Hackney ambulance driver left 'out of pocket' ineligible for isolation help

Ambulance driver pictured in snow.

Ambulance driver Hayder Abdulaahi says he is out of pocket after being told to self-isolate for ten days. - Credit: Hayder Abdulaahi

A Hackney ambulance driver has spoken out about how difficult he says it is to claim support while self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Essential worker and father-of-four, Hayder Abdulaahi, cannot do his job from home as he works for a private company driving ambulances for Great Ormand Street Hospital.

He says the process of applying for a Test and Trace Support Payment, which includes strict eligibility requirements, have left him unable to focus on work and worried about providing for his family.

The targeted scheme was set up to help people on low incomes who cannot work from home if they are required to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 or are identified as a contact of someone who has the virus.

Eligible people receive £500 on top of any other support they currently receive, such as Statutory Sick Pay or Universal Credit.

Hayder said: “They made me feel like I was applying for a loan. Honestly, I have applied for loans in the past and I have never been asked the breakdown on how much I spend weekly on electricity - it’s just not right.”

The ambulance driver was told he was not eligible for a Test and Trace payment, but could apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment which can help residents in temporary situations when it is difficult to pay rent.

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He says he has been asked to provide all sorts of “proof”, including evidence of loss of earnings, that he is not on the furlough scheme, his employment, bank statements and more.

Hayder, who had to self-isolate for ten days at the end of December, added: “I’m a father of four and my wife does not work - so what do [Hackney Council] expect of me?

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"Just to be out of pocket of my own expense while the government is telling me to stay at home.

“I drive an ambulance for a living and to be treated like this when I am taking risks everyday by coming out of my house.  At the same time, this is my job, I have to do it.”

The company Hayder works for will only be paying Statutory Sick Pay, which is £95.85 a week, and despite applying for support on January 3, he only heard back from the local authority three weeks later asking for the documentation to be sent by February 1.   

In response, Cllr Rebecca Rennison, Hackney’s cabinet member for finance, housing needs and supply, said the council recognised the "frustration" caused by the strict eligibility criteria of the government's grants. 

Cllr Rebecca Rennison, Hackney cabinet member for housing. Picture: Hackney Council

Cllr Rebecca Rennison, Hackney cabinet member for housing. Picture: Hackney Council - Credit: Archant

The councillor said: "Councils up and down the country have been struggling with this grant system.

"As a key worker, we can understand Hayder Abdulaahi’s frustration, and like him, we would like to see the government provide a much more generous support package, with wider eligibility, that would mean a greater number of lower-paid workers could access payments automatically.”

The finance chief says council staff have been “working tirelessly” to process the “complex claims as quickly as possible” at a time when resources are “significantly stretched” and the local authority’s systems “badly affected" by the cyber attack.

Cllr Rennison added: “The initial estimate of weekly claims provided to councils by the government is significantly lower than the reality, and we have taken steps to manage this unprecedented demand, including training more staff to process claims.” 

Meanwhile, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government has covered the cost of administering the scheme and local authorities are able to make additional discretionary payments to anyone facing hardship.

“We continue to work closely with the 314 local authorities in England to monitor the effectiveness of the scheme – including the potential impact on groups who are not eligible to claim for it.”

When the scheme launched, the government made an initial £50 million available to councils to administer it, including £15 million for discretionary payments to people who fall outside its main scope but who will still face hardship if they have to self-isolate.

It says it is now providing a further £20 million to local authorities to enable them to continue offering support, which includes £10 million for discretionary payments.

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