On 23 March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would effectively be going into "lockdown" for a period of at least three weeks, in order to tackle the spread of coronavirus. This means closing all non-essential shops and public spaces and banning public gatherings of more than two people. Individuals are only allowed to leave their house for one of four reasons: shopping for basic necessities, one form of exercise per day, medical need or travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home. The police will have powers to enforce these restrictions through issuing fines, although, unlike in some other countries, there is not (yet) a requirement for individuals to carry documentation explaining why they are not in their house.
These restrictions will, of course, have a huge impact on every aspect of life and will place employers, employees and the self-employed in a situation that would scarcely have been imaginable even a few weeks ago. The UK Government has announced a number of proposals designed to assist businesses and protect workers – and the self-employed – financially throughout the coming months. Most notably, these include (i) a funded furlough scheme – the "Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme" (the "Scheme"), which will be available to all businesses in the UK to avoid layoffs; (ii) a "self-employed income support scheme"; and (iii) changing the rules on payment of statutory sick pay. The UK Government also announced cash-flow assistance measures to help business during this difficult period.
In this alert, we will:
- Examine the Scheme in further detail;
- Explain the latest changes to statutory sick pay rules;
- Consider the position for self-employed workers; and
- Provide answers to some commonly asked questions.