Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for Contractors

It’s safe to say there is a lot of confusion about Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), particularly among people who run their own businesses - whether as a sole trader, freelancer, contractor or consultant.

If you’re an employee, the situation is fairly cut and dried. Under government rules, an employer must pay employees SSP for up to 28 weeks. But SSP for self-employed people is slightly different and whether or not you can claim it depends on your business structure.

In this article, we’ll run through everything you need to know about SSP for the self-employed.

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What is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

SSP is the minimum amount that an employee must be paid legally by their employer if they can’t work for at least four days in a row.

For an employee to qualify, they must earn on average, at least £123 a week before tax. There’s no minimum period that an employee needs to have worked for a business to receive SSP, which is good news for umbrella workers who are employees through their umbrella company - but more on that later.

How does Statutory Sick Pay work?

Employees receive SSP from the fourth day they’re off work sick. From hereon in, days spent off work due to illness are called ‘qualifying days’ up until the limit, which is 28 weeks.

The first three days are seen as ‘waiting days’, which mean employees won’t receive SSP for this period - that is, unless they've already had SSP within the last 8 weeks, which included this waiting period.

SSP is paid just like normal wages, whether weekly or monthly and with Tax and National Insurance Contributions deducted. And for those employed by more than one business, SSP isn’t limited to one employer - you can receive it for multiple jobs.

What are Statutory Sick Pay rates?

The government requires that employers pay employees at least £99.35 a week, for up to 28 weeks. However, businesses can, and very often do, top this up. The amount an employer pays will be outlined in an employment contract.

Can contractors claim Statutory Sick Pay?

With this basic information established, let’s focus on SSP for company directors - in other words, freelancers and contractors working via their own limited companies.

So can contractors claim SSP? In a word, yes. While freelancers and contractors are perceived as and by all accounts are self-employed, given they are employees of their own limited company (which is their employer), they qualify for SSP.

You might have spotted a problem, though. Because contractors also own their limited company, they are effectively paying themselves SSP - albeit through their company. However, if your company couldn’t afford SSP payments, HMRC will cover this.

The same SSP eligibility criteria applies, and prior to receiving it, you must pay yourself on average, a minimum of £123 per week on payroll. Dividends do not count towards this figure.

Do contractors need to write an SSP sick note?

Writing an SSP sick note is an odd concept, given contractors are employees of the company they own. In this sense, it’s a little like writing a letter to yourself. Even so, it’s important that you keep a record of your SSP payments and follow the same processes, as if you were a normal employee of a business.

Can sole traders claim SSP?

No, SSP isn't available for sole traders. That said, there are several other schemes that these self-employed workers may be eligible for if they fall ill and can’t work.

The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit available to sole traders, employed people and also the unemployed, and one that offers financial support to help towards living costs if you’re unable to work.

While it’s not as generous as SSP, the ESA may prove to be an important financial lifeline for sole traders who have longer-term health issues. And importantly, it can be claimed alongside Universal Credit.

Generally, through the ESA, claimants will receive up to £77.00 weekly if they’re aged 25 or over and up to £61.05 if they’re under 25. After three months of receiving this, your illness will be assessed and the amount you can claim may change - £77.00 weekly if you’re able to return to work or £117.60 if you can’t yet start working again.

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