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NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app is leaving some unable to access government self-isolation grants

'That button is there on the app' says minister. How many times have you heard a client make wild claims about functionality?

The NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app for England and Wales* has a major flaw. Yes, another one. People told to self-isolate by the app are unable to access a code required to claim a £500 financial support grant.

The grant is designed to support low-income workers on benefits who are unable to work from home.

At present, only human contact tracers are able to provide the code required to claim the grant. In addition, those who received a positive novel coronavirus diagnosis through the app cannot claim the code, as they'll have to speak to a human representative from Test and Trace.

But anyone who has been identified as having been in prolonged contact with a confirmed COVID-19 carrier by the app will receive no prompt to obtain the code.

Speaking to Sky News, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay said he was unaware of the issue.

The glitch was first raised in Parliament on Thursday by Rachel Maskell, Labour Co-Operative member for York Central, who said: "I want to pick up a point about the app. It is telling people to self-isolate, but it does not give them the code that they need for the process, so they cannot claim their £500. That is creating chaos across local authorities."

In response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock falsely claimed the functionality existed in the app, stating: “When it comes to making sure that people press the button on the app to access the £500 self-isolation payment for the low-paid, that button is there on the app.”

The Register has contacted the Department for Health for comment and app devs Zühlke engineering about Hancock's button comments.

This is the latest in a series of issues with the NHS's second attempt at a contact tracing app. The health service first attempted to roll out a much-criticised app model with a centralised data repository before ditching it, after several revised roll-out dates, for the distributed contact tracing system proposed by Apple and Google.

Last week, it transpired that potentially millions of users had been sent incorrect warnings about the COVID-19 risk level in their area, with one vulture at The Reg receiving it on several occasions.

NHS COVID-19 has separately received criticism over the cryptic nature of the exposure warnings, which left many unsure whether they were at risk of contracting the virus, and if they should self-isolate.

Last week, the Department of Health and Social Care issued an update which addressed a problem that saw users receive exposure warnings, which promptly disappeared. These warnings were generated by the underlying APIs provided by Google and Apple, and are now followed by a separate push notification that tells users to disregard them. ®

*The app does not cover the entire UK: Northern Ireland's contact-tracing app is called StopCOVID NI, and Scotland has Protect Scotland. Both of the countries' apps are based on the decentralised protocol and were released on 31 July and 10 September respectively, several weeks before NHSX's version for England and Wales rolled out on 24 September.

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