The government has outlined that England is to start trialing a system of paying low earners in high risk areas who are unable to work during self-isolation. As those who are asked to self-isolate are currently only entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP), the aim is to provide additional incentive for employees to isolate themselves after potential, or confirmed, exposure to the coronavirus in a high-risk area.
Commencing with a trial in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham to ensure the process works, eligible individuals who test positive with the virus will receive £130 for their 10-day period of self-isolation. Other members of their household, who have to self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to a payment of £182. Non-household contacts advised to self-isolate through NHS Test and Trace will also be entitled to a payment of up to £182, tailored to the individual length of their isolation period.
It should be noted that this will not be available for those asked to self-isolate following their return from a country labelled as having high rates of infection. However, for those that can receive it, this payment will not reduce any other benefits that people may receive.
Speaking on this development, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘The British public have already sacrificed a great deal to help slow the spread of the virus. Self-isolating if you have tested positive for COVID-19, or have come into contact with someone who has, remains vital to keeping on top of local outbreaks.’
Individuals will be asked to provide a notification from NHS Test and Trace and a bank statement. Payments will be provided within 48 hours of the eligible individual providing the necessary evidence. The local authority can also check the NHS Test and Trace system to confirm the individual has been asked to self-isolate, if the individual is unable to provide this information. Checks will be put in place by the local authority to prevent fraud and ensure compliance through welfare check-ins, phone calls and employment checks.
To be eligible for the funding, individuals must
- have tested positive for COVID-19 or received a notification from NHS Test and Trace asking them to self-isolate
- have agreed to comply with the notification from NHS Test and Trace and provided contact details to the authority
- be employed or self-employed. Employed people will be asked to show proof of employment
- be unable to work from home (checks will be undertaken on all applicants) and will lose income a result
- be currently receiving Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit.
Implications for employers
Organisations should take note that this is currently only being trialed in Blackburn, Darwen, Pendle and Oldham and that there is currently no information on if, or even when, it will be rolled out more wider afield. They should also be aware that, even if this is rolled out, it will only apply to areas with high rates of COVID-19 in England, which would be confirmed by the government. Unlike previous assistance from the government associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, this will actually place very little responsibility on organisations; this is not something they will have to pay themselves, nor something they will need to claim back later.
That said, individuals in this position will be subject to employment checks to confirm their eligibility, which may require the production of a letter or document to provide this proof. Organisastions will also need to be able to clearly justify why the employee in question cannot work from home, something that may be harder to do if they did work remotely throughout lockdown.