More than four in five applications for £500 payments to help people self-isolate in Swindon have been rejected, figures suggest.
The grant is targeted at workers who are not eligible for the main Test and Trace support payment because they do not receive benefits and helps people with coronavirus on low incomes to self-isolate if they cannot work from home.
But figures obtained by the Labour party show more than 70 per cent of applications across England were rejected, as the government denied claims that it was planning to extend the payment to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19.
A freedom of information request showed 316 applications were made to Swindon Borough Council. Of these, 275 (87 per cent) were rejected and only 41 (13 per cent) were granted.
This means the council is rejecting applications at a higher rate than across England as a whole.
The figures included all applications made in Swindon from the scheme’s launch on September 28 up to December 13, when the FOI was submitted – but Labour said the figures may include some after that date.
Of the 49,900 applications made to the 200 local councils which responded to the FOI, 35,400 (71 per cent) were rejected, with just 12,000 (24 per cent) accepted – though success rates varied significantly.
In Slough, Berkshire, less than 1 per cent of applications were accepted, compared to 78 per cent in Rochford, Essex – the highest and lowest rates from councils with at least 20 applications.
Labour said councils have taken differing approaches to dispensing payments, with some choosing to ration funding and others operating on a first-come first-serve basis.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed MP said: “This government’s serial incompetence is forcing many workers to choose between protecting their health and putting food on their families’ tables.
“Councils are going above and beyond to help those on low incomes to self-isolate but they are being hampered by overly strict criteria and inadequate government guidance.”
Anti-poverty charity Turn2us urged the Government to review funding for the scheme, as well as the eligibility criteria, so families can stay afloat.
Sara Willcocks, head of external affairs, said: “It is ludicrous for the Government to ask people to self-isolate but not provide everyone affected with a replacement income for the work they will be missing out on.
“Without the correct financial support, people are faced with an impossible choice: isolate and financially struggle or risk spreading the virus, and breaking the law, to avoid being dragged into poverty.”
Reported plans from the government to extend £500 payments to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England could have cost an estimated £453 million per week.
It was the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care, according to a leaked document seen by The Guardian.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said there are no plans to do so, insisting the “vast majority continue to abide by the rules”.
The Resolution Foundation think tank said the current approach, which it estimates only around 13 per cent of workers are eligible for, is “not fit for purpose”.
Researcher Maja Gustafsson added: “Swiftly putting in place a much more universal and generous system will make a real difference to controlling the spread of the virus.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “It is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules.
“£50 million was invested when the scheme launched, and we are providing a further £20 million to help support people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.”