Just 7% of Covid-19 illness benefit recipients were confirmed cases

Majority on benefit a ‘probable risk’ rather than confirmed case of virus – Minister

Almost 52,000 people have received the Covid illness benefit since it was introduced in March but just 7 per cent of recipients had confirmed cases of the virus, it has emerged.

Minister of State for Health Mary Butler said that since the payment was introduced in March 55,000 claims have been made for the enhanced benefit and more than €36 million has been paid out.

She also confirmed to Labour Senator Marie Sherlock that people who are ordered to restrict their movements because of Covid-19 can claim the benefit in the same way as those self-isolating.

Ms Sherlock had expressed concern about frontline retail workers who were low paid “and have no cushion when it comes to being out sick”.


“There is a real concern about what entitlements they have if they are a close contact of a confirmed case and need to restrict their movements.”

The Minister said the enhanced illness benefit payment is provided “to anyone who meets the eligibility criteria, including a certificate of incapacity for work or evidence of HSE contact tracing”.

Outlining the figures in the Seanad Ms Butler said that “almost 52,000 people have received an enhanced illness benefit payment, the vast majority on the basis that they were a probable risk of infection rather than having been diagnosed with Covid-19”.

She said 7 per cent were confirmed cases, 82 per cent “are a probable risk” while 11 per cent who were receiving a Covid benefit were moved to another payment.

Currently 1,854 are receiving the benefit, the Minister said.

Illness benefit or sick pay is normally paid to insured workers who cannot work because of illness.

A short-term enhanced Covid-19 payment was introduced as an “exceptional provision in the public interest to mitigate the spread of the disease” to provide benefit to those who have been diagnosed with or are a probable source of the virus.

The payment aims to encourage people not to go to work due to financial constraint when they should be in isolation and is payable for two weeks where a person is a probable source of the virus and for up to 10 weeks where the person is diagnosed with the disease.

Senator Sherlock said there is a “large degree of confusion as to the difference between people who have to self-isolate and those who have to restrict their movements and, by extension confusion about their entitlements from the State”.

She said this was particularly the case when they have to restrict their movements.

Ms Butler acknowledged the confusion and said she wanted to bring clarity.

The Minister said the Department of Social Protection “does not distinguish between people who are self-isolating and people who are restricting their movements”.

She added that “if a doctor advises a person to remain away from work because of an underlying medical condition means they are unable to work safely then the standard illness benefit payment may be made subject of the conditions of the scheme being satisfied.”

People restricting their movements avoid contact with other people and social situations as much as possible. Individuals are advised to do this if they are a close contact of someone with Covid-19 or who has symptoms of the virus or if they have travelled from another country.

Self-isolation is for someone with symptoms of Covid-19 or a positive result and involves staying indoors, completely avoiding contact with other people and avoiding other people in the household as much as possible.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times