Covid-19 FAQs: Shielding and employment

These frequently asked questions and answers have been prepared jointly by Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) and CLIC Sargent. They are based on questions we have received directly from parents and young people. Information is correct at the time of publication (1 August 2020) although please bear in mind that things are changing quickly.

I’m shielding – am I entitled to time off work?

Shielding is being paused by the governments in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with effect from 1 August, and by the Welsh government with effect from 16 August. From these dates the guidance is that even those who are categorised as extremely vulnerable can return to work, if they cannot work from home.

If you have nonetheless been advised to shield yourself by your medical team you could ask your doctor whether you can be certified as unfit for work, in which case:

  • You can ask your employer to be placed on furlough through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, although to be eligible for the scheme you must have already been on furlough for at least three weeks before 30 June 2020; or
  • You can take sick leave. Your employment contract may give you full pay for a period while you are off sick; otherwise you should be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay of £95.85 per week.

I’m shielding my child – am I entitled to paid time off work?

Shielding is being paused in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from 1 August, and from 16 August in Wales. If your child’s medical team have nonetheless advised that all members of your household should stay at home and you are unable to work, including working from home, because you have caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus such as shielding a child, you can ask your employer to place you on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also called furloughing) on the basis that you are unable to work because you have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus – although to be eligible for the scheme you must have already been on furlough for at least three weeks before 30 June 2020.

My income has reduced – am I entitled to any benefits?

If your income drops (either because you aren’t eligible for the furlough scheme or because you’re simply getting paid less) you may be able to claim Universal Credit, so long as your savings and other capital are less than £16,000. Universal Credit should be claimed jointly with your live-in partner, and their income and/or capital is also taken into account. (If you are already getting tax credits or Housing Benefit, take advice before claiming Universal Credit, as a UC claim will bring these other benefits to a permanent end.)

An alternative to Universal Credit could be New Style Employment Support Allowance (ESA). This is a contribution-based benefit available to people who cannot work, and have a consistent record of making National Insurance contributions over the last two tax years. It is claimed by an individual rather than a couple, and is worth an initial £74.35 per week if you are 25 or over and £58.90 if you are under 25. A sick note isn’t required if you are self-isolating. You can claim new style ESA if you are caring for a child who is isolating in accordance with government guidance.

I am shielding my child and I’m a keyworker – am I entitled to time off work?

Shielding is being paused by the governments in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with effect from 1 August, and by the Welsh government with effect from 16 August.

If your child’s medical team have nonetheless advised that all members of the household should stay at home and you are unable to work from home, you can ask your employer to place you on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also called furloughing) on the basis that you are unable to work because you have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus – although to be eligible for the scheme you must have already been on furlough for at least three weeks before 30 June 2020.

In addition, although key workers can now be furloughed with the agreement of their employer, but the government has indicated that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In some circumstances sick leave may be a possibility, if your employer is flexible and/or if your doctor will give you a sick note.

I’m self-employed – what support is available for me?

Many self-employed people whose business has suffered due to coronavirus have been able to claim a grant worth 80% of past trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month under the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. To be eligible you will must have been trading in the 2018-19 tax year, and must have submitted a tax return for that year by 23 April. Your past trading profits must also be no more than £50,000, and must represent more than half of your total income.

The deadline for claiming the first grant under the SEISS has now expired, but a second grant worth 70% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6,570 in total, is available to anyone who was eligible for the first grant (even if they did not actually claim it) and can confirm to HMRC that their business has been adversely affected on or after 14 July 2020.

As with the first grant HMRC will contact you if you’re eligible.

Read more about the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and check if you can claim a grant

I’m on a zero hours contract – am I entitled to any support?

Employees on zero hours contracts who were on their employer’s payroll on 28 February 2020 are eligible to be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

If your pay varies and you’ve been employed (or engaged by an employment business in the case of agency workers) for a full year, employers will claim for the higher of either:

  • The amount you earned in the same month last year
  • An average of your monthly earnings from the last year.

If your pay varies and you’ve been employed for less than a year, employers will claim for an average of your regular monthly wages since you started work.

Zero hours employees are also eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, so long as they have been earning around £120 per week in the period leading up to them going off sick, and of course can claim benefits such as Universal Credit on the same basis as others.

I can’t completely shield myself/my child and this is affecting my mental health – what can I do to help myself?

It’s very distressing to feel you’re not protecting your child enough against covid-19, but the fact is that some people will have to go out to work while shielding a child. It’s important to remember that the government guidance around shielding has been particularly focused on adults. There is currently very little evidence on the impact of shielding children. Follow the guidance as far as possible, but if you have to work or have to go to the shops to buy food take all the precautions you can – including frequent handwashing and social distancing as far as possible. You may also want to consider washing your work clothes when you get home and having a shower. There’s little evidence at the moment to suggest that coronavirus can live on fabric, but it’s something you could do if it helps you feel better about the situation.

 

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