Inheritance Tax – Emergency Workers

Inheritance tax is payable on the value of your estate (money, property and possessions).

If your estate is worth more than £325,000 (the tax threshold) tax at 40% could be payable within 6 months of your death. The tax is paid by your personal representatives.

Most estates in the UK do not pay inheritance tax because either the value of the estate falls below the tax threshold or the estate passes to a surviving spouse. There are also additional reliefs that can be claimed such as the residence nil rate band.

However, despite the availability of these reliefs, for the tax year 2019/2020 HM Revenue & Customs collected £5.1 billion in inheritance tax.

Armed forces

There has long been a special exemption for members of the armed forces who die as a result of injuries or disease sustained while on active service.

The whole estate would be exempt from paying inheritance tax.

This is seen as a tax concession from a grateful nation to members of the public making the ultimate sacrifice for Queen and country.

This is contained within section 154 Inheritance Tax Act 1984 (IHTA 1984).

Emergency workers

The Finance Act 2015 extended the exemption to members of the emergency services responding to emergency situations.

Emergency services (employed or volunteers) would include the police, fire service, search & rescue (coastguard), medical staff, ambulance and paramedic services.

This is known as the `blue light exemption`.

This new extension is section 153A IHTA 1984.

Humanitarian workers

The inheritance tax exemption also applies to humanitarian aid workers responding to humanitarian emergencies.

This could include workers providing humanitarian assistance on behalf of the Government, charities and international organisations.

HM Revenue & Customs have confirmed that the definition of emergency workers includes:

 “…those engaged in providing food distribution, shelter, medical care, transport services, administrative roles, telecommunication services, civil engineering services etc in an area affected by a natural disaster…”.

Section 153A and COVID-19

Section 153A states that the relief will apply where a person:

(a) dies from an injury sustained, accident occurring or disease contracted at a time when that person was responding to emergency circumstances in that personʼs capacity as an emergency responder, or

(b) dies from a disease contracted at some previous time, the death being due to, or hastened by, the aggravation of the disease during a period when that person was responding to emergency circumstances in that personʼs capacity as an emergency responder.

The changes to section 153A were introduced in 2015 well before the world knew about COVID-19. However, the definition clearly refers to death from a disease or aggravation by a disease while acting as an emergency responder.

COVID-19 was declared to be a public health emergency by the World Health Organisation on 20 January 2020. The UK Government took a good deal longer to declare a national emergency and did not introduce measures until 24 March 2020.

Therefore, emergency workers and humanitarian workers can qualify for the tax exemption if they were responding to an emergency and contracted coronavirus (COVID-19).

Care workers

It has not been confirmed by HMRC if care workers can claim the exemption.

The definition applying to humanitarian workers can only be claimed if they are employed or engaged by a government or charity. This suggests that carers employed in privately-owned care homes, or who work for commercial organisations or are employed by a family to care for a relative, may not qualify.

Claiming relief

The exemption under section 153A is not automatic.

The personal representatives of the deceased will need to claim the relief by completing form IHT400 and providing additional information.

The claim has to be accepted by HM Revenue & Customs who may raise additional enquiries regarding the occupation of the deceased, that they were responding to a national emergency, and when the coronavirus was likely to have been contracted (while acting as an emergency responder).


If you are acting as the executor or administrator it is important to obtain professional advice to ensure that all tax relief and exemptions are claimed to reduce the inheritance tax liability of the estate.

This is particularly important if the estate is potentially taxable and the deceased contracted COVID-19 while acting as an emergency responder or humanitarian worker.

Please contact our probate lawyers Tony Illsley and Rebecca Taylor for further advice on 01827 311411

Tony Illsley is a partner with Rutherfords LLP

Contact us on: 01827 311 411 or [email protected]