The government is supporting employers who are paying sick pay to employees forced to take sick leave due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
The coronavirus statutory sick pay rebate scheme (SSPRS) will repay to employers the statutory sick pay (SSP) that they pay to employees for periods of sickness starting on or after 13 March 2020. Employers can claim a maximum of £191.70 per employee under the scheme, being two weeks at the current rate of SSP (£95.85 per week)
Eligibility for the SSPRS
The SSPRS can be used by employers if they:
- are claiming for an employee who is eligible for sick pay due to coronavirus; and,
- had a PAYE payroll scheme that contained fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020; and,
- as of 31 December 2019, were not in financially difficulty (ie, in insolvency or receiving rescue aid).
Connected companies and charities can use the scheme if their total combined number of PAYE employees was fewer than 250 on 28 February 2020. The scheme covers all types of employment contracts, including:
- full-time employees
- part-time employees
- employees on agency contracts
- employees on flexible or zero-hours contracts.
Entitlement to SSP is based on average earnings in the eight weeks prior to the absence reaching the lower earnings limit for the year in question. Therefore, for a zero-hours contract employee, it does not matter whether or not the employee was assigned any work in the week in which they are now sick.
Making a Claim
Claims must be made through the CSSPRS online portal, which opens on 26 May. HMRC has confirmed that digitally excluded employers can ask to claim in an alternative manner.
To make a claim employers need:
- employer PAYE scheme reference number;
- contact name and telephone phone number (in case of queries);
- UK bank or building society details (to which a BACS payment can be accepted);
- the total amount of coronavirus SSP paid for the claim period;
- the number of employees being claimed for; and
- the start date and end date of the claim period.
Employers must keep, for at least three years following a claim, records of all the SSP claimed from HMRC. These records must include:
- the reason why each employee could not work;
- details of each period when each employee could not work, including start and end dates;
- details of the SSP qualifying days when each employee could not work; and,
- NI numbers of all employees to whom SSP has been paid.
SSP due to coronavirus
For coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, there are two categories of employees and they have different rights to SSP:
- Employees who, because of COVID-19, were absent from work due to sickness or self-isolated before 13 March 2020. As for normal SSP, ‘waiting days’ apply and employers should pay SSP from the fourth ‘qualifying day’.
- Employees who, on or after 13 March 2020, are absent from work due to sickness or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19; ‘waiting days’ do not apply.
Self-isolating includes those caring for people self-isolating in the same household who have therefore been advised to do a household quarantine. It also includes sick individuals who are ‘shielding’, which is a measure to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. You cannot get SSP if you’re self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.
Employers should start paying SSP from the first ‘qualifying day’ that an employee is off work, as long as they are off sick for at least four days in a row and any of the following apply:
- the employee or someone they live with has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus.
- the employee has been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus.
- someone in the employee’s support bubble (or your ‘extended household’ if you live in Scotland or Wales) has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus.
- the employee has been advised by a doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery.
- the employee has been advised to shield because they’re at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
Employees who are on sick leave or self-isolating because of COVID-19 should speak to their employer about whether they are eligible for SSP. They should be paid SSP while on sick leave or self-isolating. When they are once again available for work, they can be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Employees who choose to self-isolate and are not sick are making themselves unavailable for work so are ineligible for either SSP or furloughing.
Evidence of sickness
Employees who have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate can obtain an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online and completing an online form rather than visiting a doctor.
For COVID-19 cases, this replaces the usual need to provide a ‘fit note’ after seven days of sickness absence. Isolation notes will also be accepted by Jobcentre Plus as evidence of inability to attend for benefit interview purposes.
Rates of SSP
Rates of SSP increased on 6 April 2020. The same weekly SSP rate applies to all employees, whether or not the SSP is COVID-19 related.
The amount that an employer must actually pay an employee for each day that they are off work due to illness (the daily rate) depends on the number of ‘qualifying days’ that they work each week. Employers can use the government’s SSP calculator to work out an employee’s sick pay if their payroll software does not do this (the government’s SSP calculator has been updated for the 2020/21 rates), or use the table in HMRC’s “Working out employees’ Statutory Sick Pay” guidance to work it out manually.
This article is based on our current understanding of official guidance and how the rules will be applied which may change as further details are made available.