Coronavirus benefits, sick pay and lost hours: your rights in the UK

Most UK support has focused on employees and those who are ill with Covid-19 because the coronavirus crisis has shut down many workplaces in the UK and forced the government to make major changes to the benefits system to support those who are unable to work.

The self-employed have been told that they can expect more help, but most of the announcements have focused on employees and on anyone who is unable to work because they have the virus.

Depending on which category you are in, here are your rights as things stand currently.

I’m an employee and I’ve been sent home

Some employers have told workers that they will pay them as usual, at least for the next few weeks. If you are in that position and you do not usually receive any benefits, then you will not need to make a claim.

Other employers are not in a position to meet the costs themselves. It is their workers who will be covered by the government’s pledge to cover 80% of wages. This will be claimed by the employers and distributed to staff, so you will not need to do anything yourself. It will be up to employers to decide whether to make up the difference.

The money has not yet been paid to companies – the Treasury has said it will be paid out “within weeks”. The payments will last up to three months and will be backdated to 1 March 2020.

The maximum payment will be £2,500 a month.

I’ve been told to cut my working hours

The scheme to meet 80% of pay applies only to workers whose jobs have been put on hold fully, but there is an entitlement to “guarantee pay” for those who have had their days cut.

This is worth up to £29 a day but typically the payment is limited to only five days in any three-month period. At the moment no change to this has been announced.

I’m on a zero-hours contract and have been sent home

The pledge to meet 80% of wages applies to everyone who is on PAYE – that is, taxed before they are paid.

It is not clear what figure the 80% will be based on. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has said that it will probably involve some kind of smoothing of earnings – that is to say it could be based on an average of recent weeks’ pay so you are not out of pocket if your last week’s wages were much lower than the previous week’s.

I’ve been made redundant

The pay pledge is designed to stop people losing their jobs. By covering their pay, the government hopes that firms will keep positions open so that eventually as many people as possible can return to work.

If your employer has chosen to make you redundant despite this, there are rules that they need to meet – they cannot ignore your usual rights.

The company may have its own policy which is more generous than the statutory minimum. If it does not have its own policy and you have worked for your current employer for at least two years you should be entitled to:

  • Half a week’s pay for each full year you were under 22.
  • One week’s pay for each full year you were 22 or older, but under 41.
  • One and half week’s pay for each full year you were 41 or older.

You can calculate how much you are entitled to here.

I’m self-employed and have lost all of my work

The chancellor has said he is working on pay measures for the self-employed but these have not yet been announced.

In measures announced so far, Sunak has said that he will delay the date at which self-assessment tax payments are due. If you were due to pay a second instalment by 31 July you will not have to do so until January 2021.

He has also removed the minimum income floor for universal credit claims – this should increase what you are entitled to. The standard allowance for a single universal credit claimant aged 25 or over is usually £317.82 a month but it is being increased to £409.89, and there are other elements you may be entitled to.

Couples can claim more; if your partner is still earning that will affect how much you can claim.

You can apply online here.

I’ve been off work because I had to self-isolate

You should be eligible for sick pay. If you are an employee, your employer may have a scheme that is more generous than that offered by the government. If it does, it should pay you that.

Otherwise you will be entitled to statutory sick pay. The payment is worth £94.25 a week and is paid for up to 28 weeks.

The rules have also been changed so that statutory sick pay can be claimed from day one rather than day four as previously.

If you are self-employed you cannot claim statutory sick pay but you can claim universal credit worth the same each week.

You can get the isolation note that you need to show your employer or make a claim here.

I’m well but need to look after someone else

Employees are entitled to time off to look after dependants in an emergency – this includes a partner or parent as well as children.

The time off is unlimited but employers are not obliged to pay you for this. Speak to your employer to find out its policy. If it does not pay, it may agree to let you use holiday or rearrange your working day to limit the financial impact.

I have a mortgage and no work

You can use the mortgage payment holiday scheme announced by the chancellor to stop your payments for three months and give yourself some breathing space.

Lenders have been told that they must not charge fees for this, but there will be an additional cost over the term of your mortgage as interest will be building on the money you haven’t paid off.


Your lender should outline the financial implications if you decide to take up the mortgage holiday. You need to contact them directly. Phone queues are very long but some are offering the service online so check your bank or building society’s website.

Lenders have been told that they must not repossess anyone now.

I can’t pay my rent

There is some help for renters in the form of increases to the local housing allowance – it has been increased so that it covers up to 30% of the market rent in your area. This will help anyone who already claims universal credit or separate housing benefit.

If you do not already claim a benefit and you are losing your job, you will be able to claim for support for housing as part of a universal credit application.

There have also been moves to prevent landlords from evicting tenants, although these just prevent eviction for three months rather than the usual two.

Speak to your landlord if you are having problems. Buy-to-let landlords have the option of taking a payment holiday and passing it on. It will cost them more for their mortgage in the long term, but they may be willing to accept that extra cost or negotiate a way to share it.

Is there any other help?

The sums available through universal credit standard allowance and the basic element of working tax credit are both being increased by £1,040 a year for 12 months.

Local councils have been given a £500m hardship fund so that they can help vulnerable households by reducing council tax for those who receive local council tax support.

How do I know exactly what I can claim?

To find out what your circumstances make you eligible for, use one of the benefits calculators offered by charities. TurntoUs has one (although its site warns that it is very busy so make sure you take a note of the reference on the front page in case of problems).

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