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21 July 2021

Two-thirds of applications for self-isolation payments for low-income workers are denied

Freedom of information requests suggest councils may be rationing self-isolation payments for fear of running out.

By Katharine Swindells

With more than 300,000 Covid-19 cases reported in the UK in the past week, and more than half a million people “pinged” by the NHS app in England in the first week of July, a considerable number of individuals are currently self-isolating. Experts are warning that the economic impact could be severe, both to businesses that are struggling due to lack of staff, and to families who cannot afford to incur the financial cost of self-isolation. 

With more than 300,000 Covid-19 cases reported in the UK in the past week, and more than half a million people “pinged” by the NHS app in England in the first week of July, a considerable number of individuals are currently self-isolating. Experts are warning that the economic impact could be severe, both to businesses that are struggling due to lack of staff, and to families who cannot afford to incur the financial cost of self-isolation. 

Two thirds of self-isolation payments for low-income workers are denied
Percentage of applications to the self-isolation support payment scheme accepted from Sept 2020 to June 2021, regional average

A payment scheme to support those in England who cannot afford to self-isolate and take time off work was introduced in September 2020, providing £500 to low-income workers who cannot work from home. In February 2021, more funding was provided for the scheme and it was extended to parents who are unable to work when caring for a self-isolating child.  

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But recent polling by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that only one in five (21 per cent) of workers had heard of the scheme, while only 16 per cent of low-paid workers had. And most of those who have heard of the programme aren’t receiving support.

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Freedom of information requests by the TUC found that on average, two-thirds of applications for the payment were rejected. And this figure hides huge local disparities: in some local authorities, more than half of applications were accepted; in others, acceptance rates were below one in ten.

In Gateshead, only 8 per cent of applications have been approved since the scheme began and only 3 per cent since it was expanded in February – but according to the Office for National Statistics, only 29 per cent of people in that region had the ability to work from home in 2020. By contrast in North Devon, where 42 per cent of people were able to work from home last year, more than half (57 per cent) of applications have been approved.

The TUC says this may be due to limited funding, with councils rationing their payments for fear of running out. Of the 94 local authorities that responded, a quarter (24.4 per cent) said they had run out of funding at some point during the scheme.