sick pay

Sick pay

What am I entitled to and how do I claim it?

The coronavirus pandemic has made many of us realise that serious illness can hit when we least expect it. Having to take time off work can be stressful both emotionally and financially. But there is support available if you're too unwell to work. This guide looks at what you could get in sick pay and how to claim it.

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What financial support is available if I'm too sick to work?

If you're an employee, there are two main types of pay you might get if you're unable to work due to illness or injury:

These types of sick pay are only available to employees who fulfil certain criteria. This means that some people – including the self-employed – aren't able to claim them. If you can't claim either of the payments above (or you've used up your entitlements), you may be able to claim universal credit or employment support allowance.

In this guide we'll cover all the financial support available if you have to take time off work due to illness or injury, plus the special support available if you need to self-isolate due to coronavirus. Scroll down to read, or click the links above to take you to the options most relevant to you.

What is contractual sick pay?

Many employers offer some form of sick pay over and above the statutory minimum as part of their offer of employment – though there's no requirement for them to do so.

If your employer does offer contractual sick pay, there's no set amount, but it can't be less than the amount they'd have to pay you under statutory sick pay (£99.35 a week). Some will offer full pay for a certain period of time, and then statutory sick pay. It's also common for employers to offer half pay for the time you're too ill to work.

You should be able to find details of your employer's sick pay policy in your contract. If your company doesn't offer a sick pay scheme, it's required to tell you that too.

If you do get contractual sick pay, employers must 'offset' anything they pay you against the statutory sick pay you'd have been due for the same period. In other words: you can't get both contractual sick pay and statutory sick pay at the same time. This also means that any contractual sick pay you get will be deducted from your statutory sick pay allowance.

What is statutory sick pay?

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is a weekly amount paid by UK employers to employees who are off work due to illness. The amount you get is set by the Government and is currently £99.35 a week. You can claim it for up to 28 weeks, as long as you meet the qualifying criteria:

  • You've been ill for FOUR or more consecutive days, including non-working days.
  • You're an employee or agency worker on a full-time, part-time or zero-hours contract.
  • You earn an average of £123 or more a week.

The first three days you're off work are called 'waiting days'. You won't get any statutory sick pay for these days. Any further days you're off work are called 'qualifying days', meaning you will get SSP for these.

How do I claim SSP?

SSP is paid by employers, so in order to claim, you'll need to contact your workplace to let them know you're unwell and unable to work. It's important to get in touch with your employer as soon as possible, and no later than the deadline stipulated in your contract. If there's no notification deadline in your contract, you'll need to let them know within seven days.

If you're unwell for more than seven consecutive days, including non-working days, it's likely you'll be asked to provide a 'fit note' or 'sick note' from your GP, nurse, pharmacist, or a hospital, as evidence of your illness or injury and your consequent inability to work. Depending on the reason you're off sick, you may also be able to get a valid note from an occupational therapist, podiatrist, or physiotherapist (known as allied health and professional health work reports).

You can claim statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks, but you'll likely need to provide your employer with regular updates on your condition, usually in the form of sick notes.

How is SSP paid?

Statutory sick pay is paid in the same way as your wages. So if you normally get paid at the end of each month, you'll be paid your SSP entitlement at the end of the month too. You'll also pay tax and national insurance at your normal rate on it (unless your earnings are below the share of the personal allowance for that month).

If your employer doesn't pay you the right amount of SSP, or claims you're not eligible for it, you have the right to ask why. You should first talk to your employer to see if you can settle the matter internally. If not, you can contact HMRC's Statutory Payment Dispute team.

Quick questions

  • I've already claimed SSP this year and then returned to work – can I claim it again?

    Yes, if you've already been paid statutory sick pay this year, you may still be able to claim it again.

    If you've not used up all of your 28-week SSP allowance, and you're unable to work due to sickness for more than three days in a row, you'll be able to claim SSP.

    • If MORE THAN eight weeks have passed since your last 'period of incapacity' (period of sickness lasting four or more days in a row), your allowance is renewed. This means you'll again be able to claim SSP for up to the full 28 weeks.
    • If LESS THAN eight weeks have passed since your last period of incapacity, you'll only be able to claim for the amount of time you have left of your 28-week allowance. For example: If you were previously off work for eight weeks, you'll be able to claim SSP for the remaining 20 weeks of your allowance.

    If you've already received 28 weeks of SSP, and haven't yet been back at work for eight weeks before you again need to take time off for illness, you won't get any statutory sick pay.

  • I have two jobs – can I claim SSP from both employers?

    Yes, if you meet the eligibility criteria, you can claim SSP from both employers. Your eligibility for SSP will be assessed for each job individually, so you may find you qualify for one job, but not another.

    For example, if one job involves physical work that you cannot do while recovering, but the other is office work that you are able to, you would only get SSP for the job you couldn't do. Similarly, if only one of your jobs pays more than £123 a week, you would only be able to claim SSP from that company.

  • Can I get SSP if I also get universal credit?

    Yes. You can claim both universal credit and statutory sick pay at the same time, as long as you meet the relevant eligibility criteria for both.

    Your SSP payments will be taken into account when calculating your universal credit payment. But because your SSP is likely to be lower than your normal salary, your universal credit payments should increase to help to cover the dip in earnings.

  • Will I still get national insurance credits while I'm on sick leave?

    In order to qualify for class 1 national insurance credits, you normally need to earn more than £184 a week, and be under state pension age.

    If you're being paid statutory sick pay for several weeks, you may not earn enough to automatically qualify for class 1 credits. However, you can still apply for the credits.

    Make sure you check whether you need to do this. These credits will contribute to your state pension, and may help you qualify for other benefits, such as 'new style' employment and support allowance (ESA), which is particularly important if you think your time off work will last longer than 28 weeks.

  • What happens to my holiday allowance while I'm off work?

    You'll continue to earn statutory holiday allowance during the period that you're off work due to sickness, no matter how long you're off for.

    If you don't use up all your statutory holiday allowance, it can be carried over to next year.

    Your employer isn't legally allowed to force you to take holiday leave, but you might decide to take some if you've used up all your sick pay allowance.

What support is available if I can't claim sick pay or I've been off longer than 28 weeks?

As mentioned above, you can take as many weeks of sick leave as you need, but you'll only get a maximum of 28 weeks of statutory sick pay (some may have a more generous policy from their employer).

Those who earn less than £123 a week or are self-employed won't be eligible for any form of sick pay, unless they have separate insurance. In both these cases, the options will be to claim one or both of:

  • Universal credit. Your first port of call should be to check whether you're eligible for universal credit. What you'll get varies depending on your income, your family and housing circumstances, as well as how much you've currently got in savings. But for many people, universal credit can help compensate somewhat for a drop in earnings due to illness.

  • 'New style' employment and support allowance (ESA). Employment and support allowance is a benefit that gives you money to help with living costs if you cannot work due to a health condition or disability. ESA can be claimed alongside universal credit, so don't treat it as a matter of one or the other – the amount of universal credit you receive will simply be adjusted if your ESA claim is successful. You can also claim ESA if you're not eligible for universal credit.

    And while you can't get statutory sick pay (SSP) and ESA at the same time, you can start your ESA claim up to three months before your SSP ends. It's worth claiming ESA early – so your payments start as soon as possible – if it looks like your illness or injury will keep you off work long-term.

Depending on the nature of your illness, you may also be able to claim other benefits like personal independence payment or attendance allowance. Check what other support you might be entitled to with our 10-minute benefit check tool.

What are my rights at work if my child is sick?

By law, employees have the right to take time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event, and there's no official limit for how much time you can take – as long as it can be considered "reasonable" for the situation. Unfortunately, you DON'T have a legal right to be paid for time you take off work to care for dependants.

Some employers may offer paid time off in this situation depending on your contract or your workplace's policy. It's worth checking your company's policy in your contract, company handbook or with human resources, just in case.

If you're not able to take paid leave, there are a few other options available:

  • Taking annual leave. Although not ideal, if you do need to spend time away from work to care of your child and your employer does not offer paid time off, you may be able to book the time off as holiday.
  • Flexible working. If you've worked for the same company for at least 26 weeks, you have the legal right to request a flexible working arrangement. This could include asking to change or reduce your hours so you can look after your children.
  • Unpaid parental leave. Parental leave is available for employed parents who have been with their company for more than a year, and is usually limited to four weeks' leave per year, per child – though it could be extended at your employer's discretion. You'll also have to give 21 days' notice before you can take parental leave, though again your employer may allow you to take the leave with less notice.

Support if you catch coronavirus or need to self-isolate

You may be able to get additional financial support if you become ill with coronavirus and can't work, or if you need to self-isolate. Each country in the UK offers this support in a slightly different way – pick the relevant section for you below:

England & Wales

Previously in England, if you were told to self-isolate by 'Test and Trace' and were unable to work, you were eligible for a £500 payment for each period of self-isolation you were required to do. This scheme came to an end on 24 February 2022, when the rules requiring you to self-isolate were removed.

However, if you're off work due to coronavirus, you will still be able to get statutory sick pay. If you're on universal credit and your income drops due to working reduced hours, your benefits payment should also be increased to compensate.

Important: If you previously claimed a 'Test and Trace' payment, remember that the payments are subject to income tax, but not to national insurance contributions. If you're self-employed, you'll need to report the payment on your self-assessment tax return, if you file one.

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Scotland – claim a £225 self-isolation support grant

If you're told to self-isolate through the 'Test and Protect' service and you're on certain means-tested benefits OR earn less than the real living wage threshold, you can apply for a £225 self-isolation support grant. You may also be able to apply if your child's been sent home from school as someone in their class or bubble has tested positive, and you need to be off work to look after them.

It's not a one-off payment, you can claim it up to three times, provided you have to self-isolate and meet the eligibility criteria each time.

But not everyone is eligible to get this payment. To claim it:

  • You (or your partner living with you) must receive a qualifying benefit or earn less than the real living wage. The qualifying benefits include universal credit, working tax credit, income-based employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income support, housing benefit or pension credit.
  • You must have been asked to isolate by NHS 'Test and Protect' (or be the parent or guardian of an isolating child). This can be because you've tested positive for Covid-19 or if you've recently been in contact with someone who has tested positive. If you've been asked to isolate, the NHS contact should give you a unique ID number. If you're looking after a child, you'll only be eligible if you need to take time off work to care for a child who would otherwise be at school or nursery. They'll need to have been told by 'Test and Protect' to self-isolate.
  • If you're employed, you'll need to provide proof of this. Plus confirmation from your employer that you're unable to work from home.
  • If you're self-employed, you'll need to show evidence of self-assessment tax returns. Plus proof that you can't run your business without social contact.
  • You will NOT be eligible if you're receiving your usual income. So if you're on full pay or taking paid holiday or annual leave, you will not qualify. If you stand to lose some income – for example, if you're on partial pay – you may be eligible, as long as you meet the other criteria. If you receive no income – for example, if you're on unpaid leave – you will qualify providing you meet the other criteria.
  • You will NOT be eligible if you are fully vaccinated unless you've tested positive for Covid-19. This is because fully-vaccinated adults no longer need to self-isolate if identified as a contact by NHS 'Test and Protect'.

How do I claim the £225?

The grants are administered by local councils, so you'll need to contact yours. It's best to do this as soon as you are (or your child is) told to self-isolate, but you have 28 days from the day you're told to self-isolate to apply. It's then up to individual councils to make payments as quickly as possible.

If you get a payment, it will be 'disregarded' for benefits purposes, but you will still need to log it as a payment in your online universal credit journal if you have one. The payments are subject to income tax, but are not subject to national insurance contributions.

If you're self-employed, you should report the payment on your self-assessment tax return, if you need to file one.

Northern Ireland – claim support from the Department for Communities' discretionary support scheme

In Northern Ireland, financial support is available through the Department for Communities' discretionary support scheme if you're diagnosed with Covid-19 or advised to self-isolate under public health guidelines. It includes a non-repayable Covid-19 'living expenses grant', as well as a specific amount for any children in the household, and may be made for longer periods. You can find more information on the NIdirect website.

To be eligible for help:

  • Your annual household income must not be above the national living wage, (the legal minimum wage for those aged 23 and over). 
  • You must live in Northern Ireland.
  • You or a member of your immediate family must have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or advised to self-isolate.

How do I apply for support?

You should submit an application to the Finance Support Service using their online application form. You'll need your national insurance number to hand, along with information about your income and your bank account details.

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