Up to 4million low-wage workers in England will be handed £500 for going into isolation as part of a new ‘carrot and stick’ approach by the government.
The payment will be launched from next month at the same time as people face £10,000 fines if they flout two-week coronavirus quarantine.
The idea is it will make things easier for people who can’t afford to self-isolate for up to 14 days.
With new cases of the infection doubling every week, Boris Johnson said the measures are needed to control the virus and to protect the most vulnerable.
But the Test and Trace Support Payment is still less than the £700 a 25-year-old would earn in two weeks on the minimum wage.
It won’t start at the same time as the £10,000 fines – only a few weeks later.
And millions of Brits will not be eligible for the payment, instead of relying on a yet-to-be-confirmed support scheme to be run by local councils.
Meanwhile, the £10,000 fines are prompting alarm among people who fear they could be impossible to enforce – while giving an incentive for people not to get tested in the first place.
So how will the £500 payment work and who will get it? And will you really get a £10,000 fine? Here are all the details we have so far from No10.
Who is eligible for the £500 payment?
The government says just under 4million people in England will be eligible – people who are both on benefits, and in work.
You have to fulfil all four of these criteria to receive the payment:
- You are 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
- You are employed or self-employed
- You are unable to work from home and will lose income as a result
- You have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace – either for 10 days because you’ve tested positive, or for 14 days because they’ve tested positive or are the close contact of a positive case.
What about if I have symptoms, but haven’t tested positive?
Then it’s pretty likely you WON’T qualify – despite the fact you’re still meant to self-isolate.
The government has made clear you will only be eligible for the £500 payment if you have been told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace.
However, this only generally applies to people who’ve either tested positive for coronavirus, who are close contacts of someone who tested positive.
This is despite the fact that if you get coronavirus symptoms, you are still meant to self-isolate, either for 10 days or until your test comes back negative.
When will the payments start?
The payments will be available to anyone who starts to self-isolate from September 28 onwards.
But the actual system is not expected to be up and running until a couple of weeks later.
The £500 payment system is being run by cash-strapped local councils, and the government says it expects it to be up and running by October 12.
Anyone who starts to self-isolate from September 28 should receive a backdated payment after the scheme takes effect in their area.
How do I apply?
Councils will deliver the payments and administer the system, according to the government.
That is despite many town halls struggling to cope during the pandemic after years of cuts. The government says councils will have their costs reimbursed by central government.
What evidence will I need to show?
The government says you will need to show four pieces of evidence when you apply:
- A notification from Test and Trace asking you to self-isolate (including a Unique ID number)
- A bank statement
- Proof of employment
- Confirmation from your employer that you are unable to work from home – or if you are self-employed, evidence of self-assessment returns for example.
Will it cancel my benefits or sick pay?
No – at least, it shouldn’t do.
Normally, if you receive some income in a set month it will reduce your Universal Credit payment.
But the government insists people will receive the £500 payment on top of any Statutory Sick Pay or benefits they receive.
Statutory Sick Pay is worth £95.85 a week for people in employment who earn more than £120 a week, are forced into isolation, and can’t work from home. Unions and Labour have been warning for months that this isn’t enough.
Is it available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
No, not at the moment – the scheme is England-only.
No10 claims it is engaging with the devolved governments to “explore opportunities for a UK-wide scheme” but there are no promises or dates.
What if I fall through the cracks?
No10 says there will be a discretionary fund which councils can use to give help to those who fall between the gaps – for instance if they’re stuck in low pay, but not currently on benefits.
This would happen on a case-by-case basis.
However, there are no concrete details available yet.
Meanwhile, what about the £10,000 fines?
Fines will initially start at £1,000 for people who breach self-isolation, for instance to go to the shops.
They will rise to £10,000 for repeat offenders and for “the most egregious breaches”.
This includes people those who stop other people from self-isolating, such an employer who requires a staff member to come into work in violation of an order.
No10 is emphasising the penalties will be used for high-profile or egregious cases.
Boris Johnson said: “People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines. We need to do all we can to control the spread of this virus, to prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming infected, and to protect the NHS and save lives.”
But they are likely to alarm some Tory MPs, who are already concerned at wide-ranging powers being taken by ministers with little or no debate in Parliament.
Meanwhile, will the threat of a £10,000 fine put some people off getting a test in the first place – therefore spreading the virus more?
And there’s a big hitch with the scheme when it comes to contacts of people who’ve tested positive.
At the moment, there are big problems getting a test or tracking down many people’s close contacts. That means neither the contacts nor the authorities may know they’re supposed to isolate until it’s too late, and they’ve already spread Covid-19 in the community.
Then finally there are the claims of hypocrisy. Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders tweeted: “If you add interest to the fine, Dominic Cummings must be up to about £12k by now.”
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