Further to the news that statutory sick pay (SSP) will be paid from the first day of sickness (weekly LELR 661), the government has now announced that it will also be temporarily available to people who cannot work because they have been told to self-isolate.

Acas (the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service) recommends that if the person’s employer offers contractual sick pay, it would be good practice for them to pay it in those circumstances.

The government also made clear in the budget that SSP will be extended to people caring for anyone in the same household with COVID-19 symptoms and who have been told to self-isolate.

Having already issued guidance to employers about not requiring a GP fit note for COVID-19 related absences, the government has now announced a temporary alternative to the fit note which can be used for the duration of the outbreak.

This new system will allow people to obtain a notification from NHS111. As such, people who have been advised to self-isolate can use these notifications as evidence for their absence from work, thereby satisfying employers’ need for evidence, whilst taking pressure away from General Practices.

However, the government did not raise the level of SSP which currently stands at £94.25 per week. Nor did it extend the system to cover the self-employed and employees below the Lower Earnings Limit, who are not entitled to SSP.

Instead, these workers have to apply for “new style” Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit. These will be payable to anyone directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day.

People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments where they are directly affected by COVID-19 (or self-isolating), without the current requirement to attend a Jobcentre.

For the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the minimum income floor in Universal Credit will be temporarily relaxed for those directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice.

Matthew Pull, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “An estimated two million people don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay, not to mention those self-employed individuals who also do not qualify. With between a five and 12 week wait for Universal Credit payments to commence from application, the government’s changes remain woefully short of providing adequate protection for all. Even for those who are able to access SSP, its current rate remains below both the National Minimum and Living Wages. The government urgently needs to take action to remedy such shortcomings and I urge everyone to sign the TUC’s petition calling for same.”

To read the details of the Budget 2020, go to: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/871799/Budget_2020_Web_Accessible_Complete.pdf

To read the latest Acas advice, go to: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus