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What coronavirus means for your money: Will you get paid to self-isolate? What if schools close? And what if you're laid off?

This Is Money logo This Is Money 17/03/2020 Money Mail Reporters For The Daily Mail
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The country is now entering uncharted territory. Cafes, pubs, and restaurants could shut for months, and our once bustling High Streets and offices are soon likely to be left deserted. 

Flights, trains, sporting events, concerts, and even family gatherings, are all being called off as society stays at home to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

The lockdown is now threatening to kill off many businesses, and millions of workers will fear for their jobs and the income they rely on to pay their mortgages and bills. 

The unprecedented restrictions are also leaving millions more facing uncertainty. Many employees will be forced to work from home for the first time, while others might be worried they have no alternative but to travel in to the office. 

Today, Money Mail is here to help. Here we will tell you where you stand. From the financial help now available to those struggling to get by, to support for those forced to stay inside for months. 

Will you still get paid if you need to self-isolate for 14 days? Can you claim back the cost of equipment you've purchased to work from home? And what happens if your children's school closes, forcing you to take time off work to look after them? Here is Money Mail's must-read guide to your rights in the Covid-19 crisis. 

Will I still be paid if I need to self-isolate? 

You'll receive at least statutory sick pay (SSP) of £94.25 a week if you are off work with coronavirus — but some companies will offer more, depending on their individual sick pay policies. 

You must earn at least £118 a week to be eligible. Statutory sick pay is paid for up to 28 weeks. This will now be paid from the first day you are ill, rather than day four, in line with new legislation announced in the Budget last week.

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 Danielle Parsons, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, says: 'Usually you cannot qualify for SSP unless you are ill and unable to work, but last week (with effect from March 12, 2020) the Government introduced new legislation which means that if you are an employee/worker and you are not able to work because you are self-isolating then you can claim SSP.   

'If you are a zero hours worker or lf-employed and you don't qualify for SSP then you may be able to claim universal credit or other benefits.' 

What if my firm refuses to pay? 

If you are not eligible for sick pay your employer must fill out an SSP1 form stating why. This could be because you have not reached the earnings threshold or because you have already claimed 28 weeks sick pay in a year, for example. 

This form will then support your claim for other benefits. If your employer refuses to pay where you are eligible, it is breaking the law. 

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The Government has made much of the point that workers are not to be penalised in the current crisis so it is a serious issue if companies do not abide by good practice. 

Speak to your company and discuss with them why you are not being paid sick pay in the first instance — and if the matter is not resolved then seek legal advice immediately. 

Workers already live hand-to-mouth - they need help now 

Wine merchant Amanda Thomson is relieved the Government recognised 'the severity of the economic crisis' by announcing rescue packages yesterday. 

But she is still concerned about how businesses will repay the loans on offer, and whether she is eligible for business rate relief, as she is technically in the food and beverage sector. 

Amanda employs eight workers at Thomson & Scott, in Clerkenwell, Central London, a company that specialises in alcohol-free sparkling wine. 

Amanda Thomson standing in front of a table: Wine merchant Amanda Thomson  employs eight workers at Thomson & Scott, in Clerkenwell, Central London © Provided by This Is Money Wine merchant Amanda Thomson  employs eight workers at Thomson & Scott, in Clerkenwell, Central London She has already asked three workers if they can take voluntary pay cuts to help reduce costs during the crisis. 

She hopes to compensate them with either shares in the company or a bonus once the economy has recovered. 

Amanda, 48, says that while she has 'future-proofed' her business by adding a consumer arm, she is 'petrified' for her partners in the hospitality sector across the country. 

'These are dangerous times in hospitality,' she says. 'It's going to lead to a lot of additional poverty because a lot of hospitality workers are on minimum wages and living handto-mouth anyway. 

Each day that goes by you will see really good businesses run into the ground. There is so much confusion.' 

The Government should compel banks to help small businesses, she says, adding that Germany has pledged unlimited cash to support its businesses. 

What if I am self-employed? 

Self-employed workers do not qualify for statutory sick pay — however, if you have to take time off work you may be entitled to benefits. 

Stephen Woodhouse , an employment solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors, says you may also be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance if you have made enough National Insurance contributions. 

If you do regular freelance work for a business, it is worth asking if they will help. Should I get wage protection? 

Income protection typically pays out when you are too unwell to work, or if you have an accident. 

© Getty

Workers have rushed to buy income protection policies in the wake of the pandemic — the c­omparison site Comparethemarket says it has seen a 'significant' increase in quotes given in the past few days. 

However, experts warn a number of insurers are already beginning to introduce exclusions in new policies that will mean claims for coronavirus will not be paid. 

Those that already have cover in place should be able to claim on their policies if they get ill — but only once the waiting period is over, which is typically 30 days after being off work. You will also have to be signed off by a doctor. 

Ben Heffer, from ratings firm Defaqto, says those who are not working because they have to self-isolate will not be paid the benefit.

Tax relief on home work gear? 

You may be able to claim back tax relief for things you must buy for your job that you only use for work, such as tools or equipment. If your employer reimburses you for the items bought you will not be eligible. 

If you are eligible, you will need to fill out a P87 form. You must have paid tax in the year. And what you get back is based on what you've spent and your tax rate. 

For example, if you spent £60 on stationery that you can prove you use purely for work, and you pay tax at 20 per cent, then you can claim £12. 

In the recent Budget, the Chancellor increased the flat rate tax deduction to cover additional expenses incurred — such as phone calls and energy bills — from £4 to £6 a week from April 6. 

What if my child's school closes? 

a person sitting at a table using a laptop: A mother helps her children with their schoolwork at home after the French government closed schools © Provided by This Is Money A mother helps her children with their schoolwork at home after the French government closed schools You have the right to 'reasonable' time off to deal with emergencies involving dependants such as your children. 

However, your employer does not have to pay you for it. The standard procedure is usually outlined in your staff handbook. 

Mr Woodhouse says: 'The reasonable time-frame will be dependent on the situation. If your child is unwell and there is no one to take care of them, you are typically allowed a few days off to do so, or a week or two to make long-term arrangements. But we are in new territory so this is not a normal situation.' 

Could I be asked to take holiday? 

An employer can instruct any employee to take some or all of their annual leave as long as they give them twice the notice of the same length as leave to be taken. 

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For example, if they want you to take a day off, they have to give two days' notice. A zero-hours contract worker could use this to their advantage. 

Jemma Fairclough-Haynes, an employment law specialist at Orchard Employment Law, says: 'Zero-hour contract workers do accrue holiday, so your employer could ask you if you want to use some of your holiday.' 

This means that if the lack of work is temporary, you will continue to be paid during the time you are taking as holiday. 

What will happen if I am made redundant? 

If you have a part-time or full-time contract with a company you can be made redundant. 

It is important to remember that redundancy is about a lack of work for a certain role, it is not the same as being dismissed for other reasons such as 'gross misconduct'. 

Employers need to consult with you before making you redundant. If fewer than 20 employees are being made redundant, there is no minimum time frame between the initial consultation and the dismissal. 

 If your employer lets you know you are being considered for redundancy, you can ask who else in your role is also being considered. 

You may also want to have a discussion with your employer to suggest other alternatives, such as moving into another role within the company. 

Zero-hour contract workers do not have these rights as there is no obligation for the employer to provide you with work. 

First the floods... and now this 

Mark Davies had just finished clearing the debris from his flooded B&B when Boris Johnson took to the airwaves on Monday. 

Mark, 59, listened in horror to the Prime Minister's warning that people should avoid 'pubs, clubs' and 'other such social venues' for the foreseeable future. 

He employs 75 staff across three businesses in Shrewsbury. As well as a B&B, which was devastated by floods last month, he has a bar and restaurant. 

He says it was 'irresponsible' of the Prime Minister to make such an announcement without offering immediate support for British businesses. 

'I have suppliers who will need to be paid by the end of the month, and 75 members of staff at the end of the week,' he says. 

'That is going to cause an implosion of the business. From what I'm hearing, this is the issue across the entire industry.' 

a man standing in front of a house: Mark Davies had just finished clearing the debris from his flooded B&B when Boris Johnson took to the airwaves on Monday. He employs 75 staff in Shrewsbury © Provided by This Is Money Mark Davies had just finished clearing the debris from his flooded B&B when Boris Johnson took to the airwaves on Monday. He employs 75 staff in Shrewsbury

Mark says the expansion of business rate relief announced yesterday means all of his businesses are now exempt, whereas previously only his B&B was. 

'That saves around £70,000 and that's great,' he adds. But he warns that the Government is essentially asking him to take out a loan to pay his staff. 

'I can't see how that's going to work,' he says. 'Why am I going to put myself in debt to accommodate the closure of my business?' 

What if my firm's changed owners? 

Your redundancy pay will be calculated from when you began working for the original company, not limited to the time you have worked for the new owner. 

How long will my notice be? 

The statutory minimum notice period for redundancy is one week for every year you have been employed at the company, up to 12 weeks. 

Your contract may give you more than this, but it cannot give you less. 

Will I qualify for redundancy pay? 

Again, you will need to be a part-time or full-time employee to qualify for redundancy pay. A zero-hours contract worker is not legally entitled to it. 

Some firms may offer different redundancy packages but if you've worked for your company for at least two years there is statutory redundancy of a week's wages for every year you have worked for employers, for those aged 22 to 40. 

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It increases to a week-and-a-half's wages once you are 41 or older. If you are working between the ages of 18 and 22, you will be paid half a week's pay for these years. 

You'll receive your normal weekly rate, up to a cap of £525 per week. The maximum amount of statutory redundancy pay you can be entitled to overall is £15,750, while the length of service you'll be paid for is capped at 20 years. 

Redundancy pay is not taxable under £30,000. 

Will I get paid for holiday time? 

When you leave your job you should receive your final wage, as well as payment for any holiday you've accrued. 

Zero-hours contract workers can also accrue holiday, so this should be paid to you as well. However, this will be taxed. 

I've slashed workers' hours by half 

Cafe owner Inci Malik has already had to halve staff working hours as she seeks to avoid redundancies. 

Inci says footfall is reducing every day at Aromas cafe in Weybridge, Surrey, and she fears for how businesses such as hers will survive. 

The 43-year-old has six full-time staff, but has already asked them to rotate on a weekly basis, so that only three are working at any one time. 

Any weeks spent not working are taken as unpaid leave. Inci says her team agrees that this practice is preferable to losing members of staff, but she is calling on the Government to step in before it's too late. 

'We can't let people lose their jobs,' she says. 'We need to make sure people are still in the economy. 

'These guys have rent to pay, they have to buy food, they have to survive. 'It's all about survival now — it's not about luxury. We have to get through this together.' 

Inci welcomes the £25,000 cash grant that her business will now be eligible for under the Government's new plans announced yesterday. But she is cautious about having to repay loans. 

'The Government is showing an interest that it wants to support local businesses,' she adds. 'But we have to be careful with our borrowing.' 

What happens if I am laid off? 

If your contract says your employer can lay you off or put you on short-time working, then they're legally allowed to cut your hours and pay. 

A 'lay-off' is when your employer asks you to stay at home or take unpaid leave as there is not enough work for you. 

There's no limit to how long you can be laid off, but you can apply for redundancy or claim redundancy pay if it's been four weeks in a row or six weeks over a 13-week period. 

If your contract allows unpaid or reduced pay lay-offs, you will still be entitled to statutory guarantee pay (where an employer must pay employees for days when they are available to work, even when there is no work for them to do) if you have been working for the employer for at least a month. 

The maximum you can get is £29 a day for five days in any three-month period. If you usually get less than £29 a day you will get your daily rate. 

What happens in EU Countries? 

France has launched an 'exceptional and massive' mechanism to pay workers who are temporarily laid off by crisis-stricken businesses. 

The support payments are expected to be the most costly of the country's economic rescue measures. 

Italy is expected to announce oneoff payments of 500 euros (£454) for the self-employed, a freeze on worker lay-offs, support for companies making redundancy payments to staff, and a cash bonus for those still working during the lockdown. 

Germany has expanded a scheme it launched in 2008 to compensate workers sent home by employers during an economic crisis. 

And Denmark is planning to pay private sector employees 75 per cent of their salary if they can't work because of coronavirus

Follow the government's latest travel advice for people travelling back to the UK from affected areas, including whether to self-isolate. Don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and call NHS 111. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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