The recent easing of restrictions has led to a soar in the number of people being advised to self-isolate by the NHS COVID-19 app. But with no legal obligations to do so, how financially protected are you if you get ‘pinged’?
Over 1.7 million people are self-isolating in the UK
The NHS COVID-19 app has been making waves across the country as over 600,000 people have been pinged in the second week of July alone. This brings the total number of people told to self-isolate to 1.75 million in the UK. And with the rise in the Delta variant coinciding with the easing of restrictions, these numbers are predicted to rise further over the coming months.
For those no longer able to earn an income from home, knowing what to do next is becoming increasingly challenging. It’s led to thousands of employers struggling to navigate the murky waters of legality, and even more employees fearing financial difficulties if they do the right thing by self-isolating.
There’s no guarantee of financial support from employers
The NHS COVID-19 app, which has now been downloaded more than 26 million times has received a torrent of backlash from employers, employees and consumers, as the recently dubbed ‘Pingdemic’ has led to mass confusion.
Alerts to self-isolate for up to 10 days come as a result of being in close contact with someone who has later tested positive for COVID-19. However, these alerts are not legally enforceable as the app is downloaded voluntarily. So, the decision about whether to do so is at the individual's discretion. As a result, there's no guarantee of sick pay for those who follow the app’s advice by self-isolating.
If you’re pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app, employers can choose to pay you in full or offer sick pay (worth £96.35 a week), but even this is not a legal requirement. So, you could miss out on a salary as well as sick pay for the entire time that you’re self-isolating - unless your employer agrees otherwise.
What can you do as an employee if you’re pinged?
Whilst you’re not automatically entitled to sick pay as a result of being pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app, there are some things you can do, to try to boost your finances.
You’re within your rights to ask to be furloughed during your period of self-isolation, which would grant you 80% of your salary up to £2,500 a month. However, it’s important to note that your employer isn’t obligated to grant furlough. Bear in mind, if you’re receiving sick pay during self-isolation and are put on furlough, your sick pay will stop. The furlough scheme is due to end on 30th September 2021.
Alternatively, you can request annual leave or unpaid leave for the period that you’re isolating at home.
When do you need to self-isolate by law?
As an employee, you aren’t legally required to notify your employer if you're pinged (but it is advisable). There may be a workplace policy that requires you to. So, it’s important to make sure you aren’t breaking your contract or putting others at risk by keeping it to yourself.
At present in England, you must self-isolate for 10 days by law (whether you've been fully vaccinated or not) if:
- you have Covid symptoms
- you test positive
- someone you live with has Covid symptoms (unless they test negative)
- someone you live with tests positive
- you arrive in the UK from red list county
- you may also need to go into quarantine if you arrive in the UK from an amber list country (unless you're fully vaccinated and test negative)
- you're identified as a contact and told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service
Note: The NHS Test and Trace service works differently from the voluntary NHS COVID-19 app. Firstly, they will contact you via email, text or phone, instead of via an app. Plus, if you’re told to self-isolate by them, you could be entitled to statutory sick pay from your employer. But if you fail to self-isolate for the full time period, you could be fined at least £1,000 - up to £10,000.
Certain sectors are given exemption from full self-isolation
To try and ease pressure on the NHS and the UK food supply chain, the government has introduced exemptions for:
- front-line NHS workers - they can continue to work after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace - as long as they have been double vaccinated (14 days post-final dose) with a negative PCR test, and daily LFD anitgen tests
The following workers can also leave self-isolation to work, even if they are identified as being in close contact with someone with coronavirus - as long as they test negative daily, whether they are vaccinated or not:
- food distribution workers (not including supermarket store staff)
- police staff
- Border Force staff
- freight workers
Further to this, the government has drawn up a separate scheme to allow certain employees in critical industries (below) to continue working if they test negative on a daily basis. They must be double-vaccinated. If you work in any of these sectors or roles, you'll only be exempt if the government has written to your employer and included your name on the list.
These industries include:
- essential transport
- emergency services
- border control
- the water industry
- civil nuclear
- veterinary medicines
- essential chemicals
- medical devices
- clinical consumable supplies
- essential defence outputs
- digital infrastructure
- local government
The following roles have also been added to the list:
- manufacturing maintenance engineers
- specialist reach truck drivers
- official vets
- environmental health officers
- landfill operators
- water engineers
- laboratory staff essential to the batch release of medicines
- environment agency staff operating critical flood defence assets
These exemptions are only expected to last until 16th August 2021 when the rules are set to relax in England, for fully vaccinated contacts and under-18s.
Be aware, if you test positive for Covid or have any Covid symptoms, you must go into self-isolation - even if you are included in the exemption list. Plus, you are still expected to self-isolate for 10 days when you are outside of work.
Is there any government support available if you need to self-isolate?
Yes, there is some government support in place for low-income earners who cannot work from home through the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme, which entitles certain individuals to £500. This includes people who are employed and self-employed.
You can apply for this scheme if:
- you've been pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app
- you've been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace
- you're the parent or guardian of a child who has been told to self-isolate
If you think you might be eligible for this, you can contact your local council.
Also, those who are self-employed may be able to claim up to £7,500 through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Visit the government’s website to see if you meet the eligibility criteria. The deadline for this grant is 30th September 2021.
More changes due on 16th August
Further relaxations around the self-isolation rules are on the cards for 16th August 2021. Be aware, the rules are only changing for those who have been fully vaccinated - as they will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who tests positive for Covid. If you've not been fully vaccinated, you will still need to isolate if a contact test positive for Covid. Keep an eye out for further updates on the government's website. If you are unsure of your options, you can also find out more on the Citizens Advice website.
This information is correct at the original time of writing: 24th July 2021.
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