Here are the ways you can protect your income during the pandemic

Unprecedented times, yes, but there are also unprecedented protections

Felicity Hannah
Tuesday 24 March 2020 17:49
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The government will pay businesses 80 per cent of their staff’s salaries up to a maximum of £2,500 a month
The government will pay businesses 80 per cent of their staff’s salaries up to a maximum of £2,500 a month

These are unsettling times, but one way to not feel as lost is to fully understand your employment rights. If you know what you’re entitled to in this new reality then you can have some certainty and feel more in control.

So much has changed over the last few days and you may not have been aware of all your rights and employment protections even before these new events.

That’s why we’ve put together this outline of your financial and employment rights in a time of coronavirus.

What if I can’t work now?

One of the worst outcomes of the current crisis is the number of employers who simply couldn’t afford to pay their staff and are beginning to turn them off in huge numbers.

But the government has now taken unprecedented action and will pay businesses 80 per cent of their staff’s salaries up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. The money will be paid via businesses, so staff can’t make an individual claim.

Talk to your former employer if you’ve already been fired. If firms have already let staff go but bring them back into the workforce then they can also qualify for the payments.

Meanwhile, the fear is that workers may not observe the lockdown restrictions on work if they are worried they will not be paid. Lots of employers have said they will continue to pay workers who now need to stay at home, especially if they are able to do some of their work from home.

However, if you don’t have those options then there are other financial protections in place.

Employees who earn at least £118 a week can now claim statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day they are off instead of having to wait out four days first. The amount is currently £94.25 a week.

If you don’t qualify for SSP there are other allowances you may qualify for. The main one to consider is employment and support allowance (ESA), which is suitable for the self-employed or people who usually earn less than the £118 a week threshold for SSP.

Again, you can get this from the very first day of self-isolation. However, it is based on your national insurance (NI) payments, meaning that you may not qualify if you have been out of work for extended periods in recent years.

Other help

If SSP and ESA are not suitable or if you need additional support then you could apply for universal credit. Yes, there is still a five-week wait but there are advances to help you through that period.

The government has taken steps to make it easier for self-employed people to claim this because of the crisis. That means that self-employed people who are ill or forced to self-isolate will not have a minimum income floor (where they are assumed to be earning at least minimum wage for fulltime hours) applied while they are affected.

If you need this benefit then apply as soon as possible as there will be many people trying to access these schemes for the first time.

What if I lose my job?

There’s a lot of protection in place if you lose your job as a result of the coronavirus. For example, the company has to have a good reason – such as because it is downsizing or closing down entirely.

Your boss can’t just sack you and if you feel unfairly targeted, perhaps because other workers were kept on, then you may be able to challenge the decision at a tribunal.

If you do lose your job and you have worked for your current employer for over two years then you would usually qualify for redundancy pay. The amount you can get will vary depending on your age and how long you have worked there.

Can my boss just cut my hours?

Some businesses still want their staff but don’t need them to work full time and so are asking them to reduce their hours. Where that happens, you should be entitle to statutory layoff pay.

If you are paid less than half your normal pay for four weeks in a row then you can apply for redundancy.

What if my employer goes under?

There is an unprecedented amount of help being given to businesses but some of that help is through debt – and some owners may prefer not to run up debts just now and so close down.

With 80 per cent of worker wages being met by the government, this is not as big an issue as it might have been. However, it is still a potential concern. Fortunately, even if your employer has gone under, you should still be able to claim for any unpaid wages and redundancy pay that you are entitled to.

Contact the Redundancy Payments Service to find out how.

Where can I get help?

There is a huge amount of help out there, both online and available via the phone. Some of the helplines are understandably busy so it may take time to get through.

If you have a question about your rights or how to deal with an employer in this strange new time, then Acas is a great place to start. There’s a huge amount of advice and support online, plus a helpline if you need specific advice.

For guidance on benefits and calculators that can help you understand what you’re entitled to, the charity Turn 2 Us is a really useful online resource and also has a helpline.

Scam warning

It is vital to only use trusted sources of information about coronavirus, government measures to help you manage your financial affairs, the latest announcements and the financial help available to you.

Scammers are, despicably, using the fast-changing nature of the virus’s public health and financial impacts to defraud people at their most fearful and vulnerable.

Accurate and trustworthy information and further sources of help for anyone worried about their financial situation as a result of coronavirus are available from:

StepChange debt charity

The Money Advice Service

Citizens Advice

National Debtline

Business Debtline

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