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Parents in England ‘fall through gaps’ of £500 self-isolation pay scheme

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Low-income parents in England are ‘falling through the gaps in government support’ when it comes to eligibility for the £500 self-isolation payment.

Low-income workers in England in receipt of certain benefits who’ve been told by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment scheme (see the link for full eligibility criteria).

Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from £1,000, up to a maximum of £10,000.

But parents in England may be excluded from receiving the £500 self-isolation payment.

Those who can’t work from home or who aren’t furloughed and have been told by their child’s nursery, school or other education setting to keep them at home after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus aren’t eligible for the £500 self-isolation payment.

This means parents in England risk losing out financially as they don’t meet the criteria for the government support scheme.

Parents in Scotland and Wales supported

The devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales have identified this exact problem facing parents.

In Scotland, the £500 Self-Isolation Support Grant has been extended to include parents on low incomes whose children are asked to self-isolate, taking effect from 7 December.

Social security secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said: “We are extending it to parents of children aged under 16 who need to take time off work because their child is told to self-isolate. Supporting people to self-isolate is critical to controlling the spread of the virus.”

First minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, said: “Working from home is not an option for everyone so when a child has to self-isolate, this can be a stressful period for parents and carers.

“A significant number of people are losing income because they are unable to work while looking after children who cannot go to school or their normal childcare setting because of coronavirus.

“Extending this scheme will help ease the financial hardship some parents are facing, helping them care for their children.”

The Self-Isolation Support Scheme in Wales will be extended from 14 December (backdated to 23 October) to parents and carers on low incomes who meet the criteria for the main scheme.

To qualify, they must have a child attending a school or childcare setting up to and including in year eight – or up to age 25 if the learner has multiple and complex additional needs – and who has received a formal notification to self-isolate from Test Trace Protect or their education or childcare setting.

‘No reason why England can’t support parents too’

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: “It’s incredibly concerning that parents on low incomes in England who have been told by their education or childcare setting to keep their children home due to potential exposure to Covid-19 are currently falling through gaps in government support.

“With Covid cases remaining high throughout the country, many parents are facing situations where they are instructed to keep their self-isolating child or children home at very little notice, and have no choice but to stay home themselves to look after them.

“If Scotland and Wales can recognise that parents in this position need as much support as those officially told to isolate by Test and Trace, there’s no reason why England can’t as well.

“As such, we hope that the criteria for this support will be reviewed as a priority to ensure that parents in England do not continue to miss out.”

Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The vast majority of us want to do the right thing if we’re contacted by Test and Trace. But without the right support, some are left facing an impossible choice of paying the bills or ignoring guidance to self-isolate.

“Our frontline advisers see first hand how for many people a sudden income drop can mean the difference between keeping their head above water or struggling to pay for the bare essentials.

“We’d urge the government to look again at the gaps in its safety net and ensure those who need it are able to access timely, adequate support.”

The Test and Trace payment rules

If a child is self-isolating because they’ve tested positive and have been informed via Test and Trace, the parents will count as household contacts and will also be required to self-isolate. Here, they will be able to claim the self-isolation payment provided they meet the other eligibility criteria.

However, if a child is self-isolating because they’ve been identified as a contact (whether notified directly by NHS Test and Trace or via their education setting), the parents themselves are not required to self-isolate because Test and Trace does not trace contacts of contacts. This means they are not eligible to claim – either for the main Test and Trace Support Payment or for a discretionary payment.

The separate NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app which notifies people to self-isolate because they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive is also due to add a self-isolation payment feature soon.

Options for parents whose child needs to self-isolate

Workers may be able to request furlough in this scenario but the decision is at the discretion of their firm, and subject to meeting the criteria.

The EYA said where parents can’t be furloughed, they would need to take time off for dependants and then going forward, either parental leave (unpaid) or annual leave.

A discretionary £500 payment may also be available to those who don’t meet the criteria for the Test and Trace Support Payment. See the government guidance for more information.

What does the government say?

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson, said: “DHSC is working closely with local authorities in England to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme.”

What about support in Northern Ireland?

The NI Department for Communities said its finance support service provides discretionary support grants and loans. This includes a non-repayable Discretionary Support Self-Isolation living expenses grant which was introduced in March. It helps cover short-term living expenses where a person, or any member of their immediate family, is diagnosed with Covid-19 or is advised to self-isolate in accordance with guidance published by the Public Health Agency.

A spokesperson, said: “The Discretionary Support Self-Isolation grant was introduced for those on a low income who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or who have been advised to self-isolate in accordance with Public Health Agency guidance, and may include parents whose children are told to self-isolate subject to individual circumstances where financial hardship is being experienced as a result.”

Further, the grant can be made for periods of more than 14 days so individuals may be awarded more than £500 making it a “more supportive intervention for many of the lowest paid workers than the Test & Trace Support Payment”. It is also payable to people whether notified by the StopCOVID App or through the Test and Trace contact service.