Sabrina Dubash looks at coronavirus-related self-isolation payments and their benefit context.
If you have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) or have been in close contact with someone who is and have received an NHS contact tracing notification, then it’s a legal duty to self-isolate for 10 days and any breach could result in fines.
Along with new regulations, came new Test and Trace Support Payments (‘self-isolation payments’), a single £500 payment to financially assist those who cannot work from home and suffer financial loss as a result of self-isolation. There is also a discretionary payment scheme of the same amount of £500. The aim and purpose of the payments is to ensure those required to self-isolate at home do not face financial hardship for adhering to the rules to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
The self-isolation payments are administered by local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. With differing schemes and eligibility criteria, the schemes have proven to be confusing for applicants.
Who can apply?
England: the Test and Trace Support Payment.
Applicants qualify if all the following apply, on or after 28 September 2020 (apply within 28 days of your first day of self-isolation).
•They have received an NHS Test and Trace Notification (NHS COVID-19 mobile phone app notifications accepted from 10 December 2020), instructing to stay at home and self-isolate as you have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive.
•They are employed or self-employed.
•They cannot work from home and will lose income as a result of self-isolating.
•They are in receipt of at least one of the following: universal credit (UC), working tax credit, income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), income support (IS), housing benefit (HB) or pension credit (PC).
The eligibility criteria for the three devolved nations include the eligibility criteria of the England scheme above, however with some differences.
Scotland: the Self-Isolation Support Grant
Claims can be backdated to 28 September 2020 – apply within the self-isolation period. Applicants can also be eligible if awaiting their first payment of the relevant benefits. Since 7 December 2020, the payments have been extended to parents or carers of children under 16 who are required to self-isolate by their education setting and since 16 February 2021 (claims backdated to 2 February 2021), those with caring responsibilities for someone over the age of 16 will also be eligible, given they meet eligibility criteria.
The Scottish government extends payments to those who would be entitled to UC, but for their income, which includes those who are most affected by self-isolation. Since 16 February 2021, (claims backdated to 2 February 2021), the payments have also been available to workers earning the real living wage or less and those in receipt of council tax reduction.
Wales: the Self-Isolation Support Scheme
Claims backdated to 23 October 2020 – apply up to 21 days after self-isolation period ended. This scheme has similar criteria as the England scheme, however the Welsh scheme extends payments to parents or carers of children (and those up to 25 years with complex needs) required to self-isolate by either NHS contact tracing services, the child’s school, the child’s further education setting or the child’s childcare setting.1https://gov.wales/500-payment-scheme-now-open-parents-and-carers-children-required-self-isolate
In Wales, notifications to self-isolate via the NHS COVID-19 mobile phone app are accepted from 1 February 2021.
Northern Ireland: the Discretionary Support self-isolation grant
This may be available along with further discretionary COVID-19 support. The eligibility criteria cover a wide range of circumstances in which payments could be made.
All schemes do not apply to those who are required to self-isolate when returning to the UK from international travel, unless they receive an NHS contact tracing notification and the eligibility criteria are fulfilled.
What do applicants need to provide?
•NHS Test and Trace notification and code;
•(Wales and Scotland) confirmation of the date your child was told to self-isolate by the school or childcare setting;
•proof of employment or self-employment (self-assessment tax returns, trading income and proof that your business service cannot be delivered without social contact);
•proof of receipt of one of following benefits: UC, income-related ESA, income-based JSA, IS, HB or PC.
These are available from local authorities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland if applicants meet the criteria except that they are not in receipt of benefits.
Some local authorities have tailored the requirements for the discretionary payments, requiring either no recourse to public funds, receipt of a disability benefit or to be in the process of applying for the relevant benefits in order to establish qualification for a discretionary payment.
Local councils have discretion as to who they can administer these discretionary payments to. Therefore, if the applicant does not meet some of the criteria, but is required to self-isolate and cannot work from home, which will result in financial hardship, it is worth her/his applying for a discretionary payment. It is advisable to check with the relevant local council for details of the scheme. Some councils are providing a far wider scope of eligibility for discretionary payments.
Parents and carers of self-isolating children
Initially, the introduction of the schemes excluded parents and carers of self-isolating children, required to self-isolate due to COVID-19 outbreaks within school and childcare settings. In these circumstances, the child will be unlikely to receive an NHS contact tracing notification and therefore the parent/carer would not have the necessary NHS contact tracing notification to be eligible for the payments.
The parent/carer requires a positive COVID-19 test result or an NHS contact tracing notification for her/himself. This can only be obtained by the child being tested at a drive-in testcentre or at-home testkit, for example, whereby a positive result should lead to a contact trace notification being sent to the parent/carer, who lives within same household and is required to self-isolate along with the child.
This convoluted predicament places parents and carers of self-isolating children, who cannot work from home, in extremely difficult circumstances and causes further hardship.
Recognising these difficulties and following pressure from CPAG, the Welsh government and Scottish government have extended the payments to parents and carers in these circumstances.2
However, please note that all the eligibility criteria, except for the receipt of an NHS contact tracing service notification, still need to be fulfilled.
In England, however, the criteria remain un-changed, therefore parents or carers of self-isolating children remain excluded from payments in England. In these cases, it is advisable to provide proof from the child’s school or childcare setting that has instructed the child to self-isolate and apply for the discretionary payment explaining that you cannot work from home, as detailed above.
In addition, utilising any support offered through local council emergency support schemes may provide some assistance.
How do these payments affect benefits and income?
The self-isolation payments do not affect UC or other benefit entitlement.3DWP guidance for the pilot scheme, Memo ADM 20/20 and DMG Memo 18/20, available from gov.uk
The payments will also be disregarded as income for tax credit purposes in England, Wales and Scotland.4The Tax Credits (Coronavirus, Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.2) Regulations 2020, No.941
The payments are taxable for income tax purposes but not for national insurance contributions for both the employed and self-employed.
You can receive these payments in addition to statutory sick pay payments.
Along with the wide gap in supporting parents and carers of self-isolating children in England, the self-isolation payments are subject to fulfilling strict eligibility criteria. This means the payments will not be available to the thousands who may need them during self-isolation periods.
The discretionary payments provided as the alternative also fail to meet the demand of those who are excluded from the payments, with local councils being inundated with applications and councils now requiring to restrict payments as funds are running low. Councils have reported receiving a far higher proportion of applications for discretionary payments compared to the non-discretionary scheme payments and, according to data obtained by the Labour party, three-quarters of applications for discretionary payments have been rejected.5
Many have called upon the government to provide self-isolation payments universally to all who test positive for COVID-19, or to follow the example of the scheme in Scotland, which extends to those who would be eligible for UC but for their income. However, no announcements have been made.
The scheme in England was due to end on 31 January 2021 and, at the time of writing, no announcement has been made on future plans for the scheme.