Coronavirus: Changes to Statutory Sick Pay revealed in 2020 Budget

pm reveals statutory sick pay extended
By James Nadal | 11th March 2020 | 15 min read

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules are to be changed temporarily to help workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, it was announced in the 2020 Budget today.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak said all those advised to self-isolate, even if they haven’t yet prevented with symptoms, will get SSP. Rather than having to go to GP, those affected can get a sick note by contacting the NHS 111 phone line.

The Government estimates that as much as 20% of the workforce could be off sick during the peak of an epidemic – a figure Mr Sunak referred to again during his speech.

The Treasury papers, released after the speech in Parliament, explained that the Government will temporarily extend SSP to cover:

  • Individuals who are unable to work because they have been advised to self-isolate
  • People caring for those within the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate

Regarding the announcement about getting a sick note from 111, the Treasury said: “The Government and the NHS will bring forward a temporary alternative to the fit note in the coming weeks which can be used for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This system will enable people who are advised to self-isolate to obtain a notification via NHS 111 which they can use as evidence for absence from work, where necessary. This notification would meet employers’ need for evidence, whilst taking pressure away from General Practices.”

The Government has already issued guidance to employers, advising them to use their discretion not to require a GP fit note for COVID-19 related absences, officials said.

Self-employed people and employees below the Lower Earnings Limit are not entitled to SSP. The Chancellor said he would be making it quicker and easier to receive benefits through:

  • A ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to Government advice for from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day 
  • Enabling people 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

The Government had already, in effect, pledged to pay an extra £40 to those who are in self-isolation to help prevent the virus spreading further. That’s because instead of having to wait until the fourth day off work to receive SSP, as is standard, those affected will get it from day one.

As of today (11 March) eight UK deaths from the virus were confirmed, with cases rising to nearly 400 as of the latest official figures from Tuesday morning.

The 2020 Budget was dominated by the Government’s plans to cope with the escalating coronavirus emergency.

The Chancellor also said businesses will have the costs of staff having to take time off work refunded for up to 14 days. And £2bn will be allocated to cover firms that lose out because staff are off sick. He said this will apply to firms that employ fewer than 250 staff.

What do you need to know about Statutory Sick Pay?

It’s worth a reminder about what the rules are on SSP. It’s currently £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks.

For someone to qualify, they must be classified as an employee who has done some work for their employer.

At IRIS, customers often ask questions such as: “I’ve just hired the employee and they’re now off sick, do I need to pay them?”

The answer is yes, if they have started their employment, it is your legal obligation.

For an employee to be eligible:

  • They must be sick for at least four days in a row, including non-working days
  • They have to earn at least an average of £118 per week
  • They need to inform you that they’re sick