mandatory quarantine period is reduced).

Note, the GOV.UK website states that ‘Short term illness/self-isolation should not be a consideration in deciding whether to furlough an employee’ – which suggests it may not be possible for employers to furlough employees in these circumstances unless there are other business reasons to do so. However, ensuring that an employee does not break the law by coming into work if they are supposed to be quarantining may well be a business reason.

We advise anyone in this position to speak to their employer first and any employers who are considering furloughing in these circumstances to confirm the position directly with HMRC.

Ultimately there is no obligation on employers to furlough any employee. In addition, as the employer costs of furloughing may increase from August, employers may be more reluctant to offer assistance in this way.

If you are self-employed

If your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus (and you meet all the other conditions) you may be eligible for a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). In order to have claimed under the first round of the scheme, the business must have been adversely affected on or before 13 July. Claims for grants under the first round are no longer possible, although there are some limited exceptions. To claim under the second round of the scheme, the business must be adversely affected on or after 14 July 2020. Claims for the second grant will start from 17 August.

HMRC have issued no specific guidance on whether not being able to work because of having to quarantine counts as being adversely affected. However, they have said that when looking at whether a business has been adversely affected, there is no specific monetary threshold, and no requirement for income or profits to have fallen by a certain amount.

HMRC also gives the following examples of how a business could be adversely affected by COVID-19:

You are unable to work because you:

  • are shielding
  • are self-isolating
  • are on sick leave because of coronavirus
  • have caring responsibilities because of the coronavirus

HMRC have produced some examples to illustrate when the criteria for being adversely affected might be met for the purposes of the first and second grants under the scheme.

Please note that HMRC can claw back grants in instances where they consider you were not entitled to claim. This would include the case where you claimed a grant but your business was not adversely affected in the relevant period, for example because you actually had no work lined up anyway in the period that you had to quarantine, you easily managed to move the work around, or you were able to keep your business going at the same level as usual, but from home.

Note, also, that no claim may be made if it is 'abusive or is otherwise contrary to the exceptional purpose of SEISS'. You should also note that the SEISS grant is an ‘all or nothing grant’ – that means you will get the equivalent of 70% of 3 months' profits, even if you were not affected for a full 3 months. You can read our guidance here and if you are in any doubt about claiming you can contact the HMRC coronavirus support helpline.

Welfare benefits

If you need financial support, you should consider whether you can claim any state benefits. The main working age benefit is universal credit. Universal credit is a monthly payment and not really designed to be responsive to very short term absences from work, not least because even if you are not paid whilst quarantined for 14 days, any earnings that you (and/or your partner) have in the rest of the monthly 'assessment period' will be taken into account in the calculation of your award. If you are already claiming universal credit, then it should automatically adjust if your earnings fall in most cases.

Universal credit may be helpful for some but if you already claim any of the six benefits that universal credit is replacing, including tax credits or housing benefit, you should also be aware that those benefits will terminate if you make a claim for universal credit. It is important that you get advice before claiming universal credit if you are in receipt of any other benefits.

If you cannot claim SSP, you may be able to claim new-style employment and support allowance. The Government haven’t yet confirmed officially whether the entitlement conditions for ESA, which have included periods of shielding for some, now also include periods of quarantine for those returning from abroad. You can read more about these welfare benefits, in particular, the eligibility conditions for ESA, in our guidance. You should contact a local advice agency to see if you may be eligible for ESA or any other benefits based on your individual circumstances.

Contact: Meredith McCammond (click here to Contact Us)
(First published: 11/08/20)

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