Revealed: Norfolk people's low success with self-isolation payments
- Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Norfolk people applying for support from a government-funded scheme while they self-isolate because of coronavirus are mostly having applications rejected, it can be revealed.
Data released by Norfolk’s district councils under the Freedom of Information Act has shown some strikingly low success rates among people applying for the government’s £500 Test and Trace Support Payment.
The scheme was launched in September to give people on low incomes who have been told to self-isolate a financial incentive to stay at home.
To be eligible, an applicant must be employed or self-employed and unable to work from home, and be receiving, or be the partner of someone receiving, certain benefits.
In the period from September 28 until late January, at least 4006 people in Norfolk had applied for the scheme, but 2005 of that number had been unsuccessful. Just 1101 had been successful, and 900 were still waiting to hear the result of their application.
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If pending applications are excluded, this could suggest Norfolk’s success rate is roughly within the national average, as the BBC have reported that about two thirds of applicants are being turned down for the payment across England and Wales.
Applicants had more luck in some parts of the county than others.
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In Breckland, just 94 out of 441 applicants had been deemed eligible for the lump sum as of January 24. 208 had been unsuccessful while 139 applications remained “outstanding”.
The biggest single reason given by Breckland for payments being withheld was applicants or their partners not being in receipt of any of the eligible benefits. This was the case with 76 of the unsuccessful Breckland applicants.
Councils can, however, provide discretionary payments of £500 to those who do not receive the required benefits. Of the 94 successful applicants, 76 were judged to have met the standard criteria, with the remaining 18 people having the fund approved on the discretionary basis.
A Breckland council spokesperson said: “Breckland Council has released more than £60,000 [in] grant funding, to support people to self-isolate during the pandemic.
“Where people are not able to demonstrate that they are eligible, we are unable to make the self-isolation payments.
“However, anybody who cannot show eligibility is offered alternative support, including deliveries of food and medicines.
“This may also include potentially other funding and we have released £14k as part of a discretionary grant pot to help people facing financial hardship to buy food, replace white goods, and to meet other needs.
“The recent lockdown and rise in Covid cases brought about a spike in applications and in response to this we have since increased the size of our assessment team and applications are now being processed within just a few days.”
Proportionally similar stats were reported in Norwich, where 288 people out of 914 applicants were still waiting to find out if they were successful as of January 21.
A Norwich City Council spokesperson said: “The volume of applications have been far in excess of the initial predictions from government.
“It was estimated we would receive up to five applications per week but in fact it averaged up to 40 per day at the peak of applications. This has now slowed somewhat to about 25 per day.
“We received around 300 applications over the Christmas shutdown period alone which contributed to the backlog of cases.
“To resolve this we’ve had staff working weekends and assigned extra resources to clear the backlog. "
The council said it was now “largely up to date with applications” and hoped to clear the remaining backlog within days.
Asked why the number of successful applicants was low, the Norwich council spokesperson said: “It has been widely recognised by local councils that the government criteria was very restrictive in terms of eligibility – this resulted in low numbers of successful applications.
“As a direct response to this we’ve been regularly reviewing the applications coming in and took the decision to widen our local eligibility policy which means we can provide financial support to more people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.
The spokesperson said the city council’s average success rate was “largely comparable with other local councils across the country who have reported 20pc – 30pc success rates.”
“It should be noted that Norwich has a large student population and a high volume of applications were received by students who do not qualify for the payment,” they added.
Among decided applications, the highest success rate was found in Broadland, with around 40pc receiving the payment as of January 21.
North Norfolk District Council meanwhile reported just a single pending application as of January 24 - albeit after having received the fewest applications of any district.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council said that its 239 pending applications consisted of "cases where we have requested further information from the customer but have not yet received the information."
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We continue to work closely with the 314 local authorities in England to monitor the effectiveness of the scheme – including the potential impact on groups who are not eligible to claim for it.”
The data (due to different counting methods, not every council was able to provide the same end-date) from September 28 until late January:
Breckland: 441 applications, of which 94 successful, 208 unsuccessful and 139 pending (as of January 24)
Broadland: 519 applications, of which 193 successful, 295 unsuccessful and 31 pending (as of January 21)
Great Yarmouth: 864 applications, of which 235 successful, 390 unsuccessful and 239 pending (as of January 28)
King’s Lynn and West Norfolk: 563 applications, of which 136 successful, 266 unsuccessful and 161 pending (as of January 21)
North Norfolk: 206 applications, of which 78 successful, 127 unsuccessful and 1 pending (as of January 24)
Norwich: 914 applications, of which 201 successful, 425 unsuccessful and 288 pending (as of January 21)
South Norfolk: 499 applications, of which 164 successful, 294 unsuccessful and 41 pending (as of January 21)