⚠️ We are working hard to ensure this guidance is up to date. However, you should bear in mind that things may change as the government respond to the ongoing situation.

Coronavirus: Employees: work changes

Updated on 10 November 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is having far-reaching financial impacts on individuals and businesses across the UK, and indeed across the world. You may be worried about a reduction in your hours or losing your job. This page explains some of the tax and employment issues you need to be aware of and highlights what financial help you may be able to access.

If you are off work due to illness or because you are self-isolating, see our employees – illness or self-isolation guidance. There is also some useful information on the ACAS website.

Image of a group of working people
(c) Shutterstock / Kurhan

I’ve agreed to take a pay cut/work fewer hours

You and your employer are free to agree on whatever terms and conditions you choose, subject to the various minimum rights and protections set out in employment law.

In terms of pay, even in these difficult circumstances, you need to ensure your employer is paying you the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for any hours you actually work.

You need to consider carefully the effect that a reduction in income/hours may have on things like:

  • entitlement to tax credits (to be entitled to working tax credit you need to meet certain working hours conditions. You do not have to be working to get child tax credit, but your earnings will affect the amount you get)
  • entitlement to state pension or other benefits such as Statutory Maternity Pay.

(Workers who consistently earn below the National Insurance lower earnings limit (LEL) may fail to qualify for a range of contributory benefits such as contributory Jobseeker's Allowance and the state pension. In addition, entitlement to both Statutory Sick Pay and Statutory Maternity Pay are also dependent on whether earnings are above or below the LEL. The LEL is £120 per week in 2020/21.)

If your employer reduced your hours so you still had some work (rather than being unable to give you any hours at all), it was not possible to qualify for any furlough pay from the Job Retention Scheme during the period 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020. However, in cases where employers had work for some staff but not enough work for all, it was possible for employers to rotate employees in and out of periods of work/furlough (so long as each employee spent a minimum of three weeks on furlough).

From 1 July 2020 to 31 October 2020, employers were able to bring previously furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time, while still being able to claim a Job Retention Scheme grant for their usual hours not worked under the ‘flexible furlough’ scheme.

On 31 October 2020 it was announced that the Job Retention Scheme will be extended from 1 November 2020 to 31 March 2021. It is not necessary to have been previously furloughed for the purposes of this extension. More details can be found below.

If my work changes: how does that affect my tax credits?

We have published some detailed information about how tax credits are affected by work changes due to coronavirus. Broadly, if the changes to your work are temporary due to coronavirus, then HMRC will treat you as continuing to work the same number of hours as you were before they reduced. You do not need to tell HMRC about any temporary changes to your working hours due to coronavirus. However, if you have any permanent changes to your work – for example a permanent reduction in hours so that you no long meet the working tax credit requirements or you are made redundant or then you must report that to HMRC. You may receive a four-week run-on of tax credits.

Ive agreed to work at home

For arrangements involving home working, there are potential tax implications to be aware of, including:

  • Tax relief for work-related expenses for the employee: see question below.
  • Tax exemption for homeworking costs met by the employer: see HMRC’s guidance here for more information, which has been supplemented by coronavirus-specific guidance. Note that an announcement has been made to extend this exemption where employers reimburse employees for the cost of certain office equipment, as long as certain conditions are met.
  • Possible exposure of home to business rates instead of council tax: see here for more information (although this is unlikely if there is just minor ‘business’ use).
  • The potential impact on using part of the home for work on the eligibility for private residence relief for capital gains tax (CGT): see HMRC’s guidance here for more information. However, please note that if you use a room in your home for both business and private purposes – for example, you use a room as an office, but you also use it as a guest bedroom: this will not impact availability of relief from CGT.

Further information to help employees (and employers) understand the tax implications when employees are working from home can be found in this guide which has been produced by the CIOT.

You may also find our recent article: Working from home during the virus. What travel expenses might you be able to claim? useful, in which we look at what travel expenses you may be able to claim as tax deductible if you have had to travel for work whilst you have been based at home.


⚠️ Warning: If you have recently used a tax refund company to help claim a working from home tax refund, the paperwork that you signed may mean that they can continue to collect other tax refunds due to you. See our news item which explains more about the issue and what can be done about it.


Can I get tax relief on my homeworking expenses?

If you are asked to work at home, you may be entitled to claim tax relief for your home working expenses, for example, electricity and heating (but not office equipment – see below), whether at the flat rate or based on actual expenses if evidence is kept.

See our news article here for more information.

⚠️ Note: HMRC have confirmed they will accept the need to self-isolate and the national lockdown rules as meaning that you were ‘required’ to work from home for the purpose of meeting the rules. If your employer cannot always accommodate you at the office (even though it is open) for reasons such as social distancing, this would also appear to be covered under ‘required’.

It is less clear what HMRC’s view is of other situations and we will put out further guidance in due course. You cannot claim tax relief for periods of time spent working from home, where this was simply your choice.

You may find it useful to know, that if you only want to ask HMRC to adjust your tax code for homeworking expenses for the current tax year, they have recently launched a micro service where you can do this, which means you don’t have to go through the longer ‘P87 process’.

In HMRC's accompanying press release, they confirmed that a flat-rate claim for employee homeworking expenses can be made for the whole of the 2020/21 tax year regardless of how long the individual was actually ‘required’ to work from home during the year.

Office equipment: a warning about expense claims

We have read in the media suggestions that you can claim tax relief from HMRC using form P87 if you buy home office equipment to use while you are working from home, such as an extra computer screen or a desk and office chair. This is not correct – HMRC will not allow tax relief for these items via an expense claim (although capital allowances may be available to claim via a tax return) and no relaxation to their position on this has been published.

Why? You might ask. The reason is that expenses you incur in connection with your job have to meet a test to qualify for tax relief. This test is that the expense is incurred ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of your duties’.

The bit in bold above stops you from getting tax relief via a P87 claim for buying a desk or chair, for example. You may have bought these items to put you in a position to do your job, or – quite literally – a better or more comfortable position to do your job. This is the subtle but important difference – whether the purchased item enables you to do your job, rather than the expense being incurred while doing your job.

Things like printer cartridges and paper are different, as these are items you use while doing the job itself. For example, your work might involve writing a letter that you need to print out and post. The cost of the ink, the paper, the envelope and the stamp are all necessarily incurred by you in doing the job. These items would normally be reimbursed by your employer, but if they were not, you could make a claim for tax relief.

I stopped working before the end of the 2019/20 tax year: can I claim a tax refund?

If you receive employment income and pay tax through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system you may sometimes pay too much tax, for example, if you stop work part way through the tax year.

This is because the personal allowance (£12,500 in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 tax years) is usually divided throughout the year so you receive a proportion in each pay packet. If you stop work part way through a tax year, you will not have received your entire tax-free allowance and will have paid too much tax.


Example

Luke is on a zero hours contract and is paid weekly. Luke’s last payslip in the 2019/20 tax year (dated 13 March 2020) indicated he had earned £14,560 and paid £556.20 in tax. On 16 March, his employer told Luke there was no work for the foreseeable future.

At the end of the 2019/20 tax year Luke’s tax position is:

Earnings £14,560

Less PA (£12,500)

£2,060 @ 20% = £412

We can see that Luke has overpaid £144.20 in tax (£556.20 less £412). This is because up until 13 March (week 49 of the tax year), Luke had only been given 49 weeks’ worth of his personal allowance (£11,778), whereas actually he was due £12,500.


HMRC’s automatic reconciliation system should aggregate his pay and tax details after the end of the 2019/20 tax year and HMRC should issue him with a tax repayment automatically. He should also receive a P800 tax calculation. It is important that he checks the calculation and that the repayment is correct, as set out in our guidance.

P800s are usually issued in the summer months following the end of the tax year. If you have still not received your P800 for 2019/20 by October 2020, say, you should be able to prompt HMRC to reconcile your position/issue your refund by contacting them. There is more information on how to do this, including example letters, in our Tax basics section.

What if I stop work in the 2020/21 tax year?

If you finish working for your employer in 2020/21 and do not think you will work again before the end of the tax year (5 April 2021), you might be able to ask HMRC to issue you a refund of some of the 2020/21 tax paid by using form P50. This can be used to trigger in-year refunds, rather than having to wait until the end of the tax year.

You should not need to send in your P45, however, if the details on your form P50 do not match HMRC payroll records, then you may be asked to send it in – so keep it somewhere safe.

⚠️ Note: you cannot use form P50 if you are claiming, or intending to claim certain taxable state benefits (such as Jobseeker's Allowance or contributory/new style Employment and Support Allowance) or expect to receive other taxable income (such as from a works pension) before the end of the tax year. In that case, you would give your P45 to the Jobcentre when you claim the benefit or give it to your new employer or pension provider. Your earnings and tax paid to date, together with your existing tax code, should then be factored into the tax taken from the new source of income.

What if Im laid-off/made redundant?

You can find guidance on being laid-off and/or made redundant on GOV.UK.

If you’re being made redundant, you might be eligible for certain things, including a notice period, accrued holiday pay, or redundancy pay.

If you have been furloughed, you may find our news article: I’ve been made redundant, how much notice pay should I receive? useful, as it looks at what the situation is with your notice pay if you are made redundant during your period of furlough.

We look at the general tax implications of receiving redundancy pay etc. on our website and more specifically at being made redundant as a consequence of the coronavirus on the dedicated page in this section.

If you are getting tax credits, please see our Tax credits and coronavirus page for more information.

What is the Job Retention Scheme?

The Job Retention Scheme helps employers pay their workers’ wages if they are unable to work during the coronavirus crisis. Under the Job Retention Scheme, an employer can claim a grant so that a ‘furloughed’ worker can receive up to 80% of their usual wages, via their employer’s payroll, up to a total of £2,500 each month.

Please be aware that there is no obligation on employers to furlough their staff – it is a commercial decision for each employer.

From 1 March to 30 June 2020, it was not possible to work for your employer at all if you were furloughed. From 1 July to 31 October, if you had been previously furloughed, it was possible to be ‘flexibly furloughed’ and work some hours (which should have been paid for by the employer as normal).

On 31 October 2020, it was announced that the Job Retention Scheme will be extended from 1 November 2020 to 31 March 2021 to help employers pay their workers' wages, both where they are only able to work some hours and where they are unable to work any hours at all.

It is not necessary to have been previously furloughed by your employer for the purpose of this extension, however, to qualify to be included on your employer's Job Retention Scheme claim from 1 November 2020, you need to have been included on an employer’s payroll submission to HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 11.59 pm on 30 October 2020. This should be the case provided you have received some wages during the relevant dates.

If you were on an employer’s payroll on 23 September 2020 (i.e. had been included on an employer's payroll submission to HMRC on or before 23 September) and were made redundant or stopped working for them afterwards, you can also qualify for the scheme if your ex-employer is prepared to re-employ you. You should be aware that there are employment law considerations that go along with re-hiring employees, so ex-employers may be reluctant to do this.

For claim periods running to January 2021, employers will receive a grant to pay 80% of their qualifying employee's usual wages for usual hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. The £2,500 cap is proportional to the hours not worked.

The government will review the policy in January to decide whether economic circumstances are improving enough to ask employers to contribute more. If employers are asked to make more of a contribution to the costs of keeping employees on full furlough or flexible furlough, you should still receive up to 80% of your wages (subject to the £2,500 cap) for any hours not worked.

You can read the Job Retention Scheme guidance for employees on GOV.UK. We expect that detailed guidance on the scheme extension will be provided in the next few days, although it appears that largely, the extended Job Retention Scheme will operate as the previous scheme did. The main change seems to be that the basis for the calculations of usual wages and usual hours will be updated for many of those entering the Job Retention Scheme from 1 November for the first time.

Guidance on the accrual of holiday leave and pay during furlough, can be found on GOV.UK.

Any payments you receive under the Job Retention Scheme will be treated as normal earnings for Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax and NIC purposes.

In general, the correct taxing point for any Job Retention Scheme payments will be the date your received them, although if there was a delay in you receiving payments under the Job Retention Scheme, it may be possible, in some cases, to argue (where this would be beneficial to you), that the payments should actually be taxed when the entitlement arose.

They also count as employment income for tax credits and universal credit (UC). A breakdown of how the payments count for other welfare benefits, can be found here.

We have written many articles about various aspects of the Job Retention Scheme over the past few months, which may help offer some clarification if you have any questions about your position. They reflect our understanding of the situation as at the time of writing. You can find the date they were published under the title.

  • In the period 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, you should not have undertaken any work for your employer, including answering calls or emails. Further to our press release, employees can use this online fraud reporting facility to report employers who asked them to work while furloughed. The form looks quite long, but you do not need to complete all the fields and you do not have to give your details.
  • From 1 July 2020 to 31 October 2020, employers were able to bring furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim a grant for the hours not worked (‘flexible furlough’). However, employers could only flexibly furlough employees that they had furloughed for a full three-week period before 30 June. This means that the final date by which an employer could furlough an employee for the first time, in order to be able to enter the 1 July to 31 October scheme, was 10 June.
  • If you were not designated as ‘furloughed’ for the first time by 10 June, it may have been possible for earlier periods of inactivity to be considered as a furlough period for the purposes of your employer claiming a Job Retention Scheme grant for you. Our article: ‘Not designated ‘furloughed’ by 10 June? It may not be too late for your employer to claim for you under the Job Retention Scheme’ explains the detail. Note: most employers had until 31 July to make a claim for the period to 30 June.

We have put together some specific information on how the Job Retention Scheme applies if you work through an agency or umbrella company, as we know that this is not at all clear:

  • Umbrella workers: have you only recently been furloughed? (2 June 2020). By way of an update to the question ‘Will I be furloughed?’ in the last article, HMRC have recently indicated to us that a worker does not need to have been on live assignment to be eligible for a grant but ultimately it is for the agency or umbrella company to decide what is the most appropriate approach. It also seems possible for an agency or umbrella company to place their workers back on to assignments under flexible furlough, as explained here.
  • You can find some information on what to do if you think your employer has not paid you enough during your period of furlough here. Note, that it is now possible for employers to correct underpayments and under-claims so, you may wish to check that you have been paid enough under the Job Retention Scheme. For example, one thing that only became clear sometime after the scheme had been rolled out, was that the ‘higher of’ calculation (to work out furlough pay for variable workers), was intended to be done each and every pay day. Anybody that is a variable worker, and who has received the same amount of furlough pay each pay day, may have been underpaid.
  • If you are on UC, then given all the disruption and difficulties facing employers and business since the coronavirus outbreak started, your UC award may be impacted. It is important to be aware of this so you can plan for any changes to your finances as we explain in our news piece: Universal credit and furlough: what you need to know. You can find more detail about Universal credit and employee pay during the coronavirus on our dedicated page in this section.
  • If you have been asked to return to the workplace, you may be wondering what happens with your benefits and taxes if your pay increases as a result of returning to work– we cover this in our news piece Returning to work after being furloughed, what to expect (Note: this was written before the ability for employers to ‘flexible furlough’ from 1 July 2020 was announced).
  • If you work under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS), then you are not covered under the Job Retention Scheme and will need to apply for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme as explained in our news piece: I work in the construction industry: which coronavirus scheme do I qualify for? Be aware that if you source work in the construction industry via an agency/umbrella company, you might be having PAYE deducted at source, rather than CIS, which means that you have not been treated as self-employed.
  • If you have been paid cash in hand for work you have done, you might still be able to claim some welfare support as we explain here.

Although the scheme is intended to support employees financially, it is the employer who has to apply for the grant and there is no obligation on them to do so. You can therefore read about the scheme in more detail in our Guidance for employers section.

You should also keep an eye on our news feed, as we are continuing to publish articles and updates on the Job Retention Scheme.

If your employer can’t or won’t furlough you, then you may want to look in to claiming help through welfare benefits, such as universal credit (UC). But the benefits system is complicated and we strongly recommend you contact a welfare rights adviser who will be able to go through things with you and help identify your best options.

What is the Job Support Scheme?

The Job Support Scheme was a new employer support scheme announced in September 2020, which was due to replace the Job Retention Scheme with effect from 1 November 2020. However, as the Job Retention Scheme has been extended until 31 March 2021, the Job Support Scheme is no longer required for the time being.

My PAYE coding notice is collecting tax debt from a previous year and I can’t afford to pay the debt because of my reduced income. What can I do?

HMRC have been issuing, and are continuing to issue, coding notices for the tax year 2020/21 that started on 6 April. Some of these coding notices will collect underpayments of tax for previous tax years. It is important to check your coding notice carefully as it determines how much tax your employer must take from your pay before the rest to you. If you do not agree the figures in your coding notice, you should contact HMRC to have the relevant changes made.

Any underpaid tax from prior periods would normally be collected over 12 months if it is collected through your coding notice. In the current circumstances, it is possible that your family finances may have changed significantly so that you would find it difficult to pay that extra tax over 12 months. If this is the case, contact HMRC without delay and ask for the debt to be collected over a longer period. The longest period that HMRC normally agree to spread debt collection over is three years. If the debt is collected over a longer period, this should mean you have more after-tax income than you would otherwise have had.

What benefits can I claim if I lose my job?

If you have been employed and you become unemployed, for example you are laid-off permanently, but you are not sick or self-isolating, you may be able to claim new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance or JSA (the new name for contributory Jobseeker’s Allowance). If you, or both you and your partner if you have one, have reached state pension credit age then you cannot claim JSA but may be able to claim pension credit. Like new-style ESA, there are national insurance contribution (NIC) requirements associated with new-style JSA which are alluded to in the JSA guidance on the GOV.UK website but in summary the two conditions are that:

  • You must have paid, or be treated as having paid, at least 26 weeks contributions on earnings at or above the lower earnings limit (LEL) in one of the last two complete tax years immediately before the relevant benefit year (which is usually the calendar year when you meet the entitlement conditions and submit your claim). This condition can be relaxed in certain situations.
  • You must have paid contributions or received NIC credits on earnings of at least 50 times the LEL in each of the two complete tax years immediately before the relevant benefit year.

For example: if you make your claim for benefit in 2020, it is the LEL for 2017/18 or 2018/19 which counts. The LEL for these years were £113 (2017/18) and £116 (2018/19) so to satisfy the first condition you would have had to have earned at least £2,938, over at least 26 weeks, in 2017/18 or £3,016 in 2018/19. The 26 weeks do not need to be consecutive, but weeks in which you earned less than the LEL do not count towards the total.

To satisfy the second condition you would have had to have paid contributions on earnings of £5,650 in 2017/18, and £5,800 in 2018/19. Credits wise, you would have needed to have received a Class 1 NIC credit for at least 50 weeks in each of the relevant tax years.

Neither condition requires that you have worked for the whole of the relevant two-year reference period. However, if you don’t qualify for new-style JSA, you will have to rely on income-based benefits. For most people, this will be UC.

Which you claim depends on whether you have paid enough NIC to claim new-style JSA. Even if you have, you may want to claim UC in addition, to top- up your income.

UC is gradually replacing six other benefits: working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-related employment and support allowance and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. The majority of people can no longer make claims to these other benefits, although there are two exceptions. Instead, if you need financial support you will need to claim UC.

You should also be aware of the following:

  • If you or your partner get or have recently received a severe disability premium in certain benefits or are classed as a ‘frontier worker’ you may be able to make a claim for one of the benefits that UC is replacing. This includes income-based JSA. See our information in the main part of our website. This is complex and you should seek advice BEFORE making any UC claim if you think this might apply to you.
  • If you are currently receiving any of the benefits UC is replacing, they will end when you make a UC claim.
  • UC takes into account savings and your partner’s circumstances and income. If their income is too high, you may not qualify for any help.
  • If your partner receives contribution-based ESA – which was the old name for new-style ESA – you may be able to ask for it to be re-assessed to include an income-based element to top-up your income instead of claiming UC. If you are in this situation, you should seek advice.

The benefits system is complicated. If any of the points above apply or you are unsure, you should seek specialist welfare rights advice before making any UC claim.

General guidance on claiming benefits and in particular UC, if you lose your job can be found in our news article: Have you just left work and need to claim universal credit?.

If you want help or advice on JSA or any other benefits, we strongly recommend you speak to a welfare rights adviser who can go through a full benefits check with you.

Coronavirus guidance: more information
Information for employers Taking money from your savings
What is the Job Retention Scheme? Taking money from your pension
Employees: illness or self-isolation Help with paying your tax
Employees: work changes Information if you are a student or are repaying your student loan
Employees: universal credit and pay Accessing money in childcare schemes
Redundancy explained High Income Child Benefit Charge: What to do if your income falls?
Support for limited company directors School closures: family members might be able to claim state pension ‘babysitting’ credits
Self-Employment Income Support Scheme Childcare support and benefits for children
SEISS parental extension Inheritance tax exemption
Self-employment and paying tax Support for Carers
Self employment: Illness or self-isolation Carer’s allowance: can you claim?
Self-employment: work changes Volunteering and job opportunities
Help for businesses in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales Scams: please be vigilant!
Test and Trace Support payment Dealing with HMRC during the coronavirus outbreak

Tax penalties: coronavirus ‘relaxations’

Coronavirus guidance home page

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