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BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL: More than 2/3 of self-isolation payments rejected

BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL: More than 2/3 of self-isolation payments rejected

More than two in three people have been refused a £500 self-isolation payment by Bristol City Council.

Mayor Marvin Rees revealed only 27 to 29 per cent of applications had been accepted.

The scheme, funded by the Government and administered by local authorities, is meant to give a lump sum to those on lower incomes who have been told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace and face a loss of earnings.

But the success rates of applicants varies hugely across the country, while in Bristol delays have meant they are taking weeks to process instead of five days.

Speaking during a fortnightly press conference on Wednesday, January 20, Mr Rees accepted City Hall’s stretched finance team was partly responsible for the time it was taking but said the payment and the number of people eligible should be increased.

He said: “We face a challenge with self-isolation payments. At the moment only 27 to 29 per cent of applicants have been successful.

“We have a double challenge. One is the capacity of the organisation to get the funds through and out.

“The second is the guidelines from the Government are that while it is discretionary, we only have discretion over the benefit payments that qualify people to be able to receive this payment, so ultimately the restrictions from government are still quite narrow.

“The point we’ve made to government is that £500 is too small.

“It should be £750 and we should be expanding the criteria to bring more people in.”

Bristol’s mayor said the task of processing not just successful applications but unsuccessful ones brought “extra stress” on council officers.

“Our finance team has done incredibly well getting money out to businesses but this is part of a national challenge getting these payments out,” he said.

“One is the delay in some of the guidelines coming out about it.

“Another is we are still processing the 70 per cent of people who are not getting payments, which will have an impact on the 30 per cent who are getting payments, so that builds in delay to the system.

“Our finance team is phenomenally stretched at the moment, not least preparing for the budget, so there are a lot of demands on their time.”

Meanwhile, the mayor said the Government needed to provide greater certainty to handling the pandemic after Bristol went from Tier 3 to Tier 2 to the Christmas relaxations to lockdown in the space of a few days.

He said: “We have to be prepared to give people the tough news because it’s a precursor to our hope.

“We know lockdown works and if we go with the guidance and the Covid-safe behaviours and environments then we bring the prospect of a loosening of the hard restrictions all the closer.

“I am – frustrated sounds too contentious – I am concerned it happened and I am concerned about the price we’re paying for it.

“But I can understand the Government – who wants to be known as ‘the Government that cancelled Christmas’?”

Mr Rees said the city’s Covid-19 rate now stood at 451 cases per 100,000 people, a seven per cent decrease on the previous seven days and lower than the England average of 538.

“Our hospitals are under pressure,” he said.

“There are 451 patients in hospital beds across the region.

“It is both the beds and the physical space but also the NHS workforce experiencing the stress and the mental health strain of coping with the pandemic but also falling to Covid-19 themselves and having to self-isolate.

“Our message is the same – continue with the Covid-safe behaviours while we work with the city to create Covid-safe environments.”

Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter


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