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This is a fast-moving area and the paper should be read as correct at the time of publication (26.07.2021).

Since February 2020, the UK Government has had guidance in place, saying people showing symptoms of Covid-19 and anyone in their household should self-isolate for a certain period.

On 28 September 2020, the Government introduced a new legal requirement to self-isolate for anyone who has been notified that they have tested positive for Covid-19, and for anyone notified that they were in close contact with a person who has tested positive. People who are notified via the NHS app are not required to self-isolate, although the guidance says they should. The legislation only applies to England but there is similar legislation in Wales.

This briefing answers frequently asked questions on when people are required to self-isolate and the financial support that is available to them.


A person required to self-isolate must remain at a specified address (usually their home) for 10 days. They can only leave for a limited number of reasons.

It is a criminal offence for a person to fail to self-isolate. Penalties begin at £1,000 for the first offence and £4,000 if a person who breached self-isolation had reason to believe they would come into close contact with someone, does come into contact with someone and is “reckless as to the consequences”.

It is also an offence for an employer to knowingly allow a self-isolating person to leave the place where they are self-isolating. Penalties begin at £1,000.

People who are participating in an approved testing scheme do not have to self-isolate. Since May 2021, the Government has run a daily contact testing study where some close contacts can take daily tests instead of self-isolating.

On 19 July 2021, the Government announced that some fully vaccinated critical workers and frontline health and care staff will be allowed to leave self-isolation even if they were notified as a close contact. Employers can write to the relevant Government department to request authorisation for their staff to leave self-isolation. Staff can only leave self-isolation to go to work and must follow any conditions set out in the Government’s letter.

On 24 July, the Government announced that frontline emergency services and transport workers will be included in a daily contact testing scheme and will not have to self-isolate.

From 16 August 2021, people who are fully vaccinated, people under the age of 18 and people who cannot be vaccinated for clinical reasons will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are notified that they are a close contact.

Financial support while self-isolating

On 20 September, the Government announced a new £500 lump sum Test and Trace Support Payment for people on low incomes required to self-isolate, who can’t work during self-isolation.

This followed an earlier announcement of pilots for a new scheme providing payments of up to £182 for people in areas with high Covid-19 rates, who are required to self-isolate. The Test and Trace Support Payment supersedes these plans.

To qualify for a Test and Trace Support Payment, a person must be employed or self-employed, and must normally be receiving certain benefits or tax credits. The Government estimated that just under 4 million people might be eligible for the payment. Local authorities administer the scheme and make payments to individuals, on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care.

The support payment scheme applies in England only, although both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have announced similar schemes. In Northern Ireland, people can apply for a non-repayable Discretionary Support self-isolation grant, if they are on a low income and are experiencing financial difficulties due to self-isolation.

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