Last updated on: 20/12/2021
The government has announced that England is moving to Plan B in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Here we explain the current advice and help for employees, the self-employed and small business owners, plus how you can protect yourself and others from viruses.
Keep up to date with all the latest news from Which? on the coronavirus outbreak.
Can tradespeople still work in customers’ homes?
According to the government’s latest advice for the current Plan B measures, workers have been told to work from home if they can.
The government has produced a separate detailed guide for people who carry out work in other people’s homes which sets out how to work safely. This was updated on 15 December 2021. This includes social distancing wherever possible, wearing a face covering, not sharing tools, using a fixed-pairing system for people who have to work in close proximity with each other and washing hands regularly.
You can continue to work as long as you are healthy and don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus.
You shouldn’t work in people’s homes if they have coronavirus, unless they need urgent or essential repairs or maintenance, for example if the home has no hot water.
Consider whether you can use technology to replace any parts of your service. For example, Stoake Ltd, a Which? Trusted Trader that supplies and fits stoves, told us it’s now providing quotes to homeowners using FaceTime and Google Hangouts.
In Scotland, work carried out in people's homes can also continue, but a lateral flow test should be taken on the day, prior to doing the work. If they can, workers should social distance from individuals in the household and wear a face covering. Ventilation should be maximised and a risk assessment undertaken. Full guidance can be found here.
In Wales, workers should take steps such as ensuring a distance is maintained wherever possible, reducing loud noises that require people to shout over them, increasing environmental cleanliness and ensuring no one with COVID-19-type symptoms are present on the premises. Further guidance has been published online, and is periodically updated.
Under the current rules in Northern Ireland, tradespeople, workers and builders can continue to carry out repairs, installations and deliveries in other people's houses.
Can your business premises stay open?
No businesses have been asked to close under Plan B. However, face coverings are required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport, including taxis. See a full list of places where you must wear a face covering.
What to do if you feel ill
You should stay at home and self-isolate if you have any of the following:
- a high temperature - this means you feel hot to the touch on your chest or back.
- a new, continuous cough - this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, and/or having three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.
- a change to your sense of smell of taste - this means you have noticed that you cannot smell or taste anything, or that things smell or taste different to normal.
If you have these symptoms you should stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days or from when your symptoms started. You should also arrange to have a PCR test. You can book one online or get one delivered to your home. Find out more here.
Don’t go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital, as you could pass the virus on to other people. Read the government’s advice on staying at home.
You may need to self-isolate for longer if your symptoms don’t improve, or your condition gets worse. Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to assess your symptoms.
You do not need to isolate if you live in the same household with someone with coronavirus if you are fully vaccinated. However, you are strongly advised to take a LFD test every day for seven days, and to self-isolate if any of these test results is positive in order to protect other people.
What to do if you’re self-employed
Self-employed workers whose income has gone down may be able to apply for the following:
- New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if you’re under State Pension age, unemployed or are working less than 16 hours a week on average, and have made Class 1 National Insurance contributions, usually by working as an employee over the last two to three years – your savings and partner’s income will not affect how much you get.
- Universal Credit if you or your partner are under State Pension age and you have £16,000 or less in savings – you might be able to get it at the same time as New Style JSA.
- Pension Credit if both you and your partner have reached State Pension age.
Other help for self-employed workers
If you cannot work because you have coronavirus or you have been told to self-isolate, you might be able to get a one-off payment. There are different schemes in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
In England, you might be able to get a payment of £500 if you’re on a low income and meet all these conditions:
- you’re employed or self-employed
- you, or a child you’re the parent or guardian of, has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), or been told you or the child are a close contact by NHS Test and Trace
- you cannot work from home and will lose income by self-isolating or staying at home to care for the child
- you’re not exempt from self-isolating.
You need to claim within 42 days of you or the child’s first day of self-isolation.
If you’re employed, you’ll pay tax on the payment if you go over your tax-free personal allowance. Your tax code will change to collect the tax. You will not pay National Insurance contributions on the payment.
You must report the payment on your Self Assessment tax return if you need to file one, for example if you’re self-employed.
If you think you’re going to struggle to pay your tax bill on time, you can arrange a payment plan with HMRC. You must do this before the tax is due, or by 1 April for Self Assessment.
Read more advice from Which? Money about help and support for the self-employed.
What to do if you’re an employer
There are six main actions you can take to protect yourself, your staff and your customers during COVID-19.
- Complete a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID-19. Share it with all your staff. Keep it updated. Find out how to do a risk assessment.
- Make sure there is adequate ventilation in your workplace. This can be natural ventilation through opening windows and doors or mechanical ventilation using fans and ducts. In some places, a CO2 monitor can help identify if the space is poorly ventilated. Read the advice on air conditioning and ventilation on the HSE website.
- Make sure you wash your hands more often, and for at least 20 seconds. Ask customers to use hand sanitiser.
- Staff members and customers with COVID-19 symptoms should isolate immediately and book a PCR test as soon as possible. If you know that a worker is self-isolating, you must not allow them to come to work. It is an offence to do this.
- You are no longer legally required to ask people to check in, but if you do, this will support NHS Test and Trace. You can enable people to check in to your establishment by displaying an NHS QR code poster. You do not have to ask people to check in or turn people away if they refuse. If you choose to display a QR code, you should also have a system in place to record contact details for people who want to check in but do not have the app.
- Make sure that you have up-to-date contact details for your staff in case of an emergency, and that they know how to report illness to you or their manager. Keep all your workers, contractors and visitors up to date on how you’re using and updating safety measures.
Coronavirus and financial support for small businesses
During the autumn budget, the Chancellor announced that the Recovery Loan Scheme would be extended until 30 June 2022.
The Recovery Loan Scheme is currently open to businesses of any size, to support them to access loans and other kinds of finance so they can recover after the pandemic and transition period - however the amount you can claim, and what type of business can claim it, will be changing from 1 January 2022 (see below).
Up to £10 million is available per business. The actual amount offered and the terms are at the discretion of participating lenders.
The government guarantees 80% of the finance to the lender. As the borrower, you are always 100% liable for the debt.
Loans are available through a network of accredited lenders, listed on the British Business Bank’s website.
However from 1 January 2022, the scheme will only be open to small and medium-sized enterprises. The maximum amount of finance available will be £2 million per business. The guarantee coverage that the government will provide to lenders will be reduced to 70%. Find out more here.
If you're an employer, check if you can use the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme to claim back employees’ coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
You can only claim for employees who were off work on or before 30 September 2021. Visit here.
If the coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on your ability to pay any taxes that you owe, you can call HMRC’s dedicated coronavirus helpline on 0800 0159 559 for advice and support.
If you’re a Which? Trusted Trader and you need legal advice, tax advice or support with your mental health, find out more about our free wellness helplines.
What to do if you’re an employee
If you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 or have to self-isolate in line with government advice, you should tell your employer as soon as possible.
You’ll be eligible for statutory sick pay from the first day that you can’t work.
How to protect yourself and your customers
To avoid catching or spreading coronavirus, follow the government’s advice:
- Stay at least two metres away from people living in the property while you’re working.
- Use personal protective equipment while working if possible, such as disposable gloves and a face mask.
- Avoid touching surfaces or objects in the home if you can, for example light switches and the kettle (it’s probably wise to turn down any offers of tea and biscuits).
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water – do this for at least 20 seconds.
- Always wash your hands when you get home or arrive at your workplace.
- Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
- Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.
- Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus.