No-one is ever meant to get rich – ofﬁcially at least – from a government support programme. And those that have been on statutory sick pay (SSP) know from ﬁrst-hand experience just what the government has been and is paying out when someone is signed off sick. And it’s not much.
Just as coronavirus has changed the way the world and its economies are working, it has changed how the SSP regime is administered and the level of coverage. Back in March, the government was forced to change the rules so that instead of a four-day wait before being able to claim, a sick employee suffering, self-isolating or shielding as a result of coronavirus or its symptoms, could claim from day one. The change was made for good reason too – the government clearly didn’t want unwell people in the workplace because they were too hard up to take time off.
The change led to a new process – the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme – which permits small businesses to claim back up to two weeks of SSP paid per employee under coronavirus-related circumstances. The scheme opened up to claims on 26 May and is accessed via the government’s website. It’s of note that it applies to both current and former employees and, at the time of writing, the scheme has no end date.
The scheme has various eligibility requirements and, of course, employers can only use it if they are claiming for an employee who is eligible for sick pay due to coronavirus.
In detail, employees must have an employment contract, have worked under the contract, have been off for four or more days (including non-working days), earned an average of £120 or more per week, have given the correct notice and have proven their illness if it extends for more than seven days.
The scheme applies dates to employee eligibility so that workers could be claimed for if they started self-isolating on or after 13 March 2020 because someone they live with had coronavirus, were shielding since 16 April 2020 or started self-isolating on or after 28 May 2020 because they were notiﬁed by the NHS or public health authorities that they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus.
However, on 22 June, the government removed the shielding status that some employees had been granted as from 1 August. In essence, after this date they have to attend work unless there is some other medical reason which prevents them from doing so.
It’s important to understand that employee SSP doesn’t apply if the employee has been put on furlough. However, if the employee comes off furlough and subsequently is off, they can be paid SSP which the employer can reclaim.
To make a claim, employers should also have had a PAYE payroll scheme that was created and started on or before 28 February 2020 and employed fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020 across all PAYE payroll schemes.
Coronavirus has clearly impacted how employees evidence their situation; the result is that they do not have to give their employer a doctor’s “ﬁt note” for them to be able to make a claim. That said, the employer can still ask them to provide either an isolation note from NHS 111 if they are self-isolating and cannot work because of coronavirus, or a letter from the NHS or their GP letter telling them to stay at home for at least 12 weeks because they’re at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
It matters not how the employee works for the business: full-time employees, part-time employees, those on agency contracts, employees on ﬂexible or zero-hour contracts and those on ﬁxed term contracts (until the date their contract ends) are all eligible for SSP.
Also, connected companies (and charities) can use the scheme if their total combined number of PAYE employees was fewer than 250 on 28 February 2020.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the repayment covers up to two weeks of SSP starting from the ﬁrst qualifying day of sickness if the criteria above is met. The system allows more than one claim per employee so long as no more than two weeks in total is claimed for.
As to what is paid, it’s not a king’s ransom: from 6 April 2020 it’s £95.85 a week. Further, employers can only claim up to this amount no matter how much sick pay they actually give the employee. HMRC has a “sick pay calculator” on their website to help employers understand the amounts involved.
HMRC requires records to be kept for three years after the date payment is received for the claim. The records must note the dates the employee was off sick, which were qualifying days, why the worker was off work and their National Insurance number. Employers can choose how they keep records of employees’ sickness absence. HMRC may want to see these records if there’s a dispute over payment of SSP.
How to claim
The claiming process is straightforward and is made via the HMRC portal. It’s of note that the SSP must be paid before it’s claimed back. While an employer can run the process, their accountant or payroll provider can also undertake the task if they have PAYE authorisation. Authorisation can be granted, if it hasn’t been already, via the Government Gateway and selecting “manage account”.
Employers must be enrolled in PAYE online to do this and the accountant will need to provide their “agent ID”.
Those unable to use the online system should have received a letter to this effect from HMRC. However, if nothing has been received or the claim cannot be completed online employers can refer to the Government website for help. Alternatively, call 0800 024 1222.
Lastly, the bank details where a BACS payment can be paid into must be provided.
The process isn’t perfect and isn’t going to go that far in helping workers that are off sick. However, it’s better than nothing and employers need to follow the regime to be able to make a successful claim.
TUC wants action on SSP
SSP is part of the modern employment landscape. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) released a report in May, Testing and Tracing for Covid-19: How to ensure fair access and manage monitoring in the workplace, which advocated the case for all workers having access to tests, but with the data being kept secure.
The report notes that testing and tracing is a central part of the government’s strategy as it seeks to reverse the coronavirus lockdown. However, the TUC believes that the regime can’t just be imposed – instead, it says that “concrete plans from the government are needed, setting out how it will ensure fair and equal access to testing on the one hand, and responsible and proportionate use of people’s data on the other”.
Trust is crucial to the process working properly for “without it,” the TUC says, “the necessary cooperation of working people to make the testing and tracing system work might not be forthcoming or sustained”. The TUC wants government-issued guidance on testing, agreed with unions, to employers on their responsibilities to workers.
The report makes a number of recommendations that relate to pay, paid time off for testing and general data protection regulation-related conﬁdentiality.
Lastly, the TUC thinks that the current level of SSP (£95.85 a week) is inadequate. Instead, it wants the weekly level of sick pay to increase to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the real living wage.