Nearly 4million of the poorest workers will be able to apply for £500 payments to self isolate from Monday.
Under a new ‘carrot and stick’ approach by the government, the payment will be launched at the same time as new £10,000 fines for people who flout two-week self-isolation rules.
The new cash payment is intended to make it easier for low-wage workers who cannot afford to self-isolate for up to 14 days.
However it is still less than the £700 a 25-year-old would earn in two weeks on the minimum wage.
The measures come as infection rates spiralled across the UK, with 6,042 daily cases of coronavirus on Saturday, taking the overall number to 429,277.
So how does it work?
Who can claim 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 can claim the payment if you are 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 must be employed or self-employed and unable to work from home – losing income as a result.
You must also have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, either if you have tested positive for coronavirus or you are a close contact of a positive case.
What about if I have symptoms?
If you haven’t tested positive for Covid-19 you will not qualify – even if you have symptoms.
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.
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?
You will need to phone or apply online to your local council and submit supporting evidence.
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.