EXCLUSIVE: More than half of Croydon applicants for a Government-funded isolation grant have been rejected by the council.
CLARA MURRAY reports
The £500 grants are intended to support people who have to miss work when they are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. Only recipients of certain benefits, including Universal Credit and housing benefit, can apply.
As of January 3, 900 people had applied to Croydon Council for the grant, but just 294 have received the cash so far.
Because many applications are still being processed, according to figures provided by the council in a Freedom of Information response, Croydon has a rejection rate of 56 per cent.
This is slightly better than the national average of 65 per cent. And far better than Liverpool, where Labour MP Dan Carden said 4 in 5 have been rejected.
Carden has blamed the government’s too-restrictive rules for the scheme for the high refusal rate on Merseyside.
But even an additional pot of “discretionary” money available to the council – for which it can set its own terms – in Croydon saw only 10 people paid any grant assistance between October and January.
Croydon Council has refused to reveal how much grant funding they have been allocated by the Government, nor how much they have received for discretionary grants.
Croydon’s terms for the discretionary fund are unusually strict.
Payments are made only to those who have an ongoing benefits appeal or application. By contrast, Hackney asks people if they face “financial hardship” or a loss of income as a result of self-isolating: a looser set of terms which could cover people not already on benefits, or parents and carers or those with no recourse to public funds.
Other councils may regret being more generous with this fund. Tower Hamlets had spent all £275,000 of its discretionary cash by mid-December; it is supposed to last until January 31.
Some, like Essex, have topped up the government cash with their own reserves – something debt-ridden Croydon is unable to do.
The dramatic increase in positive coronavirus cases over the past month is part of the problem – as many as 1-in-20 Croydon residents are now infected with the virus. This is reflected by the number of applications for the self-isolation grant, which more than doubled between November and December.
Croydon Council said it is now fielding 25 applications each day from struggling residents, five times the amount it was told to expect when the scheme launched in late September.
But there are also concerns that the scheme is not being publicised effectively. Those asked to self-isolate by Test and Trace agents, or through the NHS app, are notified about the payment.
However, one organiser of a Croydon-based covid community help group told Inside Croydon that they had not heard anything about the scheme.
The council did not respond to a request for information on how they are promoting it.
How the payment is being administered matters when research has shown just 11 per cent of people self-isolate correctly when asked to by Test and Trace.
Many of those not isolating cite the need to go out and work as a major factor. If Croydon residents are not aware of the payment, or are being rejected when they apply, there is a danger people do not feel they are financially able to self-isolate.
Without adequate support, the divide could deepen between well-paid workers who can stay at home when requested – enjoying what The Guardian has called “socioeconomic immunity” – and those who must go out to work.
Meanwhile, Croydon Council said it is training more staff to clear the backlog of applications.
The government has also announced this week it will top up the fund by £20million across England.
But questions will still be asked about how the extra cash will be used, when Croydon has paid out so little from its original allocation to date.
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