COVID-19: Sick Pay Support for Small Business

Friday March 20, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to flood the headlines, the 2020 Budget set out to cushion its impact for the UK's business community. Small and medium-sized enterprises are obviously expected to be the most vulnerable firms whenever the going gets tough, so there's been a flurry of announcements and updates about what the government's going to do for them. You can read up on the latest tweaks to the Budget's business rates, grants and loan schemes here – but it's worth focusing in a little closer on one particular area of support being offered.

While there's been a huge amount of talk about how this new coronavirus is affecting businesses, it's important to remember that it's first and foremost a human crisis. When you're putting people to work, you're taking on some pretty hefty responsibilities. You've got to look out for them, making sure they've got a safe working environment, freedom from discrimination or unfair treatment and almost certainly a pension to look forward to. One key element of taking care of your employees is keeping up with your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) obligations. Under the SSP system, employees are entitled to £94.25 a week when they're unable to work. After the 6th of April 2020, that amount's set to go up to £95.85 a week. They can get this for up to 28 weeks in a year, and it's your responsibility as an employer to make sure they do.

The current crisis has shifted the SSP goalposts a little, since a lot of people stand to suffer real hardship as things drag on – potentially for months. For one thing, the requirement for people to be off work sick for 4 consecutive days has been scrapped for now. As things stand, the SSP system will kick in from the first day people have to self-isolate and can't work because of COVID-19. That counts whether they're unable to work because of the disease itself, or simply because they've had to lock themselves away in line with advice from the government. Basically, people can't be punished for doing the right thing, whether they've got COVID-19 symptoms or not.

However, there's a lifeline being flung out for small businesses struggling with a sick or self-isolated workforce. SME employers paying out SSP due to COVID-19 will be reimbursed in full for the payments for up to 2 weeks. In order to qualify for reimbursement, your business needs to employ fewer than 250 people, as of the 28th of February. Obviously, you also need to be a UK-based firm.

There's going to be some paperwork involved in claiming back your SSP payments. You'll need to keep complete records of all the absences you've suffered as a result of the virus outbreak, along with the SSP that's gone out. If you need proof that the missed days were down to COVID-19, no GP fit notes will be required. Instead, sufferers will be able to get “isolation notes” from the NHS 111 or NHS websites.

Here are the main details of the scheme, with a launch date of the 26th of May 2020:

  • If you’re employing fewer than 250 people in your business, you can claim coronavirus-specific SSP for them. You can do this yourself or have your tax agent do it for you.
  • It’s important to note that the employees you’re claiming sick pay for have to be suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily have to mean that they’ve currently got the virus. Keep reading for more about that in a moment.
  • Your PAYE payroll scheme has to have been running before the 28th of February 2020, and you can’t have more than 250 employees across all your PAYE schemes as of the 28th of February 2020.
  • You need to be eligible for State Aid under the EU Commission Temporary Framework.

The money you’ll get will cover your eligible employees’ SSP payments for up to 2 weeks. In terms of what an “eligible employee” actually means, here are the rules:

The employee (whether current or former) must have been unable to work on or after the 13th of March 2020 because either:

  • They have the virus themselves.
  • Are self-isolating and can’t work from their home.
  • Are “shielding” because they’ve been told that they’re in a high-risk group for the more serious effects of the disease.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to have records of the SSP payments you’re claiming for. You can get more information from the GOV.UK website here, or through their webchat service. Keep in mind that it’s best to leave their phone lines alone unless you really need to use them. There’ll be a lot of people needing urgent advice, so clogging the phone queues unnecessarily won’t help anyone. Most importantly, remember to contact RIFT with any problems or questions you have.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay home if you can and stay on the lookout for more Voices from the RIFT.



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