Your donation will make a difference:
Cystic Fibrosis Trust
Forum

Financial support and welfare advice during coronavirus

We know this is a worrying time for the cystic fibrosis (CF) community, and many have questions and concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it may affect them. We have tried to provide some answers to the frequent questions we’ve received to our helpline below. It’s important that people also seek advice from their CF team to support their decisions.

Last updated: 13 July 2020

Latest update

On 22 June, the Government announced that shielding in England would be ‘paused’ at the end of July. From 1 August, those previously shielding will be able to return to work (where they cannot work from home) providing their workplaces are ‘COVID-secure’. We are pressing for further clarity on what this means in practice.

Some of the support measures in place for those shielding, such as the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme, will continue to deliver food and medication where needed. However, the Government food parcel scheme will cease from 1 August, and those who have not registered as vulnerable on the Government website must register by 17 July. Those who will still need help with shopping, medication or essential supplies are advised to call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm).

The Scottish Government announced in June that shielding of those in the clinically extremely vulnerable groups would be in place until 31 July; this position is being monitored and a further announcement is expected before the end of July.

Shielding restrictions have been eased across the UK, with restrictions to be further lifted in England from 1 July. Find more information on the current shielding guidance across the UK here

However, all those shielding are advised to continue to follow strict social distancing as long as shielding remains in place. This includes:

  • If you do go out, you should take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping 2 metres apart.
  • You should stay alert when leaving home: washing your hands regularly, maintaining social distance and avoiding gatherings of any size.
  • You should not attend any gatherings, including gatherings of friends and families in private spaces, for example, parties, weddings and religious services.
  • You should strictly avoid contact with anyone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss of, or change in, your sense of taste or smell).
  • Other people in the household do not need to shield, but should do what they can to support you in shielding and carefully follow social distancing guidelines.
  • People shielding should minimise their contact with other members of the household and should follow instructions in the guidance about hygiene at home.
  • People shielding should register online for support with food and basic supplies. Across the home nations, packages of support have been put in place for people in this group, so that they can access help with their shopping, medication deliveries and care.

Clearly, all family and household setups are different and following this guidance will bring different challenges for different people. Making decisions about how you will fit this guidance into your own life and family may not be straightforward for you and may involve balancing risk with your own individual circumstances: work, children, relationships etc. We will be here to support the CF community through this difficult time and will provide all the information we can to support you in any decisions you need to make. We continue to work with the NHS, CF medical experts and the Government to push for further clarity about what the most recent guidance means for you and your family.

We have tried to provide some answers to the frequent questions we’re hearing on our helpline below. It’s important that people also seek advice from their CF team to support their decisions.

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 crisis.

Work

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.

Employment information relating to shielding

As you will no doubt be aware, the effect of COVID-19, the Government’s response and issuing of guidance, and the existence of and application of employment legislation is changing regularly. It is complicated, and so it is impossible to produce advice that applies to everyone, in all circumstances, that will be valid at all times. The information below is intended to be general guidance not legal advice. It will be under review and subject to change as matters update. 

I have CF/I live in the same household as someone with CF. When shielding is paused, what are my rights in relation to returning to work and what do I need to do?

The answer to this question has increased in complexity following recent developments. It will also vary depending on where you live. 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is the umbrella scheme that was put in place to allow employers to continue to pay wages to their staff with financial assistance from the Government. The effect of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was modified by a statutory Direction dated 25 June 2020, to enable the new rules to operate from 1 July 2020. Initially employees were placed on furlough leave. From 1 July 2020, employees will be transferred to flexible furlough leave, which will be in place until 31 October 2020. An employee on flexible furlough leave may carry out some work. The employer is required to pay the employee for the work carried out but can still claim 80% of pay for the remaining time that the employee stays at home. From 1 August 2020, the employer will be required to pay National Insurance and pension contributions. From 1 September 2020, an employer will be required to contribute to the wage payable under the flexible furlough scheme. Until September, it won’t cost an employer anything more to allow you to remain on flexible furlough leave. The employer’s contribution to your wage will then increase incrementally until 31 October 2020 when the scheme is due to expire.

As the Government releases lockdown, more and more employers are reopening their business premises and places of work. In some circumstances, this will mean that employees who have previously been placed on furlough leave, will now be asked to either work from home or physically return to their usual place of work on a full-time or part-time basis. 

Further, as extremely clinically vulnerable employees living in England, have been told that they are able to return to work from 1 August 2020, employers will be taking steps to reintegrate shielding employees and their households into the workplace. 

The guidance on shielding varies regionally – you can keep up to date on the guidance appropriate to you in our shielding information. The information on this page refers to 1 August 2020 throughout as the date on which employees can return to work. However, all references to 1 August 2020 should be taken as a reference to the relevant date on which you are permitted to return to work in your area. Each of the devolved governments have their own sets of guidance on their own websites. 

The legislation we talk about 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 in Norther Ireland, please speak to your CF team for details of the Advice Space service, which we co-fund.

Some people and families who have been shielding will be excited about the prospect of returning to some form of normality after essentially placing their lives on hold. However, some may find the prospect of returning to working life extremely daunting or worrying.

Firstly, employees who are shielding should not be required to physically return to the workplace at all prior to 1 August 2020. This applies to you and your loved one. Under the new flexible furlough provisions of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, shielding employees and their households remain eligible. In the guidance entitled ‘Check which employees you can put on furlough to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’, last updated on 1 July 2020, the Government confirms the following: 

“Employees who are unable to work because they are shielding in line with public health guidance (or need to stay home with someone who is shielding) can be furloughed. Such an employee can continue to be furloughed from 1 July so long as you have previously submitted a claim for them in relation to a furlough period of at least 3 consecutive weeks taking place any time between 1 March 2020 and 30 June”.

And:

“Employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19) can be furloughed. For example, employees that need to look after children can be furloughed. Such an employee can continue to be furloughed from 1 July so long as you have previously submitted a claim for them in relation to a furlough period of at least 3 consecutive weeks taking place any time between 1 March 2020 and 30 June.”

This position is upheld in the employee’s guidance ‘Check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’, last updated on 1 July 2020.

If an employer attempts to force an employee to physically return to the workplace prior to 1 August 2020, the employee should explain that they will be eligible to remain on flexible furlough leave until at least 1 August 2020. Under the flexible furlough scheme employees can remain on furlough leave while carrying out some working time. This would allow those who were initially placed on furlough leave because they were shielding (either individually or as a member of an affected household) to carry out some work from home.

Employers may ask you to work part-time hours and therefore it is important that you reach an agreement that those hours should be from home. In circumstances where that request is refused, or where it is not possible, you should ask your employer to allow you to remain on flexible furlough leave full time. Your employer might agree to this until 1 September 2020, on the basis that they will only have to pay NI and pension contributions in the month of August. The position can then be reassessed at that point. This would be the employer’s choice.

In its guidance entitled ‘Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’, which was updated on 23 June 2020, the Government states:

“From 1 August the government will be advising that shielding will be paused. From this date, the government is advising you to adopt strict social distancing rather than full shielding measures. Strict social distancing means you may wish to go out to more places and see more people but you should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household or support bubble. In practice this means that from 1 August:

  • you can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe.”

Therefore, even following 1 August 2020, the position is still that if an employee is able to work from home, they should be permitted to do that.

1 August 2020 and beyond

The fact that shielding will be paused prior to the end of the flexible furlough scheme will create a complicated, worrying and, what might seem unfair, set of circumstances for people who are currently shielding and members of their household who have taken on shielding with them in order to maintain their safety.

As before, what you need to do now depends on the circumstances under which you were placed on furlough leave. You may have originally been placed on furlough leave because your place of work was required to close, or your employer may have suffered a downturn in work and/or income stream as a result of COVID-19. As a result, you were placed on furlough leave because your employer was unable to operate or had no work for you to do. Alternatively, you may have expressed your concern to your employer that by continuing to work you would risk the health and safety of a member of your household and therefore your employer agreed to place you on furlough leave, or you may have been placed on furlough leave because you were shielding.

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, you can remain on flexible furlough leave until 31 October 2020 at the latest, if the reason for that leave is that your employer cannot maintain its workforce because its operations have been affected by COVID-19. The employer’s guidance entitled ‘Check if you can claim for your employees' wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ was updated on 1 July 2020.

If you were originally placed on furlough leave because you are shielding or living in the same household as someone who is shielding, flexible furlough leave will not be available to you after 1 August 2020.

The reason for this is that the references to shielding in the guidance references Public Health England’s explanation in the publication ‘Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’, which was updated last on 23 June 2020.

If you live in an area where local measures have been imposed, your flexible furlough leave should continue until shielding is paused. If you are required to recommence shielding, your employer should place you back onto flexible furlough leave until it is paused again. This will be the case until 31 October 2020.

Your employer can choose to keep you on flexible furlough leave until 31 October 2020, even after shielding has been paused, if it is otherwise the case that it cannot maintain its workforce because its operations have been affected by coronavirus. Again, this remains the employer’s choice.

What do I do if I'm being asked to return to work now?

If you are being asked to return to work, the following may apply to you:

Employees who were placed on furlough leave because they live in a household with a child who has CF and is shielding, generally shouldn’t need to do anything until 1 August 2020. Your employer should be in contact in order to advise you as to whether you are required to return to your place of work, work from home or remain on flexible furlough leave for a different reason. Your child’s health and individual childcare arrangements will determine whether you can return to the workplace or not. Please read through the statement by the UKCFMA and start discussions with your child’s CF centre. This will enable you to hold discussions with your employer.

Employees who were placed on furlough leave because they were shielding/live in a household with a person who has CF and is shielding (but who does not require childcare) should commence discussions with their employer and the relevant CF centre as soon as practicably possible. Your employer should be in contact in order to advise you as to whether you are required to return to your place of work, work from home or remain on flexible furlough leave for a different reason in accordance with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

However, if you are worried about your commute to work, the safety of your workplace, or the psychological impact of having adhered to the shielding measures for such a long period of time, it is advisable to contact your employer at an early stage to discuss your concerns. You can ask your employer for an explanation of the measures that it has taken or intends to take to ensure that the place of work is COVID-safe. You can also request a copy of their risk assessment. This might be useful in assessing whether or not reasonable adjustments are required.

Employees who are currently on flexible furlough leave because they were placed on furlough leave because their place of work was required to close or because their employer had suffered a down turn in work and/or income stream as a result of COVID-19 under the initial Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme should do nothing until they are asked to return to work by their employer. If this is prior to 1 August 2020, the employee should ask their employer to continue to place them on flexible furlough leave until shielding has been paused.

It is still the employer’s choice as to whether or not they allow an employee to remain on flexible furlough leave.

Technically, people who have been shielding may be required to return to the workplace after 1 August 2020, while a colleague remains on flexible furlough leave. While this is unfair, it is possible under the current rules. It is highly likely that a person with CF will be entitled to request reasonable adjustments. The CF Trust has produced a factsheet that provides further information about reasonable adjustments. Where there is any doubt, you should seek independent legal advice.

In all cases, if you have been shielding, or you live in a household with a person who has CF who is/has been shielding, 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.

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 CF, you/the member of your household has been identified by Public Health England as clinically extremely vulnerable and therefore at the greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19. 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, resulting in serious and imminent danger that can only be averted by staying at home, on the flexible furlough scheme or by working at home.

Following 1 August 2020 this is going to be a higher hurdle to clear. Public Health England has stated in its guidance that it is safe for people with CF who have been shielding to go to work themselves if that workplace is “COVID-safe” and to enter the wider public arena by visiting shops and mixing with more people socially.

Therefore, the first question to ask is whether your place of work is COVID-safe and secondly, whether “COVID-safe” is sufficient enough to protect you/your/loved one, given your/their individual state of health, as a result of CF.

In terms of assessing the workplace, you need to know what COVID-safe looks like. This will depend on what your employer does and where the place of work is located.

The Government guidance as to what COVID secure means is set out in the eight separate sector-specific sets of guidance. All sets of guidance were updated on 24 June 2020.

Further, more practical details and example risk assessments can be found on the HSE website.

If your employer hasn’t satisfied the Government’s safety standards, they are putting you and your loved one’s health at risk and you can take steps to request that the necessary changes are made before returning to work. If your employer has complied, you may still have concerns about your commute to work, or you may need help from the CF team to assess whether those safety measures are sufficient enough to protect the person with CF, given their specific medical history.

The UKCFMA issued a statement on 29 June 2020. The statement released by the UKCFMA identifies the low level of infection and the social distancing measures that are being established in the workplace as key factors in enabling people with CF to “ease the preventative measures” they have been taking.

Further, the statement emphasises the importance of people with CF being able to return to safe working environments, with robust measures being put in place to minimise their risk of acquiring infection.

Any person or household member who is concerned that these requirements are not satisfied in their particular circumstances, should seek advice. The balance may change depending on regional restrictions that may be imposed from time to time or an employer’s ability to put robust measures in place.

If you or the member of your household with CF is post-transplant or their condition is severe or unstable, you should follow the UKCFMA’s recommendation and seek assistance from the relevant CF centre and you can address any concerns that you have about individual health and safety.

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.

However, if you are having this discussion with your employer you need to be aware of the following principles.

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 to the 80% level under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 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 Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, that is fine. If the employer reduces pay to 80% following and because of a protected disclosure about health and safety concerns, that is a detriment and therefore shouldn’t happen.

Despite the recent developments, Government guidance remains clear that employees should work from home where possible. When it isn’t possible, social distancing and hygiene measures to achieve infection control should be adhered to in the workplace. If social distancing and hygiene infection control measures cannot be maintained in full, in the workplace then those operations or activities should only be continued if they are necessary for the business to operate. If the social distancing cannot be maintained and those operations or activities continue, they are placing employees at risk of catching COVID-19 and should therefore take all the mitigating actions possible, to reduce the risk of transmission between their employees and/or members of the public.

These pieces of legislation will become increasingly important in the coming months.

We don’t currently 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 establishing that there was a risk of serious and imminent danger. It may be that Tribunals take the view that while we are dealing with a declared pandemic, there will be a constant risk of serious danger and that risk will always be imminent. Alternatively, the Tribunals may consider a more holistic approach to the medical risk, taking into account the environmental factors, workplace risks and the individual medical circumstances of the person at risk. Each case would then be assessed on its own, very individual circumstances.

Practical steps to take now

It is likely that you will be required to return to work following 1 August 2020, if you cannot work from home. If you are concerned in the slightest it is advisable to take steps to gain some reassurance or to make a decision that is right for you. You should therefore:

  • have the discussion with your employer and set out your concerns in writing as described above;
  • 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 measures and their plan for communication to and surveillance of their workforce in terms of adherence and detection of symptoms;
  • read the Government’s guidance on what constitutes a COVID-safe workplace for the relevant sector;
  • 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. You should ask for an opinion on whether the key factors identified in the UKCFMA’s statement are satisfied. 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-safe. You can ask for assistance in determining whether the COVID-safe environment is sufficient to protect your loved one, given their specific medical history; and
  • seek legal advice on your individual circumstances and, if you have CF, consider requesting reasonable adjustments.

What else can I do?

Parental leave

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 particular 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;
  • to deal with an unexpected incident which involves the employee’s child during school hours.

Given that we are now into the fourth month of lockdown and shielding and we are navigating the easing of such measures, this is becoming less relevant.

The Government guidance on this entitlement can be found here

Under what circumstances can I claim SSP?

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 clinically extremely vulnerable and you cannot return to your place of work when asked to do so, because you are shielding, you cannot work from home and your employer will not allow you to continue on flexible furlough leave, you are entitled to receive SSP. If your employer has an enhanced company sick pay scheme, you should read the scheme rules to determine whether you are entitled to claim a benefit under that scheme. 

Can I request that my employer makes reasonable adjustments to allow me to work from home? 

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 that changes are made in order to make the workplace COVID-safe.

While an assessment would be made on the individual’s personal circumstances, if you have CF it is highly likely that your condition satisfies the definition of a disability within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010. In those circumstances you would be entitled to request reasonable adjustments from your employer. The Trust has produced a fact sheet (https://www.cysticfibrosis.org.uk/life-with-cystic-fibrosis/work) that provides further information about reasonable adjustments. Where there is any doubt, you should seek independent legal advice. 

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

Financial support

The Government in England has made some changes to its guidance for people who are shielding, from 6 July. Also, shielding is expected to be paused from 1 August in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from 16 August in Wales.

In light of this, 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:

I am self-employed and am therefore not able to earn. What could I claim? 

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.

I am employed and not going to work. What could I claim?

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.

This means that those who are shielding are entitled to claim SSP. You can read this legislation here

In England and Scotland you won’t be able to get statutory sick pay (SSP) after shielding is paused on 1 August. In Wales, shielding ends on 16 August. We expect the situation to be the same in Northern Ireland, but from 1 August.

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.

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 AllowanceNew-style Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit. However please seek specialist advice before making any claims.

I have a Jobcentre appointment but have been advised to stay at home.

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.

The Government has suspended face-to-face health assessments for benefits. How will this affect me?

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 has 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.

The Government has suspended all benefit reviews and reassessments. How will this affect me?

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.

My Claimant Commitment on my Universal Credit says I should be looking for work for a certain number of hours per week. However, I have to stay at home to protect my health/the health of the person with CF that I care for. Will I be sanctioned?

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

I’ve been advised to claim Universal Credit if I can’t work due to coronavirus but I’m not sure how I will cope with the five-week wait. Is there any help available?

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. 

How is the Cystic Fibrosis Trust supporting those in most financial need at this difficult time?

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.

Support while you are at home

We know many people in the CF community have concerns about how they will access food, medication and any care they need during the period set out in the shielding guidance. The guidance suggests getting food and medication delivered (whilst maintaining a safe distance from anyone delivering to your house).

You have also shared your concerns about accessing supermarket deliveries and being able to get the food needed to maintain the CF diet. We have contacted major supermarkets and food banks to ensure they are aware of the needs of the CF community and can provide what you need, and we have been lobbying Government and devolved administration across the UK to ensure they provide vital support for those who are shielding. Supermarkets have received the lists of those who need priority for online delivery slots and in England, where the Government have confirmed that shielding will be paused from 31 July, we understand these slots will remain available for those who have been shielding. We continue to monitor the situation elsewhere in the UK. You can find more information further down this page about ways to access food.


Support across the UK

Across the UK, support is available to people who are shielding. The packages of support include medication deliveries – please contact your CF team if you have particular concerns about this and see our general FAQ for more info on delivery of medicines. The way this shielding support is accessed and delivered varies between the nations as follows (we are updating this regularly as more information becomes available):

  • In England, you will need to register online once you receive a letter/text to tell you that you are in the shielded group. The registration will ask you if they have help to get shopping – if you confirm that you don’t have help, we expect that you will receive a weekly Government food parcel. If you do need additional help at any point, contact your local council’s ‘community hub’. They can provide support, including volunteers who can help with shopping, collecting prescriptions etc.
  • In Wales, you will need to contact the council to specifically ask for help, and to tell them if you can’t get shopping and therefore need a parcel, or if you need help collecting prescriptions etc.
  • For those in Northern Ireland, the support scheme is being operated by Advice NI. We are waiting for final details on food parcels but there seems to be a focus on food poverty, so food parcels will likely go to those who can’t afford food and need someone to deliver. We suggest contacting Advice NI if you need help. We also part fund a benefits and welfare advice service at Advice Space Belfast.
  • In Scotland, support will be offered via text messages. Anyone who hasn’t received a text offering support (which should follow a shielding letter/text) can contact their local council to tell them they need help. The Scottish Government have also set up a phone line, which you can call if you need any support: 0800 111 4000.

In all areas of the UK, many volunteers have signed up to provide help and support, so if you do find yourself struggling, whether you had previously said you didn’t need help or if you are still waiting for your official shielding letter from the NHS, do get in touch with your local council. You can find the phone number via an internet search but if you need help with this, please get in touch with our helpline team. Local and national volunteers can also provide support if you are struggling with feeling alone.

Places of worship, although now closed, are still on hand to provide advice and support to their communities, so you could try contacting religious leaders from your local church, synagogue, mosque or temple if you need help.

For general information and guidance about shielding in each of the nations, please see these links:

Accessing food while you're shielding

It’s understandable that people who live with someone with CF will want to reduce any risk of picking up the virus by avoiding trips to the shops. While Government advice is to use online shopping deliveries, we know these are difficult to access at the moment. We have written to all major UK supermarkets to ensure they are aware of the issues facing the CF community. We’re also working behind the scenes to find other ways to support people affected by CF to get the food and supplies they need.

Shielding in England will be paused at the end of July. The Government has advised that seven major supermarkets have pledged to continue to offer priority delivery slots for vulnerable shoppers already registered beyond this date. We’ve prepared this letter which may be helpful if you need to explain CF to businesses who have said they’ll prioritise people in the vulnerable group. This is a general letter about CF, so you’ll also need to have a letter to say you/your child has CF to go with this. This could be a past letter from your CF team, or the text messages/letter you’ve received advising you to stay at home.

Download the letter

Contacting supermarkets

Some supermarkets have set up dedicated telephone lines for people who are shielding, so you can call to register and/or to try to book a delivery slot. All the numbers we are aware of are listed here:

Morrisons: 0345 611 6111 - select option 5

Sainsbury's: 0800 328 1700

Tesco: 0800 917 7359

Other supermarkets have confirmed they are working to ensure slots are available for those who are shielding – if you have an existing online account they will be trying to identify you from the Government lists, in order to provide delivery slots.

Steps for accessing food

We know how worrying it is if you’re struggling to get a supermarket delivery – but there are other options you can try:

1. Phone a friend

If possible, ask a friend of family member who doesn’t live with you and isn’t isolating/shielding to deliver shopping. They are advised to put shopping on your doorstep and remain a safe distance away from you when making the delivery. It can feel difficult or uncomfortable to ask for help, especially when you are usually independent, but we are in a national emergency and many people want to do something to help in their local community. Helping someone else gives people meaning, purpose and a sense of ‘usefulness’ at a difficult time – so really you are helping them too.

2. Contact local volunteer networks

If you don’t have local friends and family who can help, there are lots of mutual aid and volunteer groups who are ready and willing to provide support in their local area. Local councils are already coordinating volunteer efforts, so do contact your local council for support.

3. Try local shops

Many local shops, from small corner shops and convenience stores to bakeries, grocers and farm shops, are offering deliveries, and some are prioritising vulnerable people. Most are not set up to take online orders so it’s best to phone them. They can often take card payments over the phone and will leave your shopping on your doorstep. Buying from neighbourhood shops also supports local business. Milkmen can also supply basic provisions. We do know this can sometimes be more expensive than your usual supermarket shop. If this leaves you struggling financially, please contact our Helpline for details of our emergency grants.

4. Order a food box

Some supermarkets and large retailers have set up food box schemes, where you can order a standard box. These are usually delivered by couriers so don’t rely on delivery slots. These contain a range of items, but you will probably need to supplement this with fresh meat, fruit, vegetables, diary products etc (local shops can be really helpful for these).

We are aware of the following national retailers providing this service. Below are links to more information on the service they provide:

All of these have been popular so they do sell out sometimes, but usually become available again within a few days.

5. Try national food suppliers and wholesalers

As an alternative to supermarkets, you could try contacting other national food suppliers/wholesalers offering home deliveries, who can also supply non-food provisions.

Bidfood is supporting the Government response to provide food parcels to vulnerable groups. They have advised us that they also have priority delivery slots for those in the vulnerable groups.

You can register as a new customer here.

They also advise that you register on Bidfood Direct for allergen info, nutritional info, cooking instructions and more, and you can also download the app and order quickly and easily online.

Please note Bidfood has a minimum order requirement of £100 (for orders under this amount, a £10 delivery fee will be charged).

Other online food suppliers recommended by our community include:

JJ Food Service - minimum spend £79. Next day delivery options available.

6. Food parcels

Government food parcels (example pictured) are being provided to those who are shielding who have said they need help to get food. In England, food parcels will no longer be provided from 1 August due to the shielding scheme being paused from this date. The food parcel schemes work slightly differently across the nations. Please see our information on ‘support across the UK’ above for further details. We are working with Government departments to ensure that, when organising food parcels, they understand the diet needs of people with cystic fibrosis.

7. Contact a foodbank

If you are in desperate need of food and you are in financial difficulty, contact your local foodbank. We have been in touch with national foodbank organisations who have confirmed they will help if they can and will do their best to deliver to your doorstep. Do let them know you are in the vulnerable group because you have cystic fibrosis.

Keeping up a high calorie diet

Most people with CF require a high-calorie diet to stay well, but we know that in these challenging times getting hold of the right kinds of food to support your diet can be incredibly challenging. We are working with CF dietitians to produce resources to help you to keep up a healthy diet during this time. In the meantime, take a look at quick ways to add 100 calories to your diet, adapted from one of our nutrition leaflets.

Education and early years settings

In Wales, all schools are expected to open on 29 June. They will be open to pupils from all year groups for limited periods during the week, with only a third of pupils in school at any one time. 

In Northern Ireland, schools are expected to return on 24 August for some pupils, with a phased return for all other pupils in time for the normal September start date.

The Scottish Government is working towards schools re-opening fully on 11 August, subject to ongoing review.

At the start of June, schools in England began to reopen to year groups reception, year 1 and year 6, and some schools have begun to open for pupils from other primary year groups. Secondary schools and further education colleges have also begun some face-to-face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, while they continue remote learning.

The Government’s ambition is that schools in England will be fully open for all pupils in September, and further details are expected in July. 

Childminders, nurseries and pre-schools in England also began re-opening from 1 June. 

Higher education institutions across the UK remain closed until further notice; some have announced plans to move all courses online for the forthcoming academic year.

We will update this page as and when further information becomes available.

Mental and physical health

Helpful advice on how you can maintain your emotional and physical wellbeing through a range of activities.

The impact on your CF care

Information on how the COVID-19 outbreak could affect your routine CF care, what to do if you contract COVID-19 and other frequently asked questions.

Coronavirus, staying at home and shielding

Important information for people with CF and their loved ones about coronavirus (COVID-19), and what social distancing and social shielding measures you should be taking.