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COVID-19 Support Study: experiences of and compliance with self-isolation

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Published: August 2021

ScotCen was commissioned by the Scottish Government to conduct a mixed method research study with those asked to self-isolate.

The aim of the study was to better understand people’s experiences of self-isolation, including any incentives and barriers to compliance to enable the Government to decide how support can be targeted in the best possible way for specific groups.


Compliance with the requirement to self-isolate

  • Overall, compliance with self-isolation was high among survey participants of all case types (Index Cases, Contact Cases, International Travellers). However, variance between self-assessment of compliance and the behavioural measure of compliance suggests that some participants may have lacked the knowledge, willingness and/or capability to self-isolate successfully.
  • Instances of non-compliance with self-isolation requirements were low across all case types. Over half of Index and Contact Case participants did not do any of the non-compliant activities listed in the survey. Non-compliant activities undertaken by participants before or during self-isolation included: visiting shops for groceries, toiletries or medicine; taking part in outdoor recreation or exercise; and attending work, school or university.

Knowledge of rules and guidance

  • Understanding of what was permitted during the self-isolation period was high among all case types though there was some ambiguity about whether leaving self-isolation for a medical reason, to care for a vulnerable person, or get/send a COVID-19 test was allowed.
  • For several activities there was a clear association between knowledge of whether an activity was allowed or not and whether a person carried out the activity themselves. However, knowledge of self-isolation requirements did not guarantee compliance. A number of qualitative interviewees knowingly breached self-isolation requirements. Those who admitted to doing so said these were minor infractions and they tried to minimise risks to others.

Attitudes & experiences of self-isolation

  • Agreement that self-isolation is an effective strategy against the spread of COVID-19 was high among all case types. There was some evidence of a relationship between endorsement of the strategy and compliance with the requirement (for all case types), with those who were fully compliant more likely to strongly agree than those who were partially compliant.
  • Half of survey participants expressed that the experience of self-isolation had impacted negatively upon their mental health.Younger people, those in managed isolation and those experiencing repeated self-isolation were particularly affected.
  • Isolation also impacted on people’s finances. Younger people, those with a household income of <=£16,900, and those living in the two most deprived SIMD quintiles in Scotland were likely to cite self-isolation impacting negatively upon their employment and income in all case types.

Support during self-isolation

  • A fairly high level of awareness of formal support existed among Index and Contact Case participants. Over half (56%) indicated that they were offered the option of their Local Authority contacting them. Smaller proportions recalled being offered online support, the National Assistance Helpline number and/or support when visiting a test centre. pUptake of Local Authority support was relatively low among Index and Contact Case survey participants, with 14% of those offered the opportunity of contact from their Local Authority accepting the offer. The majority declined Local Authority support because they did not need any additional support, some of whom were receiving the support they needed from family, friends and employers.
  • Where support from formal sources was accessed this primarily related to financial and practical support such as the Self-Isolation Support Grant, support paying bills, accessing grants and benefits or practical help with food deliveries. The majority of survey respondents who accessed formal support felt that their needs had been met.
  • Qualitative findings highlighted that there may be inconsistency in the support offered to different groups in different areas, and proposed ways of addressing this. For example, people suggested: ensuring the same support is available regardless of where you live in Scotland; widening the eligibility of the Self-Isolation Support Grant; and providing additional support for those with caring responsibilities.


An online survey (with the option of telephone completion), followed by in-depth interviews with a sample of survey participants, were undertaken between March and June 2021.

A total of 4325 Test and Protect cases took part in the survey between March and June 2021. The survey was opt-in and is therefore not representative of everyone asked to self-isolate, but only of those who took part in the research. In-depth interviews were carried out with 30 survey participants who consented to being recontacted in Wave 1 for a follow-up interview. Interviews took place on April and May 2021.

Read on the ScotGov website