Why does self-isolation matter?

Ensuring infected individuals and their close contacts isolate is one of our most powerful tools for controlling transmission. We know that someone with the virus can remain infectious to other people for up to 10 days after developing symptoms. It can take up to 14 days for individuals to develop coronavirus symptoms after they catch the virus, and in this time, they can unknowingly pass it on to others, even if they don’t have symptoms.
Self-isolating helps prevent family, friends and the community from contracting coronavirus, as well as helping to protect the health and care system.
These changes will:

  • introduce a new duty on individuals to self-isolate if someone tests positive or is identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace;
  • introduce a new Test and Trace Support Payment of a £500 lump sum payment for those on low incomes to support them if they cannot work during their self-isolation period;
  • introduce penalties for those breaking the rules, including fines on a sliding scale from £1,000 up to a maximum of £10,000 for multiple breaches.
  • place a new legal obligation on employers that they must not knowingly enable or encourage their employees to break the law on self-isolation;
  • provide discretionary funding for local authorities to help those who require corresponding financial support to the Test and Trace Support Payment to self-isolate, but do not meet all of the eligibility criteria.

What difference does it make if self-isolation has a legal basis?

This change is makes clear the importance of people self-isolating when they have COVID-19, or know they have been in recent and close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. A new legal obligation, implemented rapidly nationwide, will help stop the virus continuing to spread.

What is the aim of the Test and Trace Support Payment?

The Test and Trace Support Payment has been introduced in response to feedback from local authorities and directors of public health that some of their residents were struggling to self-isolate as directed due to financial constraints. It is to help ensure that people on low incomes self-isolate when they test positive or are identified as a contact, and to encourage more people to get tested. This will help to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and avoid further societal and economic restrictions, including local lockdowns.

I have an overdraft, how can I make sure the bank doesn’t use this money to pay it off?

If you have an overdraft, you can exercise your right of appropriation to stop the test and trace £500 support payment being used against it.

This is a temporary measure under common law, allowing you to earmark funds for specific essential bills, for example; your rent, your mortgage, and your gas or electricity.
You will need to put this request in writing to your bank or building society and list the bills you need to be earmarked. If your bank or building society has already taken funds, leaving you with not enough to cover your essential bills, you should contact them anyway to discuss your circumstances and to request a full or partial refund to cover your essential living costs. If your bank or building society refuses your request, you should make a complaint.
When you make a 'first right of appropriation' request, your bank can make a decision to either freeze your account and/or remove an overdraft facility if you have one. You need to make sure that you can manage either or both of these situations before you make the request.

Who will be eligible for the Test and Trace Support Payment?

To be eligible for the Test and Trace Support Payment, an individual must:

  • have been asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace either because they’ve tested positive for coronavirus or have recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive;
  • be employed or self-employed;
  • be unable to work from home and will lose income as a result; and
  • be currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit.
  • From 08 March 2021 a parent or guardian of a child aged 15 or under (or aged 25 or under with additional support requirements) living in the same household as the child who attends an education or childcare setting, who has been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or their education or childcare setting. The criteria for means-tested and employment related eligibility criteria noted above will need to be met by the parent or guardian of the child.

How much is the payment?

Individuals who are required to self-isolate and who meet the benefits-linked eligibility criteria will be entitled to £500. This will be payable as a lump sum.

Will these payments be taxed?

These payments will be subject to income tax. They will not be subject to National Insurance contributions. Local authorities will work on the appropriate process to ensure that central government can collect income tax.

How long will this be in place for?

Originally the scheme was due to run until 31 January 2021, however it has now been extended until 31st March 2021. During this time, central government will continue to review the efficacy of the scheme, including the impact of COVID-19 incidence levels.

When will this come into force?

These changes will come into effect on 28 September 2020, alongside the legal duty to self-isolate. Local authorities are expected to have their systems in place by 12 October; individuals who are eligible prior to that date will be able to make a backdated claim.

How will the duty to self-isolate be imposed?

The proposed legal duties will apply in England only. Anyone notified of a positive test result and any of their notified contacts will have a legal duty to self-isolate. Guidance will make clear that people who have symptoms should, as now, self-isolate while they get a test.
Those testing positive for COVID-19 will be legally obliged to self-isolate for a period ending 10 days after the onset of symptoms or, for people who did not have symptoms when they were tested, 10 days after the date of the test. Other members of their household will be legally obliged to self-isolate for a period ending 14 days after the onset of the infected person’s symptoms (or, if they were asymptomatic, after the date of the test). Non-household contacts will be obliged to self-isolate for the period notified to them by NHS Test and Trace (the period ending 14 days after their most recent exposure to the person who has tested positive).

How will people apply for the Test and Trace Support Payment?

People will make an online application (or a telephone application if they are digitally excluded) and submit as supporting evidence:

  • a notification from NHS Test and Trace asking them to self-isolate (this will include a Unique ID number);
  • a bank statement; and
  • proof of employment, or, if they are self-employed, evidence of self-assessment returns, trading income and proof that their business delivers services which cannot be undertaken without social contact. We will work with local authorities to set out clear criteria as to how this will be defined.

Can someone make multiple claims if asked to isolate multiple times?

A claim can be made for each period of self-isolation required. All eligibility criteria must be met and supporting evidence provided.

There is currently a demand on testing, it could be that people lose income before any tests and subsequent results are received; how is this being provisioned for?

Both the £500 payment (for eligible individuals) and the legal duty to self-isolate will apply only where someone has tested positive or has been notified that they are the close contact of someone who has tested positive.

Where a symptomatic person orders a test, then – provided the test is taken within five days – the period for which they must self-isolate, if they test positive, will be ten days from the date of their first symptom onset. The length of time (within the five-day period) before taking a test and the length of time to get test results will not affect the period for which they are legally obliged to self-isolate. Where a symptomatic person tests negative, we appreciate that delays in testing will extend the period for which they have had to self-isolate (by virtue of guidance rather than legal duty), but it would be impracticable to offer financial support to everyone self-isolating because they have symptoms. We are continuing to expand testing capacity, with the aim of having capacity for 500,000 daily tests by the end of October, in order to meet increases in demand.   

Given the time lag in people getting test results, what about payments for those who may be required to self-isolate for several days before getting a test result if the test is then negative? Are they entitled to any financial support? What if the applicant has symptoms but is unable to access a test?

They will not be entitled to the Test and Trace Support Payment if they order a test and the result is negative, as one of the eligibility criteria is that the individual has been asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace either because they’ve tested positive for coronavirus or have recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

If the individual is unable to work from home, they may qualify for other financial support during this period of self-isolation.

How do these payments work for furloughed workers?

People who have been furloughed can claim the payment, provided they meet all the eligibility criteria.

Are students eligible for the payments (either for the main Test and Trace Support Payment or for the discretionary payments)?

The Test and Trace Support Payment has been set up to support people on low incomes who are employed or self-employed and cannot work from home while they self-isolate. Students can claim from the scheme provided they meet the eligibility criteria. In practice, most will not be eligible.

Can you confirm that someone on SSP wouldn’t be eligible as they are losing income due to them being off work sick rather than because they are isolating (even if the illness is Covid and they have to self isolate).

Applicants can receive a £500 payment on top of SSP, provided they meet all the eligibility criteria. Therefore, if someone is off sick because of COVID-19 and is receiving SSP, they could still claim a £500 payment, provided they could prove they had been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and met all the other eligibility criteria.

What if someone who is self-isolating later finds out they were eligible for a benefit that would have qualified them for the Test and Trace Support Payment?

The individual could not make a retrospective claim. If the individual is facing financial hardship, local authorities may decide to deploy the discretionary fund.