Coronavirus (COVID-19): Working, Benefits and Finances FAQs

06 April 2020

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We’re hearing from many people who are worried about their situation at work or their finances changing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most important thing is to seek help as soon as you are able. We’re not experts in employment law or finances, but we will try to help you find the information you need and the organisations that can help you.

For more information about COVID-19 and Crohn's and Colitis, see our FAQ page

Working

My employer needs proof that I'm at higher risk
Will I get sick pay if I have to stay at home and can’t work?
I’m self-isolating – how do I get a sick note/isolation note?
I’m self-employed. What help is there for me?​
Is it safe for me to return to work?
What’s the law on unfair treatment or dismissal?
I’m finding it difficult or I’m unable to work from home
I’m shielding (high risk) but live with someone who still has to go to work
I work in healthcare - am I at risk?
I’ve lost my job / I've been put on furlough
I’ve been laid off or put on short-time working

Benefits

Can I claim any benefits?
I can’t get to the Jobcentre Plus – will I still get my benefits?
My benefits are due to be reviewed or reassessed
Will I have to attend a medical assessment to claim my benefit?
Will I still have to pay my benefit overpayments?

Finances

I’m having trouble paying my rent
I’m having trouble paying my mortgage
I’m having trouble paying my energy bills
I’m having trouble paying my water bill
I’m getting into debt / struggling to cope financially and don’t know what to do

Other organisations and support

I still have questions about working, benefits or finances


My employer needs proof that I'm higher risk 

We understand that IBD Teams and GPs may be unavailable to provide evidence of an increased risk of complications from COVID-19 at the moment. Crohn's & Colitis UK have drafted a letter of support you can use to help explain to your employer that you need to take extra precautions. 


Will I get sick pay if I have to stay at home and can’t work?

If you can’t work because you need to stay at home (self-isolate) you should receive Statutory Sick Pay, if you’re usually entitled to this. This will now be paid on day 1 of your being away from work instead of day 4.

This includes people who:

  • are self-isolating for 14 days because they live with someone who has coronavirus symptoms
  • are self-isolating for 7 days because they have coronavirus symptoms
  • are sheilding because they are extremely clinically vulnerable

Statutory Sick Pay is £94.25 per week and is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. You cannot get less than this amount. You can get more if your company has a sick pay scheme (or ‘occupational scheme’) so you should check your employment contract.

Employers have been asked to use their discretion and respect the medical needs of those needing to self-isolate when making decisions about sick pay. If you need to provide evidence (a sick note/isolation note) to your employer that you need to stay at home because of coronavirus, see I’m self-isolating - how do I get a sick note/isolation note? 

If you're shielding, your employer may instead put you on furlough. See I’ve lost my job / I've been put on unpaid leave or furlough

If you’re not eligible to receive Statutory Sick Pay or you’re worried it isn’t enough to support you, you may be able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance. 

I have a zero hours contract

You may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay so check with your employer. If not, you may be able to apply for Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance. Please see the Citizens Advice website for information on claiming benefits.

What if all the family needs to stay at home and there’s no money coming in?

If no one is getting Statutory Sick Pay, the family can apply for Universal Credit.

If you’re already claiming Universal Credit, it will automatically adjust depending on your income.

Please see the Citizens Advice website for information on claiming benefits.


I’m self-isolating – how do I get a sick note/isolation note?

If your employer is asking you for evidence (a sick note, or isolation note) because you’re self-isolating, you can now get this online. You no longer need to contact your doctor to get this.

  • For the first 7 days off work, you can self-certify and you don’t need to give your employer any evidence of why you’ve been off work due to sickness.
  • After the first 7 days off work, your employer may ask you for evidence. If you’re self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms, or live with someone who does, you can give your employer an isolation note.

You can get an isolation note from the online NHS 111 service.

The isolation note will be emailed to you. If you don’t have an email address, the note sent to a trusted family member or friend, or directly to your employer. The service can also be used to generate an isolation note for someone else.


I’m self-employed. What help is there for me?

The government announced the Self-employment Income Support Scheme to help those who are self-employed and have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your profits (up to £2,500 per month).

You’ll be eligible if you:

  • submitted your Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19
  • traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
  • plan to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • have lost profits due to COVID-19
  • get more than half of your income from self-employment and your profits are less than £50,000

You can’t apply for the scheme yet – HMRC will contact you through GOV.UK if you’re eligible, based on your previous Self-Assessments. The grant will be paid in a lump sum straight into your bank account.

If someone texts, calls or emails claiming to be from HMRC and asks you to click on a link or to give your name, credit card or bank details, do not respond or click the link as it is a scam.

See the government guidance to find out more about this scheme and other help available for self-employed workers.

You may also be eligible to claim Universal Credit. You can check what benefits you may be able to claim on the Citizens Advice website.


Is it safe for me to return to work?

We are all exposed to different levels of risk, depending on where in the country you live, the people in your household and the type of work you do, amongst others. Everyone, including those with no underlying health conditions, are exposed to a certain degree of risk during the pandemic, and the level of safety will depend on individual circumstances. Returning to work in the current climate is a very personal decision for individuals to make.

Apart from those who shielding due to being at high risk (extremely clinically vulnerable), people with Crohn's and Colitis are able to return to work in line with the government guidelines. We understand this may cause a lot of concern for people in the moderate group (clinically vulnerable), as your risk is slightly higher than the general population. However the majority of people who catch coronavirus, including those who are on immunosuppressants for Crohn's or Colitis, make full recoveries. You might find our blog from a person living with Colitis at high risk who tested positive for COVID-19 reassuring.

The government, in consultation with industry, has produced detailed guidance to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible during the coronavirus pandemic. It may help you to read the guidance for your industry to see the comprehensive measures your employer will be taking to ensure you are as safe as possible. If you are in the moderate risk group, you should confirm with your employer that all necessary measures are being taken before you return to work.

If you're concerned that your employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing, then you can raise a concern in the following ways: 

  • report this to your local authority
  • contact your employee representative
  • contact your trade union if you have one
  • use the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) contact form
  • contact HSE by phone on 0300 003 1647

The Health and Safety Executive can then take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring your employer to take additional steps.

This is naturally a very concerning time for people with Crohn's and Colitis, and we encourage you to have an open and honest conversation with your employer about your worries. We have a guide for employers to help them understand Crohn's and Colitis and how they can affect people. This may be the first time you've had to talk to your boss about your condition, which can feel daunting. Our personalised Talking Toolkit can help you find the words to explain your condition, depending on what you want your employer to know. The more information they have about your condition, the better they will be able to support you.

If you are not comfortable going into work even with strict social distancing measures in place, you may be able to arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. Your employer does not have to agree to this. If you refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action. If you need advice, you should contact ACAS for impartial advice about work disputes.

If you are at high risk, you should not be returning to work until the government makes changes to the shielding period, which currently runs until the end of June. We have created a letter of support you may find useful to help explain to your employer why you are unable to return to work yet.


What’s the law on unfair treatment or dismissal?

As an employee you are protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it's because of:

  • pregnancy
  • age
  • a health condition that's considered a disability under the Equality Act – some people with Crohn’s or Colitis may fall into this category


It doesn’t matter how long you've worked for your employer. It could be unlawful discrimination on these grounds, if an employer either:

  • unreasonably tries to force someone to go to work
  • unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work


I’m finding it difficult or I’m unable to work from home

If your employer has asked you to work from home but this is difficult – because you don’t have the space, or your children are around - talk to your employer. Work together and try to reach a good compromise for you both, thinking about what reasonable adjustments can be made, and bearing in mind current public health advice.

You could share the government guidance on this, which encourages employers to work with their employees on finding a solution.


I’m shielding (high risk) but live with someone who still has to go to work

Everyone is exposed to different levels of risk, depending on where in the country you live, the people in your household and the type of work you do, amongst others. If you are shielding or strict social distancing, members of your household can return to work as long as they comply with government guidelines regarding transport and social distancing

If you are at increased risk of complications from coronavirus, it is understandable that you may be worried about the people you live with returning to work . In addition to the hand washing and social distancing measures that are applicable to everyone, there are extra precautions they may wish to take to reduce the risk of bringing coronavirus home, such as:

  • Wearing a face mask when leaving the house
  • Changing out of clothes immediately after re-entering the home. Put clothes straight into the washing machine, not the laundry basket 
  • Using wipes or a soapy cloth to wipe down items that have been outside, such as bag, keys, phone, wallet and shoes
  • Disinfect all surfaces touched after coming home, such as door handles
  • Limiting contact with others living in the house (all contact should be avoided with people shielding) 

The government has produced detailed guidance to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible during the coronavirus pandemic. It may help you to read the industry-specific guidance to see the comprehensive measures employers will be taking to ensure everyone is as safe as possible. If you're concerned that the employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing then you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive who can take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring the employer to take additional steps.

If the person you live with strictly follows the government advice for those living with someone who is shielding – including staying 2 meters away from each other, sleeping separately and not using shared spaces unless they’ve been cleaned after each use - there is no need for them to also shield alongside you. If these precautions aren’t possible, and they can’t find a solution that works for them and their employer, you may want to consider living separately.

If the person you live with does not feel comfortable returning to work even with strict social distancing measures in place, they may be able to arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. Their employer does not have to agree to this. If they refuse to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.


I work in healthcare – am I at risk?

If you work in healthcare, you may be worried about whether you’re putting yourself at risk when you go to work. We’re working with the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), who have put together specific guidance for healthcare workers with Crohn’s and Colitis.

Please read our latest advice to check your risk.
 

I’m a healthcare worker with a moderate risk

Healthcare workers in the moderate risk group (clinically vulnerable) should follow very strict social distancing to reduce their risk of getting coronavirus. You should minimise your contact with people and stay at least 2 meters away. You should:

  • Not have direct contact with patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
  • Continue to work in a virtual or administrative role. For example, doing telephone triage, telephone clinics, helpline calls, and similar duties.
  • Be supported in working from home, where possible.
  • If in a hospital, work in a “clean” office space that does not have multiple members of staff moving through it, in particular, those who are meeting patients.

You may be able to do some low risk patient facing duties, if patients have been screened for COVID-19 first. This probably isn’t possible at the moment, but could be when patient testing becomes more available.

Share this information with your line managers at work through your Occupational Health service.
 

I’m a healthcare worker with a high risk

All high risk (extremely clinically vulnerable) healthcare workers should not go to work and should follow the government advice on shielding.
 

I’m a healthcare worker with a low risk

All low risk healthcare workers should be able to work as normal, but should follow the government advice on social distancing as for the general population.
 

Read the full BSG guidance for healthcare workers with Crohn’s and Colitis.

The NHS has also created some guidance for staff working during the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on health, safety and wellbeing.


I’ve lost my job / I've been put on furlough

If you are on a low income or out of work, you may qualify for benefits – such as Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance. See Can I claim any benefits?

Furloughed workers

If your employer can’t cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to cover some of your wages. This is called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Your employer will need to put you on furlough – a temporary absence from work. You will remain on payroll (as an employee) but would not carry out any work for them while claiming this support. They will have to apply for this, and they can claim up to 80% of your wage (capped at £2,500 per month) to continue paying you.

Your employer can put you on furlough if you're unable to work because you:

  • are shielding 
  • have caring responsibiltities, such as needing to look after your children

You may qualify for this if you were on the PAYE payroll on 19 March 2020 and you:

  • are a full-time employee
  • are a part-time employee
  • are employed on an agency contract
  • are employed on a flexible or zero-hour contract
  • were made redundant between 28 February and 19 March 2020, if you are rehired by your employer
  • were put on unpaid leave after 28 February


I’ve been laid off or put on short-time working

A lay-off is if you are off work for at least 1 working day. Short-time working is when your hours are cut.

Check your contract to see what pay you should get during this time. You should get your full pay unless your contract allows unpaid or reduced pay for lay-offs or short-time working.

Your employer may have a guarantee pay scheme to help cover some of your lost pay – this can’t be less than Statutory Guarantee Pay.

If your employer doesn’t have their own scheme, you may instead be entitled to Statutory Guarantee Pay. The maximum you can get is £29 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period - so a maximum of £145. If you earn less than £29 a day you’ll get your normal daily rate and if you work part-time your pay will be worked out proportionally.

To find out more about Statutory Guarantee Pay and whether you may be eligible, see the Citizens Advice website.


Can I claim any benefits?

Universal Credit
If you’re affected by coronavirus you may be able to apply for Universal Credit and could receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending a Jobcentre Plus.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
If you’re required to stay at home because of coronavirus and want to apply for Employment and Support Allowance, this will be payable from day 1. The usual 7 waiting days for new claimants will not apply.

People claiming either of these benefits will not have to produce a fit note or isolation note.

If you already claim benefits and your income has changed because of COVID-19, you may be able to get more money to help support you.

You can check what benefits you may be able to claim on the Citizens Advice website.


I can’t get to the Jobcentre Plus – will I still get my benefits?

You do not have to attend Jobcentre Plus appointments for at least 3 months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. You’ll still get your benefits as normal, you just won’t need to go to the Jobcentre in person. The Jobcentre Plus might still ask to talk to you by phone. You can still make applications for benefits online if you’re eligible.

Jobcentres will stay open and will continue to support people who are not able to use phones and online, including homeless people.

If you’re self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms, or someone you live with has symptoms, do not go to the Jobcentre. Tell the Jobcentre Plus you’re ill or self-isolating by:

  • Calling the office that pays your benefit
  • Updating your online journal if you get Universal Credit

You won’t have to search for work or do work-related activity.


My benefits are due to be reviewed or reassessed

From Tuesday 24 March, there will be no new reviews or reassessments for all benefits, for three months. This includes Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. If your benefit was due to end, it will be extended so you will continue to receive it as normal during this time.

If your circumstances change, you should still get in touch with the DWP to make sure you are still getting the right amount of support.


Will I have to attend a medical assessment to claim my benefit?

Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits have been temporarily suspended for the 3 months (starting on Tuesday 17 March). This is to protect people from the unnecessary risk of coronavirus.

You do not need to do anything. If you’ve applied for PIP (or any other of the listed benefits) the DWP will get in touch with you to make other arrangements. This may include telephone interviews or paper-based assessments. Do not attend any assessment interviews in person that you’ve already been invited to.


Will I still have to pay my benefit overpayments?

If you usually repay benefit overpayments, this will stop temporarily for the next 3 months (starting in April 2020). This means that you will see an increase in the benefit money you get for these 3 months.

For more information, see the government website.


I’m having trouble paying my rent

You will still have to pay your rent but if you are falling behind you should seek advice as quickly as you can on dealing with rent arrears. The government has made a temporary change to the law because of coronavirus for most types of tenancy agreements. This means your landlord is not able to start court action for at least 3 months.

See Citizens Advice for help.

If you usually have to leave the house to pay your rent
Ask your landlord if you can pay your rent in a different way, such as a card payment over the phone or online transfer. If this isn’t possible, you could try to find a friend or family member you trust to go and pay the rent for you. Make sure you get a receipt in case your landlord doesn’t realise you’ve already paid.


I’m having trouble paying my mortgage

The government has announced that if you can’t pay your mortgage because of coronavirus you might be able to have a 3 month payment holiday. You won’t be able to do this if you’re behind with your payments.

Get in touch with your mortgage provider to find out more.


I’m having trouble paying my energy bills

Speak to your energy supplier as soon as you can. You might be able to set up a payment plan with them to help spread the cost of your bills.
See Citizens Advice for help. 

If you have a prepayment energy meter
Your supplier will try to help you find ways to keep your energy supply connected if you can’t top up your meter because of coronavirus. Tell your supplier as soon as possible if you can’t top up. You’ll find their contact details on their website or on your bill.


I’m having trouble paying my water bill

Speak to your water company as soon as you can if you’re having problems paying your bill. They will help you find ways to manage paying your bill.
See Citizens Advice for help.


I’m getting into debt / struggling to cope financially and don’t know what to do

If you’re getting into debt, you must get help as soon as you can. Try contacting one of the following organisations who can help you produce a payment plan:

If you are struggling with your living costs, see if there’s any additional help available to you.


I still have questions about working, benefits or finances

If you’ve still got questions about working or finances, you could see our general information on finances and Employment and IBD, or try contacting the organisations listed below.

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
Free, impartial, confidential advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.
Helpline: 0300 123 1100

Citizens Advice
You can find details of your nearest office at on their website.

Coronavirus Advice Scotland
Advice for those living in Scotland on employment, housing and personal finance, as well as cancellations and consumer rights.
Helpline: 0808 800 9060

Disability Rights UK
Personal Budgets Helpline: 0330 995 0404
Email: enquiries@disabilityrightsuk.org

DWP - Employment and Benefits Support
Information about the changes the government has brought in to support people who are already claiming benefits, need to claim benefits, or are at risk of losing their job as a result of coronavirus.

GOV.UK
UK government website covering a range of issues including all aspects of employment and disability and changes due to COVID-19.

Turn2us
Organisation helping people in financial need gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants and other financial help.

Money Advice Service
Free and impartial money advice, set up by government.
Tel. 0800 138 7777
Email: enquiries@moneyadviceservice.org.uk
Web chat service also available on website


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