Here's what you need to know about the new government measures.
Weeks ago, few of us could have imagined the situation we find ourselves in today. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed modern-day life as we know it. Whilst many of us are dealing with the shocking life changes that have been put in place and the fear of the illness itself, there's another worry on our minds: finances. Since the virus has caused huge financial turmoil, the government has been fast to respond with emergency measures.
As we break down some of the new policies in place, please note that the official line on the coronavirus pandemic and your work rights is rapidly changing. You should be sure to keep your eye out for further developments in the coming weeks as they may affect you.
Do you have to go into work during COVID-19?
If you are concerned about catching the coronavirus or exposing others to germs, you likely don't want to go into work at this time. The latest government advice is that we should all work from home if we can. That said, as things currently stand, that decision is technically down to your employer. That means that if your boss says you have to come into your workplace, you may have to comply with what they say, despite your qualms about it.
Despite this fact, remember that your employer has a duty to listen to your concerns. Whilst they may not agree that you can work from home, there may be alternative options you can explore. For example, you can speak to your employer about taking holiday or unpaid leave to cover this period.
What if you become a 'furloughed worker'?
Significant layoffs are an expected outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the government is trying to minimise that result. They've responded by putting in place a 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme', an emergency relief that is available to all UK businesses with employees.
The scheme protects workers who would have otherwise been laid off due to the economical impact of the virus. Instead of becoming unemployed, they become a 'furloughed worker', meaning that they do not work during this period but will return to their regular position after the outbreak is over. In the meantime, employers can get 80 per cent of a furloughed worker's wages (up to £2,500 per month) covered by the government.
If your boss makes this decision on your behalf and you become a furloughed worker, your manager will notify you and let you know how your payments will be worked out in the coming weeks or months. At this point, you should direct any questions you have to them.
In some circumstances, your boss may decide to cover the extra 20 per cent of your wages, which would mean that you get a full salary each month during the outbreak period. Of course, this decision is entirely at your boss' discretion, and you will have to work out the details with them.
What's more, as part of the scheme, wages can be backdated to 1 March 2020. This package will last at least three months and may be extended as part of the government's changing policies.
What if you're self-employed and lose your income?
Needless to say, COVID-19 has hit all workers across the UK, including self-employed individuals. If you work for yourself, you are not entitled to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Right now, self-employed people can apply for Universal Credit, which comes in at £94.25 per week.
However, there has been a lot of pressure on the government to provide more support to these workers. A proposed amendment to the Coronavirus Bill would entitle freelancers and self-employed workers to 'Statutory Self-Employment Pay' should they lose their income. If the amendment is accepted, it would mean that the government would offer these workers up to 80 per cent of their monthly pay.
To work out how much you would be entitled to, the government would take an average of your income over the last three years. This data is already held by HMRC, thanks to your self-assessment payments. The scheme would cover 80 per cent of your average monthly pay or £2,917 per month, depending on which is lower. Of course, this amendment has not been accepted yet, so keep checking for more updates.
What if you get sick due to the coronavirus?
If you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or need to self-isolate with someone who is, you should be entitled to the newly updated Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
To qualify, you need to be currently earning more than £118 per week. SSP currently stands at £94.25 per week, but you should note that these criteria are changing as of 6 April 2020. After that point, if you are earning more than £120 per week, you will be entitled to £95.85 per week.
You will need to provide an employer with a sick note in order to be eligible for SSP. Keep in mind that you should not go to your doctor to get this note unless you are in a high-risk condition. Instead, you can call NHS 111 to get an over-the-phone consultation and note.
This support package will be paid starting on the first day that you get ill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, your employer may offer a larger sick pay package. You will need to consult your contract to see what funds are available and speak with your company directly.
What if you get sick and earn less than £118 per week?
If you currently earn under the £188 per week (£120 as of 6 April 2020) threshold for SSP, you will not be eligible for payments. In this case, if you get sick, you may be entitled to Universal Credit instead. You can apply for Universal Credit through the government website.
Before doing so, you should check to see whether this application will affect any other benefits you may be claiming right now. For example, if you already claim Tax Credits or Housing Benefits, they may be impacted here. It may be worth speaking to a representative from Citizen's Advice before making a claim.
The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted workers all across the UK. These uncertain times are difficult for all of us, and it's important to understand your rights. As the situation is rapidly changing, make sure that you keep up to date with the latest government announcements.
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