Reform to SSP and fit notes proposed

  • Leave and Absence
Sickness leave
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

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Given the high rates of sickness absence in the UK, there have been recent calls for reform of both the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) system and the fit note process. Here we explore these proposals in more detail. 

Recommendations for reform of SSP

There are lots of rules around SSP. An employee must earn at least a certain amount on average per week, called the Lower Earnings Limit (LEL), which is currently £123 per week.  If they do, then SSP should be paid from the fourth missed day of work where the employee has been ill for a period of at least 4 calendar days in a row.

From 6 April 2024, the rate of SSP has increased to £116.75.

Successive governments have consulted on the need to reform SSP in response to criticisms that the rate is too low and too many people are excluded, either because they do not earn enough, or because their period of sickness absence lasts fewer than four days.

A recent report from the Work and Pensions Committee concludes that SSP does not provide adequate support for those who most need protecting from financial hardship during periods of sickness absence. It proposes an increase to SSP in line with Statutory Maternity Pay. Not only that, but it also proposes that all employees, not just those earnings above the LEL, should be entitled to SSP.

In addition, it recommends that for smaller businesses a rebate of SSP costs should be introduced on the condition that businesses demonstrate sickness absence management.

The Committee believes that these reforms would ultimately result in a net benefit to business because there would be lower levels of sickness absence, presenteeism, and it would incentivise employers to manage sickness in the workplace better.

The report states that the government should amend legislation in line with these proposals ahead of the financial year 2025-26.

At this stage, these are simply proposals. However, it does highlight the unequal impact that the SSP rules have on certain groups of employees.

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Government launches call for evidence on fit note reform

Reform is also being considered in England to the fit note process as the government has launched a ‘call for evidence’. This is where the government asks for views and opinions from various stakeholders and it is the very early stage of the government considering potential reform.

Currently, employees must provide a fit note when they are off for more than 7 days. The note will either say that the employee is not fit for work, or it could say that the employee is fit for work subject to specific advice. In recent years, there has been an expansion of those who can legally certify and issue fit notes to include additional types of healthcare professionals, like nurses and occupational therapists, provided they work in a general practice or hospital setting.

This call for evidence aims to assess how effective fit notes are in supporting work and health conversations. It also asks for feedback on whether there are any improvements that could be made to better support people to start, stay and succeed in work. From employers, it asks for views on how useful any advice from GPs provided in fit notes has been to them.

The call for evidence will be open until 8 July 2024. From the information received, specific policy proposals will then be put together which will be the subject of a consultation. It will, therefore, be some time before we see any change.

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