Deliveroo couriers say they are being forced back to work when they should be self-isolating, because they are unable to access the support promised by the company, Sky News can reveal.
Deliveroo has committed to providing a multi-million pound “hardship fund” for riders and drivers, which will give anyone who catches coronavirus or is forced to self-isolate a weekly payment in excess of UK statutory sick pay.
Yet couriers – who are classed by Deliveroo as self-employed – have been unable to access the fund because they cannot get the required documentation from the NHS.
“During the budget last week the chancellor announced that you’d be able to get a medical certification from the 111 service,” said Greg Howard, who works as a Deliveroo courier in Nottingham
“That isn’t the situation. You cannot get that.”
Anyone calling NHS 111 is told, by an automated message, that “we currently cannot issue isolation notes”.
The 111 website has no option for anyone to obtain evidence for absence from work and tells visitors concerned about coronavirus not to go to a GP, pharmacy or hospital.
Deliveroo deactivates the account of any rider who is self-isolating for seven days, preventing them from working, but places strict requirements on anyone claiming financial support.
In email exchanges seen by Sky News, a member of Deliveroo’s rider fraud and escalations team says couriers need to “provide proof” that they “have contracted the virus or been placed in quarantine by a medical authority” to claim financial support.
Riders who say they cannot get a certificate – without which it is impossible to complete the form on the Deliveroo website – are told to “keep in contact with your doctor, Health Service Hotline or the 111 website for the UK to continue to request certification.”
The difficulty experienced by riders getting medical certification highlights the intense strain placed on government bureaucracy by the coronavirus pandemic.
Official guidance from last week’s budget states that a system will be introduced “in the coming weeks” to enable people who are self-isolating “to obtain a notification via NHS 111 which they can use as evidence for absence from work.”
Despite urgings from Deliveroo, whose spokesperson told Sky News it was in regular contact with the government about this service, the system has not yet been made available.
Sources from other gig economy companies, who also rely on this system to certify workers’ absence, confirmed that they were waiting for the government to introduce the service.
For Deliveroo couriers who are self-isolating, the absence of support places them in a difficult position, not only financially, but also because they may struggle to finish their period of quarantine.
Mr Howard, who went into self-isolation last Wednesday, is planning to go back to work after seven days, even though the government’s most recent guidance says anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should isolate themselves and their family for 14 days.
“I don’t really know how I’m going to afford to live over the next few weeks,” he said. “I’m going to go back on Thursday, hopefully. I’m going to have to work even harder.”
Dilwar Uddin, another courier in self-isolation who has been unable to access the support fund, told Sky News he was struggling to know what to do.
“How am I supposed to pay my bills? How am I supposed to pay my rent? I’ve got three children to think about,” he said.
“Deliveroo’s not helping me stay at home.”
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents gig economy workers including Mr Howard and Mr Uddin, called Deliveroo’s policy “PR spin” hiding “more of the same old deceitful tactics”.
“Deliveroo and other so-called gig economy employers have to stop blocking their workers’ access to these funds and immediately introduce full contractual sick pay, without pre-conditions,” said IWGB Couriers and Logistics branch chair Alex Marshall.
“These workers are being expected to play a huge role in feeding people during this time of crisis, so it is time for their employers and the government to give them the basic rights we expect in any decent and just society.”
Sky News revealed on Monday that the government has been conducting talks with Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats to provide food to elderly and vulnerable people who are self-isolating.
A Deliveroo spokesperson told Sky News: “Deliveroo is committed to providing financial support for riders across the world who are diagnosed with the virus or who are told to be in isolation by a medical authority.
“We are providing riders with continuous advice, based on expert guidance, on how to stay safe and we will continue to explore other ways in which riders can be supported.”