Just one in three people who applies for a £500 coronavirus self-isolation payment receives the cash, research reveals tonight.
Two-thirds of applications for the scheme are rejected, according to a study by the Trades Union Congress.
Freedom of information responses from 94 English councils showed that since extra funding for the scheme was announced in February, 16,955 applications were made but only 6,085 were successful.
Some 10,870 were rejected.
The one-off payments are key to the Government’s plan for tackling Covid-19 by offering employees who cannot work from home an incentive not to battle into work.
Experts fear too many staff who display symptoms or test positive for the disease continue to go to work because they need the money.
A BritainThinks online survey of 2,134 workers carried out for the TUC last month found nearly one in five workers cannot afford to take time off work sick.
Researchers also found that just one in five workers was aware of the scheme.
The TUC called for statutory sick pay – currently worth £95.85 a week – to be lifted to the Real Living Wage of £330 a week, and extended to all workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating, and being plunged into hardship.
“But too many are still going without the financial support they need to self-isolate.
“The self-isolation payment scheme is failing – and it has been crystal clear since the start of the pandemic that the UK’s measly statutory sick pay isn’t enough to live on.
“The combination of new variants, reopened indoor hospitality and increasing numbers returning to their workplace could once again brutally expose the lack of financial support available for those needing to self-isolate.
“Enough is enough. Ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to at least the Real Living Wage, and they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We know this is an incredibly difficult time for many people and we launched the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme to help those experiencing financial hardship, and cannot work from home, to self-isolate.
“Since it launched in September 2020, the Government has made £176million available to local authorities to run the scheme.
“In March this year, we increased funding to £20m a month and extended the eligibility to help even more people.
“The department is working with all 314 local authorities in England to ensure as many people as possible are aware of the support available to them following the initial announcement.”