Last updated on: 15/06/20

In the wake of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, the UK government has announced a series of measures to support those affected.

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.

On 14 June 2020, the government announced a series of updates to its guidance concerning retail spaces, which means that many retailers are now able to open their shop fronts to customers. 

However, this guidance specifies that employers have a legal responsibility to protect their workers and others from risks to their health and safety. Read the government's shops and branches guidance for more details on whether reopening is right for your business, and what safety measures will need to be put in place.

On 15 June 2020, the government also updated its guidance for employers and workers in the construction industry. Head to its advice on construction and other outdoor work for more details.

If you, or your employees, need to carry out work in other people's homes, read the new guidance for working in homes.

What to do if you feel ill

You should stay at home and self-isolate if you have either:

  • a high temperature - this means you feel hot to 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.

If you have these symptoms you should stay at home and self-isolate for seven days from when your symptoms started.

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.

What to do if you’re self-employed

Self-employed workers whose income has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak can now apply for the government’s self-employed income support scheme (SEISS).

Applications opened online on 13 May 2020 on HMRC’s website.

If you’re eligible, you’ll receive a taxable grant of up to 80% of your average monthly earnings, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. This is paid as a lump sum, and may be backdated to March - but HMRC will inform you when you can backdate your claim to.

This is open to anyone with trading profits up to £50,000 a year, who traded in the tax year 2019-20 and intends to continue trading in 2020-21, and who earn the majority of their income through self-employment. You must also have submitted a tax return for 2018-19.

The pay you receive is based on your tax returns over the past three years. If you’ve been self-employed for less than three years, an average will be taken from the tax returns you’ve submitted so far. If you’ve only submitted a return for 2018-19, it will be used as the basis for your payment.

The money won’t have to be paid back, and you can continue to work in whatever capacity is possible. This can be continuing your usual job, or getting another job.

Other help for self-employed workers

On 21 April, it was announced that self-employed workers in Scotland who aren’t eligible for the SEISS could apply for a grant from the new self-employed hardship fund.

Those who have only been self-employed for a short time, and are facing hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, could get grants of up to £2,000. This includes those who have been ruled out of the UK scheme because they became self-employed during the 2019-20 tax year, and therefore cannot fulfil the requirement to submit a 2018-19 tax return.

If you’re self-employed, you won’t be able to claim statutory sick pay.

To ensure that self-employed people have some financial support if they are unwell, self-isolating or otherwise unable to work as normal during the outbreak, the rules for claiming Universal Credit have been relaxed.

Government has suspended the ‘minimum income floor’, the earnings threshold used to work out whether you can receive benefits and how much you should receive. This means self-employed people will now be able to access Universal Credit. The amount they can receive is equivalent to the statutory sick pay rate.

However, be aware that, if you receive an SEISS payment in June, it will be treated as earned income for that month. This will likely wipe out any Universal Credit payments you were due to receive and cause it to stop. If you wish to continue to claim, you’ll have to re-apply for Universal Credit in July.

Employment and Support Allowance will be paid to eligible people from the first day they are sick, rather than from day eight. Find out how to make a claim for benefits during the outbreak.

Mortgage lenders are arranging three-month ‘mortgage holidays’ for those in financial difficulty due to COVID-19. Renters will be able to get contributions towards their rent from local housing allowances.

Self-assessment tax payments normally paid midway through the tax year (known as ‘payments on account’) have been deferred until January 2021. You might also be able to get help from HMRC if coronavirus affects your ability to pay any taxes that you owe.

Read more advice from Which? Money about help and support for the self-employed.

What to do if you’re an employer

Two construction workers talking to each other on a building site

Make sure that you have contact details for your staff in case of an emergency, and that they know how to report illness to you or their manager.

Current government advice is for everyone to stay at home wherever possible, and limit contact with other people. Rules of what you can and cannot do depend on whether you’re in England, Scotland or Wales.

Workers are asked to work from home, unless they cannot work from home. However, as of 15 June, companies in the retail and construction industries are permitted to return to work provided employers carry out a risk assessment and introduce measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Employers must encourage staff to work from home wherever possible. If employees do have to leave their home for their work, employers must have carried out a risk assessment, and put in place reasonable steps to prevent harm in the workplace.

For instance, where possible, they should maintain a two-metre distance from others, ensure that they can regularly wash their hands with hot water and soap, or disinfect them with hand sanitiser. Employers may need to install shields or screens to separate people from each other.

If you are considering reopening a shop to the public, read the full advice for those working in the retail industry. Find out how to protect on-site construction workers in the guidance for construction and other outdoor work. 

If you, or your employees, need to carry out work in other people's homes, read the new guidance for working in homes.

If an employee has to take time off because they’re infected with coronavirus, or following government advice to self-isolate, as a minimum, you’ll need to give them statutory sick pay from the first day they’re absent.

To understand more about sick pay, read the latest advice for employers from Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).

Coronavirus and financial support for small businesses

Smaller businesses (with fewer than 250 employees) will be able to reclaim statutory sick pay paid for COVID-19 absence from the government. This refund will cover up to two weeks’ sick pay per eligible employee.

Under the coronavirus job retention scheme, as an employer you will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover the wages of staff members if you cannot pay them, so that you can keep them on your payroll. Grants will cover 80% of an employee’s wages, up to £2,500 a month.

Payments will be backdated to 1 March and the scheme will be open for at least eight months, to the end of October. HMRC opened the scheme to claims on 20 April.

From August to October, greater flexibility will be added to the scheme so that employers can bring employees back to work part-time, while maintaining the same overall level of support until the end of the scheme.

A temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme is now available for small and medium-sized businesses, helping  businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. For SMEs, loans of up to £5m will be available with no interest due for the first 12 months Loans in the form of overdrafts and invoice finance facilities can last for up to three years, and other loans and asset finance facilities can last for up to six years.

To apply, the business must be based in the UK, and have an annual turnover of up to £45m. You’ll need to provide proof that the business would be viable if it weren’t for the pandemic, and that it has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus.

To borrow £30,000 or more, you’ll also need to confirm that your business wasn’t classed as a ‘business in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019.

If you have business premises and you’re already eligible for Small Business Rates Relief, you’ll also be able to get a one-off grant of £10,000 to help meet your ongoing costs.

If you normally pay VAT, you won't need to make any VAT payments from 20 March to 30 June. If any work you carry out during this time would normally be subject to VAT, you'll have until the end of January 2021 to pay it.

If the outbreak has 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 help 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 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.

If your employer asks for evidence that you needed to self-isolate, from Friday 20 March, you’ll be able to get an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online and completing an online form, rather than visiting a doctor.

Can tradespeople still work in customers’ homes?

On 11 May the government set out its plan to ease the lockdown and allow some workers who can’t work from home to go back to work.

This includes construction workers,those that work in factories, plants or warehouses as well as those that work in other people’s homes such as cleaners and tradespeople.

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 14 June 2020. This includes social distancing wherever possible, wearing a face covering, not sharing tools, using a fixed-pairing system for people that have to work in close proximity with each other and washing hands regularly.

You can continue 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 which supplies and fits stoves, told us they’re now providing quotes to homeowners using FaceTime and Google Hangouts.

How to protect yourself and your customers

Person washing their hands at a sink

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 face masks
  • 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 offers of tea and biscuits)
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds.
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work.
  • 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.
  • Only travel on public transport if you need to.
  • Avoid social activities and events with large groups of people.

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