Many people are confused about the latest advice on lockdowns and the implications for working parents. Here we give the latest information.
workingmums.co.uk is receiving a lot of questions about childcare in connection to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The picture is complicated, given the different guidance in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and England.
In early January, Scotland announced a national lockdown for the mainland, with remote schooling for all, except vulnerable young people and children of key workers, from 11th January to 29th January and childcare closed to all but key worker and vulnerable children until 18th January. The Prime Minister then announced a national lockdown of at least six weeks for England [until mid-February], with schools closed to most pupils, but nurseries, special schools and childminders able to stay open. Welsh schools will close until at least 18th January and Northern Ireland temporarily delayed opening schools to face-to-face learning for all pupils.
The Government says that, unlike in March 2020, informal childcare for children under 13 is exempt from lockdowns and other restrictions, meaning anyone who has “a consistent childcare relationship” with a child or children can form a childcare bubble and look after them. This does not, however, apply to occasional playdates. For any given childcare bubble, this must always be between the same two households.
In England, childminders, babysitters and nannies are also able to operate so long as they adhere to the Government guidance. Those who are in an extended bubble with another single family member or a single parent family in a bubble with another household can help each other with childcare.
So what can you do if you have coronavirus childcare problems as a result of Covid restrictions?
– Ask to be furloughed. The scheme is being extended to the end of April and will be replaced by the Job Support Scheme. The Government guidance states: It now states: “If you are unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus (Covid-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in your household, then you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough.“ This includes for employers who are able to operate during the lockdown. It must be agreed by the employer and employee, however. The TUC is worried many employers don’t understand that they can furlough staff for this reason alone, but there is also evidence that some employers are refusing to furlough people for childcare reasons for a variety of reasons.
– Apply for flexible working. The government is advising those who can work from home to do so. If you can’t work from home or cannot work your full hours due to childcare issues, you could ask to reduce your hours temporarily on an informal basis. If you want something more formal where your rights are protected and your employer can only turn down your request citing one of eight different reasons, you can apply for flexible working formally, but be aware that if you change your hours that is a permanent change and you would need to wait at least a year to change your hours back. You could also try to negotiate some proportion of your week to be spent working from home, if this is possible.
– Use annual leave which you will have continued to build up if you have been furloughed. You could also ask your employer if you could take annual leave in advance. Up to four weeks’ annual leave not taken in 2020 can be carried over to 2021.
– When schools are back, you can use free apps such as We Are Fetching to arrange with parents in your child’s year group bubble to pick up your child and avoid mixing year groups – although parents will still have to abide by government guidance on distancing and hygiene and changes to how many people from different households can meet up indoors and outdoors.
Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory at HR experts Peninsula, outlines the issue for employers around lockdowns:
“The Government has made clear that a parent will not be classed as ‘self-isolating’ even if their child has been asked to do so unless their child:
“The normal rules on self-isolation will apply if a parent is self-isolating. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be payable to eligible employees, regardless of an individual’s parental status, except in cases where self-isolation is necessary as a result of travel to a non-quarantine exempt country.
“Where a parent is not self-isolating, they are legally entitled to unpaid time off for dependants. The employment right to this time off is intended to be for unforeseen emergencies only, and the coronavirus will likely fall under this. The law stipulates that time off for dependants can be taken specifically where a dependant has either fallen ill, is injured or is assaulted.
“Other qualifying criteria include the need to make arrangements for the provision of care or because such arrangement has been disrupted, in the case of the death of a dependant or where there has been an unexpected incident involving the dependant at school. Currently, there is no qualifying service period required to entitle an employee to take time off work of this nature so employees who have just started a new role can still take this time off.
“If parents are to take time off for dependants they should be aware that, aside from the fact that it is unpaid, they are required to inform their employer as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length, which employers should not reasonably refuse. This is unless, as set out by law, it is not necessary to take the time off or where the amount of time off proposed is unreasonable. The Government advises that the length of time should not usually be more than two days. Ultimately though, employers should consider the coronavirus situation when establishing principles around a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.
“Alternatively, employers may find it beneficial to open up communication with employees about how an extended period of time off will be dealt with. It may be that employees are permitted to work from home where possible or allowed a temporary period of other flexible working options.”
More information here.
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Working tax credit can continue for the first 28 weeks you are off work if you are self-employed and you get Employment Support Allowance or would be eligible for it or Statutory Sick Pay if you were an employee. If not, your tax credits will stop after four weeks. If you are not working enough hours for more than four weeks, you might also stop getting the childcare element of WTC. Let HMRC know if your circumstances change.
The Government announced a £20 per week increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit basic element.
Tax credits should continue to be paid even if people are working fewer hours due to COVID-19.
With regard to fees, the Government says it is continuing to pay early years funding to childcare providers eg to support the 30 hours free childcare. It is also offering financial help for nurseries to cover costs, including a business rates holiday for one year and grants.
For the self-employed (including childminders) there is the Self Employed Income Support Scheme which has been extended to the end of April, although many self employed, particularly those heading limited companies, are not covered. The Chancellor has also announced extensions of business loans.
On continuing to charge parents fees for childcare if they are not earning, the Government says it urges all childcare providers to be reasonable and balanced in their dealings with parents and to access any financial support on offer.
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