Coronavirus and benefits from April 2021
Mark Willis reviews coronavirus-related changes from April 2021.
Universal credit
As announced in the March Budget, the £20 a week (£86.67 a month) uplift to universal credit (UC), which was introduced for 2020/21 in response to the pandemic, is due to continue for six months only in 2021/22.1Budget 2021, para 2.19 The uplift will apply for assessment periods ending before 6 October 2021 in all new and existing claims.2The Universal Credit (Extension of Coronavirus Measures) Regulations 2021, No.313 What exactly what will happen then is not yet clear, but without further change reductions will result.
The Budget also announced the suspension of the minimum income floor for self-employed UC claimants to 31 July 2021, subsequently confirmed in regulation.3The Universal Credit (Extension of Coronavirus Measures) Regulations 2021, No.313 The minimum income floor was due to be reintroduced in May but will be reintroduced gradually from August 2021, with work coaches retaining discretion to waive it on an individual basis where earnings continue to be affected by COVID-19 restrictions. For the surplus earnings rule, the level at which earnings in one assessment period can affect the following assessment period, will remain at £2,500 (above the point at which UC is reduced to nil) for the whole of 2021/22.
Extension of coronavirus support schemes
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme have been extended until the end of September 2021.4Budget 2021, para 2.14 The total support for employees on furlough will remain at 80 per cent of normal salary, capped at £2,500 a month, but the government will introduce an employer contribution of 10 per cent in July, and 20 per cent in August and September.
For the self-employed, the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant covering February to April will be worth 80 per cent of three months’ average trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total, and can be claimed from late April. Self-employed individuals must have filed a 2019/20 self-assessment tax return to be eligible for the fourth grant, meaning those previously excluded from support due to being newly self-employed may now be eligible. The fifth and final Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant covering May to September, can be claimed from late July. The full grant will be 80 percent of average profits, but for people whose turnover has fallen by less than 30 per cent, the amount will be reduced to 30 percent of average profits and capped at £2,850.
Working tax credit
For working tax credit (WTC) claimants, the coronavirus uplift of £1,040 to the basic element payable in 2020/21 will not be extended for 2021/22, but a one-off payment of £500 will be made to anyone who was entitled to WTC with an award of more than nil on 2 March 2021.5gov.uk/guidance/new-one-off-500-payment-for-working-households-receiving-tax-credits This includes those receiving child tax credit only due to the income taper being applied to reduce WTC first. The payment is a lump sum separate from the tax credit award, and it is expected that it will be specifically disregarded for other benefits. Payments are expected to be made automatically in April, with no need to apply, and are not recoverable if the recipient subsequently ceases to be entitled to tax credits.
WTC changes which treat people as being in work while they are on furlough or a coronavirus-impacted worker (including the self- employed) will also continue until the end of September. These changes remain in place until the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ceases, and claimants are allowed a further eight-week period during which they can be treated as being in work if they have returned to work and intend to resume their normal working hours. The four-week run-on of WTC is payable after that eight-week period, or if a claimant has otherwise ceased to be a furloughed worker or a coronavirus-impacted worker. Further changes and clarifications were introduced from 14 January 2021 to tax credits in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the following.6The Tax Credits, Childcare Payments and Childcare (Extended Entitlement) (Coronavirus and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020, No.1515
Periods of self-isolation due to NHS contact tracing or when instructed not to work due to coronavirus restrictions are ignored when calculating normal working hours.
WTC claimants can continue to be treated as in work if put on furlough after a period on sickness, maternity, parental bereave- ment or adoption leave (or vice versa).
WTC claimants can continue to be treated as in work if one furloughed job ends but they accept an offer to start a new job of sufficient hours within four weeks, and are then notified that they are not required to work all or any of their contracted hours due to coronavirus.
Self-isolation support payments and winter support fund payments (one-off payment of £100 for families in receipt of free school meals) are ignored as income.
Statutory sick pay – treated as incapable of work
Person
Household or linked/extended household member
Symptoms (no test)
*No longer applies once test result notified
11 days*
11 days*
Positive test
For period notified (or at least 11 days) – until no symptoms
For period notified (or at least 11 days) – until person has no symptoms
Negative test
Up to date of notification of test result
Up to date of notification of test result
NHS contact tracing
Until date notified (usually 10 days from last contact)
Not required to isolate unless separately notified
Pre-surgery notification
Up to 14 days as notified
Not required to isolate unless separately notified
Shielding
As notified
Not required to isolate
Statutory sick pay
Following changes made at the end of December affecting the length of time an employee can be treated as incapable of work, the table shown in the article ‘Coronavirus and benefits: a round-up of recent changes’ in Bulletin 278 now looks like the table above.7The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) (No.7) Regulations 2020, No.1638
Expiry of changes
The Budget made no direct mention of other coronavirus-related changes which, at the time of writing, will cease to apply if no further amendments are made. Employment and support allowance (ESA) changes in response to coronavirus are currently due to expire on 12 May 2021.8The Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Coronavirus Disease) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, No.1097 These treat someone as having limited capability for work and eligible for ESA with no waiting days if they are infected with coronavirus or in isolation (which, according to DWP guidance, covers symptoms, recovery, contact tracing, pre-hospital admission and shielding9gov.uk/guidance/new-style-employment-and-support-allowance-detailed-guide), or caring for a child who is infected or in isolation. A provision allowing someone to remain on jobseeker’s allowance while affected by coronavirus is also due to expire on 12 May 2021.10The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 2020, No.1201 For carer’s allowance, provisions allowing a temporary break in care in cases of coronavirus are due to expire on 12 May 2021 in England and Wales, but have been extended to 31 August 2021 in Scotland.11The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 2020, No.1201; The Carer’s Allowance (Coronavirus) (Breaks in Care) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, No.140

An amendment makes clear that telephone and video can be used as additional methods of conducting health assessments for ESA, personal independence payment, UC and industrial injuries disablement benefit.12The Social Security (Claims and Payments, Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit) (Telephone and Video Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, No.230 Face-to-face assessments will be reintroduced from April, initially only for those who cannot be fully assessed by other channels.13gov.uk/government/news/face-to-face-assessments-to-resume-for-health-and-disability-benefits
 
1     Budget 2021, para 2.19  »
2     The Universal Credit (Extension of Coronavirus Measures) Regulations 2021, No.313 »
3     The Universal Credit (Extension of Coronavirus Measures) Regulations 2021, No.313 »
4     Budget 2021, para 2.14 »
5     gov.uk/guidance/new-one-off-500-payment-for-working-households-receiving-tax-credits »
6     The Tax Credits, Childcare Payments and Childcare (Extended Entitlement) (Coronavirus and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020, No.1515 »
7     The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) (No.7) Regulations 2020, No.1638 »
8     The Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (Coronavirus Disease) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, No.1097 »
10     The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 2020, No.1201 »
11     The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 2020, No.1201; The Carer’s Allowance (Coronavirus) (Breaks in Care) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, No.140 »
12     The Social Security (Claims and Payments, Employment and Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit) (Telephone and Video Assessment) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, No.230 »