Council concerned about self-isolation help

Published: Thursday, 28th January 2021

Oxford City Council is concerned that people required to self-isolate are losing out on support they are entitled to because they don’t know what is available and how to qualify.

Self-isolation is vitally important to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly to vulnerable people who could become very sick if they catch the virus.

In September 2020, the government introduced Test and Trace self-isolation support payments. These are to help people in low paid work who will lose income because they've been told to self-isolate. A £500 lump-sum payment can be made by local authorities as a way of topping up any benefits or Statutory Sick Pay a person receives during isolation.

Those who do not receive any benefits but are employed on a low income can apply for a discretionary payment if they can demonstrate they will face hardship as a result of their isolation.

As of 17 January, Oxford City Council had made 563 decisions on applications received for both types of payment. Of these, 57 Test and Trace Support Scheme payments were authorised and 18 discretionary awards made. Nationally, 70% of applications have been rejected. Ineligibility and a failure to supply supporting documentation are cited as the primary reasons for applications being turned down.

This has sparked fears that people who should legally self-isolate might struggle to stay at home despite the threat of fines – starting at £1,000 – for non-compliance.

Oxford City Council wants to protect the welfare of individuals and the community by explaining the available options clearly. It is also committed to ensuring those not entitled to self-isolation support payments are aware of how to access further assistance to help them isolate safely.

Self-Isolation Payments Test and Trace Support Scheme

Essential qualifying criteria:

  1. Aged 16 or older and told to stay at home and self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, either by phone or by the NHS Covid-19 app
  1. Given a Contact Tracing and Advice Service (CTAS) reference number by NHS Test and Trace, or by the app (NHS Test & Trace can supply a reference number it will be an eight digit code and may look like this - A1H4CHY5)
  1. Employed or self-employed. Those not working when told to self-isolate do not qualify for a payment
  1. As a result of being told to self-isolate applicants are:
  • Unable to work from home
  • Losing income because you cannot work from home
  • In receipt of an income of less than £306 per week.
  1. Currently receiving, or have applied for one or more of the following:
  • Universal Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Pension Credit

People will only qualify for a Test and Trace Scheme Self-Isolation Payment if they have answered yes to all five questions.

Discretionary self-isolation payments

Essential qualifying criteria:

Applicants must be able to answer yes to questions 1 to 4 (above) but not to question 5.

Again, recipients must be employed or self-employed during their required isolation period.

The council is also looking to see what additional support might be utilised to help those experiencing hardship, but not qualifying for the Test & Trace fund.

Other help available

Where appropriate, those who have not qualified for payment of Test & Trace Support Payments have been referred to the Winter Support Grant scheme.

A partnership between Oxfordshire’s City, County and District Councils the scheme can offer assistance with accessing essentials, including food and utility costs.

So far £80,000 of support has been provided via advice centres, community group funds and the council’s Locality Hubs emergency fund. Applicants are also signposted to relevant support services and, where relevant, to the Free School Meal voucher scheme being operated by schools.

The winter support grant scheme is open by referral only. Individuals in need of support can contact the council helpline or their local advice centre (e.g. Agnes Smith, Barton Advice Centre and Rose Hill Advice Centre) for help and a referral.

Council helpline

People in need of support and advice are urged to call the council help line on 01865 249811 to find out about the assistance available in their circumstances. They can also ask for help online on its Community Assistance page.

“Self-Isolating is essential in limiting the spread of COVID-19. We are concerned that people who aren’t aware of the range of support they can receive might see a choice between protecting the community and putting food on the table or accessing essential services.

“We are here to help those on low incomes to self-isolate and understand that making an unsuccessful application is both financially difficult and upsetting. The council’s helpline is there to provide advice and guidance on how to get the right support.

“Our customer services staff and six Locality Response Hubs are ready to support vulnerable residents who are in need of help because of lockdown, including self-isolation. Their knowledge of their communities and local support organisations continues to be used to help the council allocate funding as effectively as possible to get help to those who need it most.”

“This support can range from simple information about local food services to more complex issues like financial hardship, disability issues or housing. It will also prevent the frustration and disappointment of making an unsuccessful claim with central government set criteria so strict. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you might need any additional support at this difficult time.”

Marie Tidball, Oxford City Council’s cabinet member for supporting local communities