As of January 2021, regional restrictions and lockdowns are in place across the whole of the UK. This is an evolving situation, and the most up to date information can be accessed via the links below.
People who are clinically extremely vulnerable across the UK are asked to take extra precautions to protect themselves. Shielding has been reintroduced in some areas for those who remain on the shielded patients list. Across all four nations, adults who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to go to work if they cannot work from home.
The situation remains that most children with cystic fibrosis (CF) are no longer classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, though a small number remain on the shielding list on medical advice.
Schools and colleges across the UK have all moved to online learning, and remain open only for vulnerable children and those of keyworker parents. The dates schools are expected to remain closed vary and are subject to review.
The Government's furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April 2021. The Government food parcel scheme has now ceased; however, some of the support measures in place for those who were shielding (such as the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme in England) continue to deliver food and medication where needed.
Read the latest general guidance and shielding guidance across the UK:
If you or your children are struggling to cope with worries about the virus, visit our page on mental and physical health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACAS has provided some useful guidance for employees and employers, which is quite general but is also very clear and straightforward.
In terms of how this applies to people with CF, cystic fibrosis can be defined as a disability and this means that someone with CF has the right to request ‘reasonable adjustments’ (for example, to request to work from home if possible due to the shielding guidance). We would suggest discussing this with your employer. You can read more about CF at work, and find general information to explain the condition to employers, here.
When talking to your employer about how the coronavirus outbreak affects you, it is a good idea to provide information about CF from an official source (you could use our information above), show your employer the link to the Government's guidance on protecting those who are ‘extremely vulnerable’ and that this specifically mentions CF, and show them the UKCFMA’s latest advice on our website. You may be asked to provide medical evidence, in which case you could discuss the letter or text messages you will have recently received from the Government, advising you to follow the shielding guidance.
If you are worried about the financial implications of being unable to work, please speak to your CF specialist social worker or contact our Helpline, who can provide information on benefits and our welfare grant programme. The helpline can also arrange for you to have personalised advice from our Welfare and Rights Advisor or our Welfare Officer, who can support you to understand your rights and the options available. Further information about this can be found below.
For advice about Carers Rights at work, visit carers UK.
An important part of understanding your employment rights is knowing whether you are employed or self-employed. You can find useful definitions on the ACAS website.
This section is being updated following the announcements made on 4 January 2021.
As you will no doubt be aware, things are changing quite rapidly. The effect of COVID-19, the Government’s response and issuing of guidance and the existence of and application of employment legislation is under constant review. Whilst we are trying to navigate the options available for employees, it is complicated and it is impossible to produce advice that applies to everyone, in all circumstances, that will be valid at all times. The explanation below is based on the Government’s latest sets of published guidance which will take effect from 2 December 2020. Where possible, it will also relate to Wales and Scotland. This page will be updated as and when new guidance is released.
This page is intended to offer general guidance, not legal advice.
The legislation relayed on this page is relevant to England, Wales and Scotland. Employment law in Northern Ireland is quite different from that in England, Wales and Scotland. If you are based in Northern Ireland, please speak to your CF team for details of the Advice Space service, which is co-funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Lockdown in England has been lifted from 2 December 2020 and a revised, three tier system has now been put in place. Further, Public Health England has advised that shielding is not required from 2 December 2020 unless you have received a letter specifically advising you to do so.
The advice in all three tiers (tier 1 – medium, tier 2 – high and tier 3 – very high), is to work from home where possible. According to the most recent guidance, in tiers 1 and 2, you can attend work if you cannot work from home, so long as your workplace is COVID-secure. Further information about COVID-safe work environments is explored below.
In tier 3, the Government’s guidance is to speak to your employer about taking an alternative role or temporarily changing your working pattern, if working from home is not possible. However, if you are unable to reach agreement with your employer, the Government’s guidance is that you can return to the workplace. This position has been published both in the summary guidance that has been sent to those who fall within the clinically extremely vulnerable category; and in the online guidance, published by Public Health England on 26 November 2020, '2 December guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19'.
In its online guidance, Public Health England states as follows:
“If you cannot make alternative arrangements, your employer may be able to furlough you under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended until the end of March 2021. You should have a conversation with your employer about whether this is possible.”
The above applies to all three tiers. Therefore, while on the one hand the Government has confirmed that you can return to the workplace, despite being clinically extremely vulnerable, there is an alternative route if you do not feel that it is safe for you to do so.
The wording in the CJRS guidance 'Check which employees you can put on furlough to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme', last updated on 19 November 2020, states as follows:
“If your employee is:
- unable to work because they are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus and following public health guidance
- unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), including employees that need to look after children
They are eligible for the grant and can be furloughed.”
In summary, your employer can furlough you if you are a clinically extremely vulnerable person, but technically, it doesn’t have to. As most people with CF are likely to fall within the definition of a disabled person, within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010, an employer who insists on an employee with CF returning to the work place when furlough is available as an alternative, runs the risk of its action being in breach of its obligation to make reasonable adjustments and doing so is likely to constitute disability discrimination. If this has happened to you, you should seek independent legal advice as soon as possible. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and your CF Centre should be able to provide you with sufficient information to share with your employer to make them aware of your disability.
If you live in the same household as someone with CF, your options will vary significantly depending on individual circumstances, including their age, the nature and severity of their CF and the risk posed by your workplace, given your working environment, duties, responsibilities and commuting requirements. If your workplace poses a serious and imminent threat of danger to your loved one’s health, because of their CF, you should inform your employer in line with the steps set out below. If your employer agrees to furlough you, it won’t matter if you haven’t been placed on furlough before. In fact, even if your employer has not previously used the CJRS at all, it will still be eligible to benefit from it, as long as it has a UK bank account and uses a UK PAYE scheme. An employer that is affected by the Coronavirus can furlough all employees, on any type of contract, as long as those employees were on the employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020.
The decision to furlough an employee remains with the employer. Therefore, if you feel it is not safe to return to work but your employer will not alter your role or working arrangements to enable you to work from home and will not furlough you, you must communicate your concerns about workplace safety to your employer.
As the CJRS has been a UK wide scheme, the extended CJRS was and remains available to employers in Scotland and Wales, despite the employers being subject to different regional restrictions.
The Welsh Government has implemented restrictions similar to those in the higher tiers in England. Further information can be found here.
In its guidance, the Welsh Government states:
“Our guidance to employers is that employees should not be required or placed under pressure to return to a workplace setting if there is not a clearly demonstrated business need for them to do so. Employers who are considering requiring their staff to return to workplace settings should first assess whether alternative arrangements could meet the majority of the employer’s needs. This should be discussed with staff or representatives of staff.”
Its guidance to employers, 'Workplace guidance for employers and employees: COVID-19' can be found here.
If you live and work in Wales, given the current ongoing restrictions, your employer is likely to be more amenable to agreeing to a request from an employee to be placed on furlough. If you are not already on furlough, you should approach your employer and make the request without delay. However, if your employer chooses not to place you on furlough, please follow the steps below.
The Scottish Government maintains its 5 tier restrictions.
Guidance for workers has been published here.
If you live and work in Scotland, and you are not placed on furlough by your employer and you believe that returning to your place of work would pose a serious and imminent danger to your health or a member of your household with CF, please follow the steps below.
If you are asked to work in the workplace, despite Government guidance to work from home if possible, and you are concerned about the risk of exposure and infection of COVID-19 or bringing the virus into your household by attending your place of work, you need to communicate your concerns to your employer in writing, explaining your circumstances.
It is important that you make it very clear to your employer exactly what your concerns are.
Firstly, you will need to consider whether the workplace is COVID secure and if it is, whether COVID secure is sufficiently safe to protect you/your loved one, given individual circumstances as a result of cystic fibrosis.
While we cannot answer this for you, we would suggest that you take the following steps to enable you to make a decision that is right for you:
- Have the discussion with your employer and set out your concerns in writing. You should provide clear information about CF, including information provided by the Trust and if possible, medical evidence from a relevant CF Centre. It is important that you clearly explain that, because of your/your loved one’s CF, you/they have been identified by Public Health England as clinically extremely vulnerable and while shielding is not currently required, working from home should be permitted wherever possible. Further, you should explain that by travelling to and attending your place of work you are exposing yourself/your loved one to the virus by potentially bringing it back into the home, placing them in serious and imminent danger, that can only be averted by staying at home with them, on the extended furlough scheme, or by working at home;
- Request a copy of your employer’s risk assessment and an explanation of the measures and structures that they have put in place to enable social distancing and allow hygiene infection control. Ask for a clear explanation of their plan for communication to and surveillance of their work force in terms of adherence and detection of symptoms. Ask how this is going to be updated as the tiers change. See further information about risk assessments below;
- Read the Government’s guidance on what constitutes a COVID-secure workplace for the relevant sector. Those employers that can remain open, will have to adhere to the rules. There will of course be employers that cannot open because of local higher tier restrictions;
- Assess and plan how you would travel to work and carry out your own risk assessment for the journey. If driving your own car, looking at any risks posed by the practicalities such as how, when and where you would park your car. This risk assessment can be communicated to your employer;
- Seek advice from a medical expert, ideally from a relevant CF Centre. Your CF Centre may factor in the latest and most up to date statement from the UKCFMA. You should be ready to provide a copy of your employer’s risk assessment or an explanation of the measures it is taking to make the workplace COVID secure. You can ask for assistance in determining whether the COVID-secure environment is sufficient to protect you / your loved one, given their specific medical history;
- Read the details of the Access to Work scheme to see whether you or your employer can claim a grant to cover the cost of work place assistance or equipment to enable your employer to make reasonable adjustments over and above what your employer is required to do to make its workplace COVID-secure including making changes to allow you to work from home. You can apply for funding to cover the cost of certain equipment and training required to set up a workstation at home. Further, if you are required to make changes to your commute, because of the risk pose to your safety, because of COVID-19, as a result of your CF, you may be awarded some or all of the cost under the scheme. The details can be accessed here; and
- Seek legal advice on your individual circumstances.
The information set out below may assist you to follow the steps set out above.
What is COVID-secure?
The Government guidance as to what COVID secure means is set out in the 14 separate sector specific sets of guidance which can be found here.
These sets are likely to be subject to ongoing review as the level of risk to public health changes.
Health & Safety Executive
Further, more practical details and example risk assessments can be found on the HSE website.
The law setting out the rights of employees who have health and safety concerns is complex and the relevant sections of the Employment Rights Act 1996, were not purposely drafted with a pandemic in mind. How they apply in these circumstances hasn’t yet been tested by the Employment Tribunals or Courts and will be subject to interpretation. Government Guidance now makes reference to your right to raise Health and Safety concerns to your employer via your Union representative or directly to the Health and Safety Executive. You can also raise your concerns in a grievance or by letter or email directly to your employer. If you raise your health and safety concerns verbally, you should follow up your discussions with written confirmation of your concerns.
The following legal principles will assist you with such discussions.
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) protects an employee from suffering a detriment if, in circumstances of danger, which they reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which they could not have reasonably been expected to avert, they leave or refuse to return to the place of work or the dangerous part of the place of work. It also protects those who because of the same reasonable belief take appropriate steps to protect themselves or other persons from danger. Section 100 of the ERA prohibits dismissals under the same circumstances (specifically subsections (1) (d) and (1) (e)).
Further, the communication of concern to the employer is, in itself protected under the provisions that protect whistle-blowers. Under s.43B(1)(d) of the ERA, informing the employer that “the health and safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered” constitutes a qualifying disclosure and protects the employee who raised it against further detriment.
A detriment can include but is not limited to, suspension, reduced or withheld pay, demotion, or dismissal. In taking any of these actions, the employer will expose itself to liability for compensation for injury to feelings, loss of earnings and potential claims of a detriment short of dismissal, constructive unfair dismissal, unfair dismissal or breach of contract. There is an interesting argument about reduction of pay if the employer reduces pay under the CJRS. If the employer reduces pay because it is entitled to, because it has authority to lay the employee off in the contract of employment and because it is applying the CJRS, that is fine. If the employer reduces pay following and because of a protected disclosure about health and safety concerns, that is a detriment and therefore shouldn’t happen.
We still don’t know how the Employment Tribunals will apply s.44, s.100(1)(d) and s.100(1)(e) of the ERA to issues involving COVID-19. The key will be to establishing that there was a risk of serious and imminent danger. It may be that Tribunals take the view that whilst we are dealing with a declared pandemic, there will be a constant risk of serious danger and that risk will always be imminent. This view might be limited to time frames where the Government’s advice is that the clinically extremely vulnerable should not work. Alternatively, the Tribunals may consider a more holistic approach to the medical risk, taking into account the environmental factors, work place risks and the individual medical circumstances of the person at risk. Each case would then be assessed on its own, very individual circumstances.
Parental leave is a form of statutory unpaid leave available to some working parents. The total amount of unpaid leave that can be taken per child is 18 weeks and this can be taken up to the child’s 18th birthday. The right to parental leave is limited to employees who have been continuously employed for a period of not less than one year, who have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child.
Some employers may offer enhanced, contractual parental leave which could include payment during some or all of the leave. It is therefore important to check your employer’s existing policies.
Time off for dependants
Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to take necessary action to deal with situations affecting their dependants. The right applies to employees only but covers all employees irrespective of length or service, working hours or whether the employment is permanent or on a fixed-term basis.
The right provides that an employee is entitled to take reasonable time off where it is necessary:
- to provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted;
- to make care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured;
- in consequence of the death of a dependant;
- to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant; or
- to deal with an unexpected incident which involves the employee’s child during school hours.
Given that schools remain open for now, this will have limited scope. It will become more relevant if you are involved in a local period of lockdown, school closure or a period of isolation is imposed to those in your child’s school bubble.
The Government guidance on this entitlement can be found here.
In addition to the circumstances described above, if you are, yourself displaying symptoms of COVID–19, or someone in your household is displaying symptoms, you will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for 14 days from the date on which the symptoms first started or until you are well enough to return to work.
If you are contractually entitled to receive company sick pay, you will be entitled to company sick pay, in accordance with your employer’s sick pay scheme. If you are in a household where someone within that household is displaying symptoms, and you are isolating, you may, potentially be entitled to receive company sick pay, but it will be at your employer’s discretion. This is because you, as an individual are not actually sick. If you go on to experience symptoms yourself, you will then be entitled to company sick pay. It is important that you keep your employer up to date with regard to your circumstances.
If you are extremely clinically vulnerable and you live in a local lockdown area or you work in a local lockdown area but live outside it you can claim SSP. You will be required to provide evidence to your employer that you are extremely clinically vulnerable.
General information about SSP can be found here.
We expect further information about SSP during lockdown to be available over the next few days.
Only individuals with a qualifying disability (under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010) can request reasonable adjustments. Unfortunately, you cannot request adjustments because of someone else’s disability.
You can request adjustments that would allow you to work from home including the provision of specialist equipment. You can apply for support from the Government for the cost of funding such adjustments with your employer here.
The information contained above is not intended to constitute legal advice. Legal advice will vary, depending on an individual’s specific circumstances. This information has been produced by the Employment Law Department of Richard Nelson LLP.
With shielding being paused, there have been some changes to the benefits rules and procedures. We have also added some important dates if you’re claiming under the income support scheme for Self-Employment.
It is very difficult to give general benefits advice, as your entitlement depends on many things, like who you live with, if you have a partner in employment, your savings situation, and your National Insurance record.
Another major factor is whether you have a good relationship with your employer, and if you are entitled to any contractual sick pay. Your employer can also get support.
Sometimes there are difficult decisions to make, and while we don’t always have the answers, we can support you and make sure you are well informed to make your own decisions weighing up practical arrangements, finances and risks to health.
If you are currently receiving any legacy benefits (see below), we would stress the importance of seeking specialist advice rather than following what has been reported in the press about claiming Universal Credit, as this could mean you are at risk of losing something else you receive.
Legacy benefits are:
- Child tax credit
- Housing benefit
- Income-related employment and support allowance
- Income-based jobseeker's allowance
- Income support
- Working tax credit
Here are answers to some more specific questions that you might have about financial support and benefits:
The Government set up a scheme to support you if you're self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income due to COVID-19. This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next three months.
Find out more about eligibility and how to access the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) here.
If you’re eligible and your business has been adversely affected, you needed to make your claim for the first grant on or before 13 July 2020.
This scheme is being extended. If you’re eligible for the second and final grant, and your business has been adversely affected on or after 14 July 2020, you’ll be able to make a claim from 17 August 2020. You can make a claim for the second grant if you’re eligible, even if you did not make a claim for the first grant. Find out more about the extension to the scheme.
If you are self-employed, you may also be able to claim support through the Welfare system. What you can claim will depend on your personal circumstances and your means/savings. You may be able to claim New-style Jobseeker’s Allowance, New-style Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit. However, please seek specialist advice before making any claims.
If you already get benefits like Tax Credits or Housing Benefit, tell the office paying you that you can't work because you're sick or unable to work due to the shielding guidance. You might be entitled to more money while you're off work.
If you are going back to work, you will need to let them know.
If you are employed and are on sick leave, you may be able to get contractual sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay.
In the UK, those who are deemed to be incapable of work by reason of coronavirus now also includes a person who:
- is defined in public health guidance as extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of an underlying health condition; and
- has been advised, by notification sent to, or in respect of, that person in accordance with that guidance, to follow rigorously shielding measures for the period specified in the notification.
However, shielding has now been paused and people with cystic fibrosis have been told they can return to work (if they cannot work from home0, providing the workplace is COVID-secure. This means that people with CF are no longer eligible for Statutory Sick Pay due to shielding.
You can read Government legislation on SSP legislation here.
You might still be able to get SSP after shielding has been paused if you can’t work from home and it’s not safe for you to go to work. You’ll need a fit note from your doctor to give to your employer.
If you are extremely clinically vulnerable and you live in a local lockdown area or you work in a local lockdown area but live outside it, you can claim SSP. You will be required to provide evidence to your employer that you are extremely clinically vulnerable. Further information can be found in the Work section (above).
Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £120 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, may be able to able to claim Universal Credit and/or New Style Employment and Support Allowance.
What you can claim, if you have no income, will depend on your personal circumstances and your means/savings. You may be able to claim New-style Jobseeker’s Allowance, New-style Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit. However please seek specialist advice before making any claims.
People receiving benefits did not have to attend Jobcentre appointments for three months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. However, from 1 July 2020, claimants can make an appointment to see their work coach at a Jobcentre if they can’t get the help they want online or over the phone.
People can still make applications for benefits online if they are eligible.
Jobcentres were open to support people who were not able to use phones or the internet, including homeless people. From 1 July, Jobcentres are further opening up, with appropriate safety measures in place for COVID-19, to enable them to safely see more claimants. Work Coaches will be working with claimants to start to help them in their work search and creating and agreeing their Claimant Commitment.
If you are already claiming Universal Credit and think you may have been affected by coronavirus, please contact your work coach as soon as possible. You can do this through your online journal or by calling the helpline.
You can find out more here.
From Tuesday 17 March, face-to-face assessments for all claimants on disability benefits were suspended for three months. This temporary move was taken as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to COVID-19 and affected claimants of Personal Independence Payment, those on Employment and Support Allowance and some on Universal Credit, and recipients of Industrial Disablement Benefits. The suspension also covers new claims to those benefits.
Anyone who had a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled from Tuesday 17 March onwards does not need to attend and will be contacted to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments. Take a look at our PIP telephone assessment factsheet (1.046MB) for more information and how to prepare.
This suspension should not disrupt processing of benefits claims or actual payments, and we advise people to keep an eye on updates from the official Government web page.
The DWP has said that the suspension of face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits is to continue.
From Tuesday 24 March, reviews and reassessments for disability benefits were suspended for three months. All awards and reassessments for health and disability benefits were extended. This included Universal Credit (UC), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
On 6 July, the Government announced that reviews and renewals will be gradually reintroduced.
The DWP will shortly be writing to some PIP and DLA claimants asking them to complete paperwork to resume their reviews, reassessments and renewals; and for PIP cases where paperwork has already been returned, claimants may be contacted by one of the DWP's Assessment Providers.
The suspension of face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits is to continue.
Your Claimant Commitment can be tailored to your circumstances and can also be reviewed and changed if needed at any time, and requirements can be ‘switched off’. Work Coaches have a broad discretion to customise your Claimant Commitment to meet your needs. However, if you have to stay at home under social shielding guidance, or you are a carer, you need to let them know. Find out more information on Universal Credit’s Claimant Commitments or childcare.
It is possible to apply for an advance payment of Universal Credit, but this money does need to be paid back. You may be able to apply for a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, if you meet the criteria. There are also many other charities who offer non-repayable grants to help individuals on low incomes.
If required you can access advance payments upfront without needing to attend a jobcentre. Find out more here.
The Government will also provide local authorities in England with £500m grant funding to support economically vulnerable people who are impacted by the economic fallout of the virus in their local area. The Treasury expects most of this funding to be used to provide council tax relief, either through existing Local Council Tax Support schemes or through complementary reliefs. We do not yet know how accessible this help will be, but we will be monitoring the situation closely.
Please contact our Helpline if you need further information.
The Trust has always provided emergency grants (as well as a range of other grants) to those in financial need, in order to help everyone with CF stay as well as possible. We are expanding our grant programme to provide more emergency grants right now, to protect the health of those with CF who are facing financial struggles by ensuring they are able to afford the food and basic essentials they need. More information and the grant application form can be found on our emergency grants page.
Our Helpline team are on hand if you have any questions about our grants, and can also put you in touch with our Welfare and Rights Advisor.
All primary and secondary schools across the UK have moved to remote learning. They remain open only to vulnerable children and those of keyworker parents.
Nurseries and other early years settings remain open in some parts of the UK and closed in others.
Higher education institutions across the UK have also moved to online learning.
Further information about education across the four nations can be found in the general guidance links below:
This page is being regularly reviewed and updated as coronavirus advice and guidance changes.