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25 March, 2020 Open access

Coronavirus Bill completes its passage through both Houses of Parliament and receives Royal Assent

Act includes provision relating to statutory sick pay, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, tenants' rights, and local authority duties under the Care Act

The Coronavirus Bill 2019-21 has today completed its passage through both Houses of Parliament and has received Royal Assent.

Introduced in the Commons on 19 March 2020, the Bill - that includes provision relating to statutory sick pay, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and a range of other measures - was read for a third time in the House of Lords this afternoon without amendment and has now become an Act.

In explanatory notes to the Bill as brought from the House of Commons yesterday, the Department for Health and Social Care says -

The Bill contains temporary measures designed to either amend existing legislative provisions or introduce new statutory powers which are designed to mitigate these impacts. The Bill aims to support Government in the following: increasing the available health and social care workforce; easing the burden on frontline staff; containing and slowing the virus; managing the deceased with respect and dignity; and supporting people.'

In relation to statutory sick pay (SSP), the explanatory notes outline - 

'The current SSP system does not provide the flexibility required for the response to managing and mitigating the effects of a Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of a severe Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, the number of people off work would increase significantly. This would present a significant financial burden on employers through increased SSP costs. The legislative changes proposed are intended to provide the ability to provide relief to employers, with the primary focus being on small and medium size enterprises.

The Bill will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the recovery from HMRC of additional payments of SSP by certain employers for absences related to Covid-19. The ability to recover SSP is important so that employers are supported in a period when their payments of SSP are likely to escalate. It is also necessary to ensure that employees are incentivised not to attend work when advised not to do so for reasons of health security. There are penalties for employers who make fraudulent claims or who fail to keep the records required to support a claim.

Ordinarily, statutory sick pay is not payable for the first three days of sickness. These are commonly referred to as "waiting days". This may discourage people from taking sick days in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Bill therefore allows for the temporary suspension of waiting days for those employees who are absent from work due to Covid-19, should this be necessary.

The approach to SSP needs flexibility and to align with the most up-to-date public health guidance. The Bill will allow the most recent version of guidance issued by Public Health England, National Health Services Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being to be used when determining whether an employee should be deemed to be incapable of work by reason of Covid-19, for example because the employee is self-isolating. It is anticipated that the guidance will change frequently and it is necessary to ensure that employees who self-isolate in accordance with whatever is the current guidance are deemed incapable for work and entitled to SSP from day one.'

NB - the Bill also includes provision in relation to -

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is available from legislation.gov.uk