Coronavirus: Illness or self-isolation

Updated on 10 March 2022

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to have far-reaching financial impacts on individuals and businesses across the UK, and indeed across the world.

If you are ill or self-isolating due to coronavirus, this page explains what you may be able to claim.

Illustration of a family under a roof shielding from germs outside

What is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

Statutory Sick Pay is basically the minimum amount of sick pay you should receive if you are absent from work due to sickness.

In response to COVID-19, certain temporary changes were applied to the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules.

Under the temporary rules, SSP is to be paid to those eligible from the first day of sickness absence rather than the fourth day, for those who are ill from COVID-19 or have to self-isolate in line with official guidance (even if not actually ill). These temporary SSP rules come to an end with effect from 24 March 2022, meaning SSP will no longer be payable from day one. The pre-pandemic SSP rules will apply.

From 24 February 2022, in England, there is no longer a legal obligation to self-isolate. However if you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 or a positive test result, the public health advice is to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

So, those who decide to self-isolate in line with this guidance (even if they don’t have a legal obligation anymore to do it), can still get SSP (even if not actually ill).  

This will also come to an end on 24 March 2022, and then those in England will only be able to get SSP if they are actually ill with COVID-19.

The guidance on self-isolation is different for those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You may also be able to get it in other circumstances, as set out further down the page.

Employees must still have a total period of incapacity for work of at least four days to be eligible for SSP. For example, if someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 but receives a negative test result within the first three days of self-isolation and the self-isolation ends, that absence would not form part of a period of incapacity for work.

Some points of clarification about SSP eligibility

  • SSP (£96.35 from 6 April 2021, rising to £99.35 from 6 April 2022) is available for people who are an 'employed earner' (basically those who are working for an employer who has a liability to pay National Insurance for them), who earn an average of at least the lower earnings limit (£120 in 2021/22 and £123 in 2022/23) and who have done some work under their contract (even if this is just a few hours' worth). This means that if you are in a new job – you may qualify for SSP even if you have not been paid yet.
  • SSP is available to casual, zero-hour contract and agency workers (although the period which you may get SSP might be different). There is some information about SSP and different types of employment on the UK.
  • The earnings taken into account are broadly the average weekly earnings for the prior eight weeks. If you have more than one job, you cannot combine earnings from them to meet this threshold (unless those jobs are with the same employer). On the other hand, if you have two or more jobs and earn enough in both – you can get SSP from both employers.
  • Where you have not yet been in the employment for 8 weeks, SSP is worked out by reference to the amount of pay you are due to be paid under your employment contract.
  • The way SSP works means that part-time workers qualify for SSP at the normal full weekly rate – they do not receive a pro rata amount.
  • People who earn less than the lower earnings limit or who are self-employed (including those treated as self-employed for tax purposes by their engager) are not entitled to SSP – see below for help you might get instead. It is important to understand that SSP is not a ‘worker’ employment law right but rather one that is tied to whether secondary Class 1 National Insurance is payable.
  • Employees should ask their employers for SSP if they think they are entitled to it (agency workers should ask their agency, unless they work through an umbrella company, in which case they should ask their umbrella company). You should be able to get a ‘sick note’, if you need one, from an NHS online facility. But please remember that for the first seven days off work, employees can self-certify, so you do not need any evidence for your employer (note - in a move designed to relieve pressure on the NHS, temporary changes in force from Friday 17 December 2022 to the end of 26 January 2022 in England, Scotland and Wales, allowed employees to self-certify absence for up to 28 days).
  • If you think that SSP is due but your employers have refused to pay SSP, contact the HMRC statutory payment dispute team on 03000 560 630.

In Wales, there is additional funding for employers to pay certain workers at full pay if they cannot work due to COVID-19.

I am shielding. Can I get SSP?

People that were shielding are no longer eligible for either SSP or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) solely on the basis of being instructed to shield. Individuals may, however, be eligible for SSP or ESA if they are sick or unable to work, either due to coronavirus or wider health reasons, provided they meet the other eligibility criteria.

It was possible to be furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme if you were shielding. The Job Retention Scheme closed on 30 September 2021.

I have been contacted by Test and Trace. Can I get SSP?

The NHS Test and Trace system in England ended on 24 February 2022. The rules across different parts of the UK may differ.

Test and Protect, Scotland

Test, Trace Protect, Wales

Contact tracing, NI

You therefore can no longer get SSP for being contacted by Test and Trace in England because Test and Trace no longer exists – even though it is still alluded to on GOV.UK.

A person who has had contact with a someone with coronavirus may be required to self-isolate in accordance with government guidance. The rules relating to SSP temporarily include employees who are self-isolating in these circumstances but those temporary rules end from 24 March 2022.

In response to concerns that people were struggling to self-isolate due to financial constraints, a £500 lump sum support payment was introduced for people on low incomes unable to work from home and who lost income as a result of self-isolating.

The scheme applies to people notified to self-isolate on or after 28 September 2020, not before that date. The scheme in England closed from 24 February 2022, when the legal requirement to self-isolate in England ended. Anyone who was told to self-isolate before 24 February 2022 can still make a claim within 42 days of the first day of self-isolation but the claim must be made no later than 6 April 2022.

The devolved administrations have their own schemes.

I am going to have an operation and been told I have to self-isolate prior to the surgery, can I get SSP?

People can get SSP (provided they meet the general qualifying rules for SSP), where they have had a letter (called a ‘pre-surgery notification’) notifying them that they must self-isolate prior to the surgery or procedure and they are complying with the instruction to self-isolate.

I have to quarantine after being abroad, can I get SSP?

Anyone required to quarantine (self-isolate) after arriving in the UK from abroad is not entitled to SSP if their incapacity for work is solely due to the quarantine.

You can read more about this and some of the potential options for support in our news article: Quarantined upon your return to the UK?. For example, you can, perhaps, ask your employer if it is possible for you to take some paid holiday for the time you are off work. If you go on to develop coronavirus and become ill, SSP may then become payable.

What happens to my tax credits if I claim SSP?

Claimants are treated as in qualifying remunerative work during certain periods of sick leave if they are in receipt of:

  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • short term lower rate incapacity benefit
  • income support on the grounds of incapacity for work
  • employment and support allowance
  • national insurance credits on the grounds of incapacity or limited capability for work

The last three bullet points are time limited to 28 weeks.

You should also be aware that if you do claim SSP (or new-style ESA: see below), it will count as income for tax credit purposes. There is no requirement to report changes to income to HMRC when they happen, but if you do not then you may be overpaid if your income increases or you may miss out on additional credits if your income falls.

How long will I receive SSP for?

SSP usually stops once an employee returns to work (for example once the period of illness or self-isolation ends) or their contract ends (whatever comes first). If you are an agency worker with less than three months continuous employment, any SSP entitlement will continue to the end of any assignment you had agreed to work, rather than in line with the normal rules.

If you have recently received SSP because of the coronavirus (or for any other reason) and are now receiving it again, then this period must be 'linked' with the previous period (even if the sickness is not related) if it is within 8 weeks of the last period of sickness and each period has lasted for at least 4 days.

You should be aware that there is a limit of 28 weeks SSP in any one period of sickness, including in a linked period. So, if you have already received 28 weeks of SSP and the current period of illness is linked to the last period, then no further SSP is due.

You may no longer be eligible for SSP if you have a continuous series of linked periods of absence that lasts more than three years, even if you haven’t been paid 28 weeks' worth of SSP.

Could I get furlough pay rather than SSP?

The Job Retention Scheme closed on 30 September 2021.

While it was running, it was probably not appropriate to ask your employer to furlough you if you were ill or in self-isolation, as the furlough system was not really intended for short term periods off work.

If you were already earmarked to be furloughed for business reasons, and then totally coincidentally you fell ill or were asked to self-isolate, then your employer could furlough you and pay you furlough pay instead of SSP (provided your furlough pay was at least the rate of SSP).

I am self-employed, Can I claim SSP?

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is not available for the self-employed. If you are unable to work because you are ill or are self-isolating then you may be able to claim new-style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have paid enough National Insurance contributions. See the next question for more information.

What if I cannot get SSP?

If you aren't entitled to SSP and your employer or the business you work does not have any other arrangements in place, you may need to access financial support through the benefits system – for example, ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance (the new name for contributory ESA) and/or universal credit (UC). See below if you are already claiming tax credits or other benefits. In a very small number of cases you may still be able to claim income-related employment and support allowance (as well as other benefits UC is replacing) instead of UC.

Which you claim depends on whether you have paid enough NIC to claim new-style ESA (more on this below). Even if you have, you may want to claim UC in addition to topping 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 new claims to these other benefits, although there are some limited exceptions. Instead, if you need financial support you will probably need to claim UC.

⚠️ If you are currently receiving any of the benefits UC is replacing, they will end when you make a UC claim. If you currently receive tax credits, see below. The benefits system is complicated. Before making any claims, you should seek specialist welfare rights advice.

You should also be aware of the following:

  • If you or your partner are classed as a ‘frontier worker’ you may be able to make a claim for one of the benefits that UC is replacing. See our page Who can claim tax credits? 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 savings over a certain level into account 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.

If you/your partner already receive tax credits or benefits

If you are already entitled to working tax credit, you will continue to be treated as in work for up to 28 weeks of your illness/sick leave as long as you would have been entitled to certain sickness benefits if you were employed.

You should also be aware that if you do claim new-style ESA, it will count as income for tax credit purposes. There is no requirement to report changes to income to HMRC when they happen, but if you do not then you may be overpaid if your income increases or you may miss out on additional tax credits if your income falls.

As explained above, if you make a claim for UC, your tax credit claim will end even if you are not entitled to any UC payments.

If you are already in receipt of UC, you should speak to the DWP if you claim new-style ESA. This will be taken into account as income and will reduce your UC pound for pound.

Employment Support Allowance: eligibility

In order to qualify for ‘new-style’ ESA, there are several National Insurance Contribution (NIC) requirements which are explained on the Entitledto website.

Please note that it is possible to fulfil one of the conditions with Class 1 NIC credits (which a person may get in various circumstances) and there are certain relaxations for the other condition.

You should be aware however, that if you are a person in very low-paid employment or self-employment, you are not necessarily going to easily meet those NIC requirements, particularly, for example, if you work in low-paid self-employment and have not yet have filed your tax returns (this is the method through which you pay NIC if you are self-employed).

If you are self-employed and have filed your tax returns, but for whatever reason have paid your Class 2 NIC ‘late’, then you should be aware that the Class 2 is treated as being paid six weeks after it is actually paid, the result being that your payment of ESA can be delayed. You can see this explained in HMRC’s guidance.

(Note that the requirement for Class 2 to be paid by the first Sunday in January after the tax year in question so as not to be late, was later changed to 31 January after the tax year in question.)

UPDATE: HMRC have announced they are going to give people more time with respect to their 2020/21 tax return (due 31 January 2022) and will relax late filing and late payment penalties for a time. As stated above - certain benefits rely on Class 2 National Insurance contributions being paid by 31 January. In relation to this HMRC say:

“Self-employed taxpayers who need to claim certain contributory benefits soon after 31 January 2022, need to ensure their annual Class 2 National Insurance contributions (NICs) are paid on time. This is to make sure their claims are unaffected. Class 2 NICs are included in the 2020 to 2021 Balancing Payment that is due to be paid by 31 January 2022. Benefit entitlements may be affected if they:

  • couldn’t pay their Balancing Payment by 31 January 2022
  • have entered into a Time to Pay arrangement to pay off the Balancing Payment and other Self Assessment tax liabilities through instalments

Affected taxpayers should contact HMRC on 0300 200 3822 for help as soon as possible.”

Access to Work grants

The Access to Work scheme provides government grants to help disabled people start, or stay in, work. It is open to the employed and the self-employed.

The coronavirus pandemic might have affected working life for some disabled people and may have even caused people to become disabled or to have long term health conditions for the first time. You might therefore wish to look into whether Access to Work can help you during this time.

You can read more about this in our news article Access to Work: can you benefit from a grant?.

Further information

GOV.UK has further information as follows:

SSP rules for employees: including all the circumstances related to the coronavirus you can claim it in

Guidance on the rules in complex or unusual situations

General guidance and support for employees during the coronavirus outbreak

Tax guides

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