Self-isolation: What you need to know if you’re self-employed

When you should self-isolate

Self-isolation means not leaving home – usually for 10 full days, if you have tested positive for Covid-19 or are a close contact of somebody who has. This can be extended if you get symptoms, or your symptoms do not go away.

According to NHS guidelines, you should self-isolate immediately if:

  • you have any symptoms of COVID-19 (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste)
  • you've tested positive for COVID-19
  • someone you live with has symptoms or tested positive
  • you've been told you've been in contact with someone who tested positive
  • you have arrived in England from abroad from a 'red list' country, or from an 'amber list' country and not been fully vaccinated

Sadly, most self-employed people who are told to isolate and cannot work from home will lose out on much needed income. However, there are some options available to those on low incomes and people who will suffer a significant reduction in trading profits as a result of isolating.

Test and Trace Support Payment

Freelancers on low incomes may be entitled to a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment if they are told to isolate for the following reasons:

  • You (or a child they are parent/guardian of) have tested positive
  • You have been identified as a close contact of a positive case by NHS Test and Trace or;
  • You have been ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app

To access the payment, you must apply through your local council within 42 days of the first day of isolation. Some councils may offer discretionary payments for those who cannot work from home but do not meet other criteria, such as being in receipt of some benefits.

Test and trace support payment - how long does it take?

Payment speed is likely to vary between areas, depending on how many applications your local authority receives and how quickly they can process them. For more information, check your local authority’s website.

Check the Government’s guidance and use the postcode checker for full information about eligibility in your area.

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

Although this may not apply to all circumstances, you could be eligible for a payment under the fifth SEISS grant if you have a “reasonable belief” that your trading profits will suffer a “significant reduction” as a result of Covid-19.

To be eligible for SEISS 5, you must have previously been eligible for the fourth SEISS grant. You must also have a reasonable belief that you will suffer a significant reduction in trading profits due to “reduced business activity, capacity, demand or inability to trade due to coronavirus from 1 May 2021 to 30 September 2021”.

Whether a period of self-isolation satisfies these tests can be determined through an “honest assessment” by the applicant. HMRC provides the following example:

“A builder has tested positive for COVID-19 and has to self-isolate for 10 full days. As they are unable to work from home and have a reasonable belief that there will be a significant reduction in their trading profits. They are eligible to claim the fifth grant.”

For further information on SEISS 5, check out IPSE’s guide to SEISS here.

Exceptions for critical services

The Government recently granted some easements to isolation rules for named workers in ‘critical services’, to allow them to leave self-isolation “for the purpose of undertaking critical work only” (if they are fully vaccinated and isolating as a contact of a positive case). The Government may grant this exemption to a worker if they work in “critical elements of national infrastructure” and if their absence from work would lead to:

  • major detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or delivery of essential services – including those services whose integrity, if compromised, could result in significant loss of life or casualties
  • significant impact on national security, national defence, or the functioning of the state

This does not apply to those who test positive for Covid-19 or for close contacts who develop symptoms, regardless of vaccination status.

How the self-isolation rules are changing

From 16 August 2021, those who have received two vaccine doses will not be required to isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive for Covid-19 (or, if you receive your second dose on or just before 16 August, two weeks after the second jab was administered). Close contacts will be advised to take a test to gain certainty on their condition.

Those who test positive for Covid-19 will still need to isolate, even if they are fully vaccinated.