Last updated on: 26/03/20

In the wake of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, the 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.

What to do if you feel ill

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

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough (you've started coughing repeatedly).

If you have these symptoms you should stay at home for seven days if you live alone.

If you live with other people, all members of the household should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms.

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

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.

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.

Under the self-employed income support scheme announced on 26 March, you will be able to claim a taxable grant of up to 80% of your average monthly earnings, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

This will be open to anyone with trading profits up to £50,000 a year and will be 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 up to 31 January 2020.

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.

Consider whether all staff need to be on site or in the field. It may be possible for some staff, such as office-based employees, to work from home; this is recommended if so.

If staff are continuing to work as normal, where possible, ensure that they can regularly wash their hands with hot water and soap, or disinfect them with hand sanitiser.

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 three months. HMRC is aiming to make the first payments by the end of April.

A temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme is expected to be up and running from Monday 23 March, enabling businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. For SMES, loans of up to £5million will be available with no interest due for the first twelve months.

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?

After tighter restrictions on self-isolation were announced by the Prime Minister on 23 March, the government has now clarified whether traders can still work in people’s homes.

You can continue work as long as you are healthy and don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus. You must still follow social distancing rules.

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. You can get advice from Public Health England about how to do this safely.

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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