Statutory Sick Pay

Poor health shouldn't mean that you get financially poorer. In the interest of ensuring your right to fair pay for fair work, and to protect your work colleagues' right to health, there are laws in place to secure your income when you're sick. These laws, which make it viable for you to remain at home (or under medical care) until you're well again, have resulted in Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Provided you have a formal contract of service to work for an employer – even if you've only just started to work for them (as long as you have done some work) – you are classed as an employee. In that case, as long as you meet certain criteria, your employer is responsible for paying you this money, and may even be obligated to pay you for up to 28 weeks.

Qualifying for SSP

It's possible that your employer operates their own sick pay scheme. If the amount of money you'd receive from this is the same or more than SSP, your employer doesn't have to operate the SSP scheme. Each employer is entitled to have their own rules on how reporting illness should be handled, and what rights and benefits are due to you. Familiarise yourself with your employer's rules, but also be aware that there are laws which they have to follow, and that their policy has to offer at least the same level of payment and protection.

To be eligible for SSP you need to be sick for at least 4 days in a row. This includes days that you normally don't work, like weekends or bank holidays. Your average weekly earnings should also be at least £107 per week - calculated by adding your total earnings for the 8 weeks before you became sick, and dividing that total by 8 to get the average.

To ensure that you get the money that's due to you, you must first tell your employer that you're sick. It's important that you do this as early as possible, as a delay might affect the calculation of how much you get paid. You must tell your employer within seven days of the first day that you are sick. However, your employer cannot insist that you tell them in person, earlier than the first qualifying day, on a special form or more than once a week during your sickness.

During the first 7 days, your employer also can't insist that you provide a fit note – a doctor’s statement of fitness for work (previously called a medical certificate or sick note). However, if you're sick for 8 days or more, your employer can compel you to provide some form of medical evidence.

If your employer pays National Insurance contributions for you, you may still be able to get SSP if you work abroad. If you can prove that you're still sick, you may be able to claim SSP even when you visit abroad.

If you're a serving member of the Armed Forces, you don't qualify for SSP – but your family members may be able to get SSP payments if they satisfy the standard conditions.

How much you'll be paid

The standard pay rate per week for SSP is £85.85 – but your employer may work out a daily rate instead. The correct way for them to do so is to divide the weekly rate by the number of days you'd normally work in that week. A week is viewed as 7 days, running from Sunday to Saturday.

More importantly, you only get paid for days on which you would normally work. There's also a period of 3 “waiting days” - for which you aren't eligible to be paid. These waiting days are viewed as the first 3 days on which you would have worked, and applies to part-time workers as well.

Whatever the final figure is, it'll normally be paid in the same way and on the same day as your normal earnings would be paid to you. If your employer becomes insolvent and no longer pays you SSP that you're entitled to, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)will make the payments. Of course, though - like all other income - SSP may be subject to tax and National Insurance contributions. It is possible that if your SSP is your only income, the amount might be too low to require you to pay tax on it.

Your options if you don't qualify

If you don't qualify for SSP for any reason, including that it has ended correctly according to law, your employer is obliged to fill out an SSP1 form and give it to you. On the form, they'll provide details of why you haven't been paid, or when and why the payment is ending.

Assuming that their decision is the correct one, the SSP1 form that they've provided you with can then be used by you to support a claim for an Employment and Support Allowance. It's clearly very important – and obligatory – that your employer furnish you with a completed form, because the information on there is critical to making a swift decision on your ESA application.

On the other hand, if you disagree with any decisions your employer has made about your SSP payments, you are entitled to a written explanation if you believe that their decision not to pay you is incorrect, or if you believe that they're paying you the wrong amount. If that still doesn't resolve the matter, you can take your issue up with HMRC. There's an employee's enquiry line that you can access for advice by calling 0845 302 1479. If you want a fuller understanding of how the process works, you can also get more information by calling the Statutory Payments Disputes team on 0191 225 5221.