COVID-19 Policy update 16 May – 22 May
This week's update from our policy team covers information on social security, health, HMRC and information on volunteering, immigration services and schools.
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
- Official DfC Announcements
- SEISS and UC
- Hardship Scheme for Microbusinesses
- Reopening of Public Angling Estate
- ‘Safer Schools’ App
- PQ on Maternity Allowance
- PQ on the ‘Move to UC’ Pilot Scheme
- £213m Business Rates Support
- Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct
- Care Homes FAQs
- New Guidance for Care Homes
- Dentists Volunteer at Care Homes
- Type 1 Diabetes in Children
- Children who are Shielding
- Job Retention Scheme
- Support for Self-Employed
- Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
- Immigration Services Update
- Schools Open for Educational Supervision
- Staying Safe When Getting Help
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
Official DfC Announcements
- DfC is providing an additional £10m for the Supporting People to provide housing support for vulnerable individuals including: homeless people, older people, young people, and people with physical disabilities, learning disabilities and mental health issues; full story here https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/minister-hargey-secures-ps10m-supporting-people-providers
- £20.3m is being allocated to local councils to assist them with their financial pressures as a result of COVID-19; more details at this link https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/hargey-announces-over-ps20m-local-councils
- Highlights from the Minister’s statement to the Assembly on Tuesday:
- UC Contingency Fund: everyone making a new claim to UC can apply for a non-repayable UC Contingency Fund grant that’s available through Discretionary Support.
- Discretionary Support: steps have been taken to improve the response to the increased demand for DS. Regulations were amended to widen the grant eligibility criteria in order to provide a grant for short-term living expenses to assist claimants affected by COVID-19. For applications, the income threshold was increased to £20,405 and debt threshold was increased from £1,000 to £1,500. An online living expenses grant application form is available and can be completed and submitted online without the need to download or email. Staff have been redeployed to DS to manage the increase in applications.
- Emergency food parcels programme: the scheme was an emergency response to ensure essential food got to people who needed it. The programme cost £10 million for the initial 12 weeks and delivers 18,000 food parcels per week. A 6-week review was built in to be able to make changes if necessary. The programme was capped at 18,000 because the 3 wholesale suppliers being used can’t go beyond that number due to social distancing. The programme review is happening now and approaches to tailoring the boxes are being looked at because DfC is aware there are issues e.g. a person living on their own won’t need some items in the food box every week.
- UC: Reference was made to the changes in the Universal Credit (Coronavirus) (Grants to Self-employed Claimants and Reclaims) Regulations (NI) 2020; the next section discusses these regulations in more detail.
- Minimum income floor: This has been suspended for the duration of the outbreak, meaning that every self-employed person can now access UC in full.
- PIP and ESA assessments: all face-to-face assessments were suspended for three months and as the three months approach an end, DfC will review this approach to see if it needs to be extended based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the scientific officer; new online application forms for ESA and JSA have been introduced and can be downloaded, completed and emailed directly to the relevant benefit area for processing; the forms are available on NI Direct at:
- Read the full Hansard report of the Minister’s question time here http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/officialreport/report.aspx?&eveDate=2020/05/19&docID=301084
SEISS and UC
- New legislation was introduced this week to handle self-employed people claiming UC and who will receive an SEISS payment. The Universal Credit (Coronavirus) (Grants to Self-employed Claimants and Reclaims) Regulations (NI) 2020 will take SEISS into account as earnings in UC.
- DfC provided us with the following explanations of how the legislation will work:
- “In some cases, this may mean the support available via UC comes to an end but in others where incomes are low, UC will continue to ‘top-up’ the self-employed persons’ income until it is no longer needed.
- Operational easements are in place to mitigate the impacts of receiving SEISS payments, as Nil awards will not cause the UC claim to ‘close’, where such earnings reduce the UC award to zero.Instead, the claimant will be “treated as making” a new UC claim for the following 5 assessment periods.This means if earnings reduce in these assessment periods the claimant will not need to make a new claim for a payment of UC to be made. Surplus earnings will be applied to the UC award and this will depend on the individual’s circumstances where the surplus is carried over, the claimant may not get a UC payment.
- The amendment also covers the treatment of grants or loans to aide with business recovery. As such, these financial payments will be treated as capital and disregard as business assets for the purposes of UC.”
- “The Self Employed Income Support Scheme grant will be treated as earnings in the UC assessment period in which it is paid. If receipt of the whole amount of the grant in one assessment period results in surplus earnings, this may affect UC in subsequent assessment periods.” – see https://twitter.com/CommunitiesNI/status/1262397319263268865
Hardship Scheme for Microbusinesses
- The Department for the Economy has launched a new £40m scheme targeted at businesses with 1 to 9 employees who are facing immediate cash flow difficulties due to the crisis. Eligibility criteria are now available and an online eligibility will be made available next week; more information at this link https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/news/dodds-announces-ps40-million-secured-microbusiness-hardship-fund
Reopening of Public Angling Estate
- As part of easing lock down restrictions, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is allowing its public angling estate to gradually reopen to local anglers for recreational use although anglers are asked to use their nearest angling venue to reduce travel; read more here https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/minister-confirms-re-opening-public-angling-estate
‘Safer Schools’ App
- The Department of Education launched a new digital safeguarding app, the 'Safer Schools' app, which gives children, young people, schoolteachers, parents and carers access to advice on a range of digital issues, including safeguarding on social media platforms, bullying, sexting and emerging online trends. The full story is at this link https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/new-safer-schools-app-launched
PQ on Maternity Allowance
- A parliamentary question was asked about maternity allowance and why it wasn’t being treated the same way as statutory maternity pay for the purposes of calculating UC. The answer focused on the principle that benefits aren’t paid to claimants with income from other sources. Maternity allowance was included as one such source and therefore would be factored into UC calculations.
- The full question and answer are available here https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-04-28/HL3620/
PQ on the ‘Move to UC’ Pilot Scheme
- A parliamentary question was asked about how many couples have been included to-date in the Move to UC pilot scheme; the reply explained that no couples had been moved yet and the pilot was temporarily suspended because of the crisis.
- The full question and answer are available here https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-04-28/HL3622/
£213m Business Rates Support
- The Department of Finance has launched a £213m rates support package for businesses, building on the £100m scheme announced in March which gave all businesses a three-month rates holiday. The new scheme puts particular emphasis on the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic i.e. hospitality, tourism and leisure; retail (excluding certain supermarkets and off-licences); childcare; and airports at Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry; read more here https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/murphy-announces-further-ps213m-business-rates-support
Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct
- NI Direct has a COVID-19 webpage with up-to-date information on a range of issues relating to the crisis. Visit https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19
- DfC has a COVID-19 webpage providing the last updates on action they’re taking during the crisis. Visit https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/landing-pages/covid-19-service-updates
- Department of Health daily statistics on COVID-19 are available at www.health-ni.gov.uk
Care Homes FAQs
- A comprehensive list of FAQs about care homes and the measures being put in place to protect residents and staff can be found at this link http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/coronavirus/covid-19-care-home-outbreaks-faqs/
New Guidance for Care Homes
- New guidance has been launched for care homes on a proposed new model ‘Safe at Home’ to enhance the approach to preventing the spread of infection in care homes. Read more at this link https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/further-measures-help-protect-care-homes
Dentists Volunteer at Care Homes
- Dentists are using their detailed knowledge of infection control procedures to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in care homes; more information is available here http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/dentists-volunteer-help-care-homes/
Type 1 Diabetes in Children
- HSC urges parents not to ignore signs of type 1 diabetes in their children during COVID-19 pandemic, and to be reassured that help and support is available for those who need medical attention; further information is available here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/parents-urged-not-ignore-signs-type-1-diabetes-during-covid-19-pandemic
Children who are Shielding
- DfC have said that the list of those shielding has been created by Health Care Number so if a child is advised to shield, their HCN will be on the register and a priority shopping slot can be requested quoting their number on the registration form. Although every effort will be made by the retailers to offer a priority online delivery slot, this is dependent on capacity and demand and cannot be guaranteed.
HMRC and Employment Updates
Job Retention Scheme
- The online guidance for the Job Retention Scheme has recently been updated with further information for furloughed employees; the work furloughed company directors can undertake; the time periods for making claim; and non-discretionary payments, holiday pay and record keeping.
- Employers can find full information about the Scheme online at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
- Employees can find full information about the Scheme online at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
Support for Self-Employed
- Find out the about SEISS: eligibility criteria, how to apply, how HMRC calculates the grant, when payment gets made; go to the full information at this link https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme
- If a self-employed person is not eligible for the grant, find out here about further support that may be available https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme#other
Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
- The coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will be launched online on 26 May and will enable employers with fewer than 250 employees to claim coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP); more information is available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19
Immigration Services Update
- A change has been made to the legislation for the EU Settlement Scheme and it will apply from 21 August; the change means that eligible family members of the ‘people of NI’ (as defined in the Good Friday Agreement) will be able to apply for UK immigration status under EUSS on the same terms as the family members of Irish citizens in the UK; read about the changes here https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/885020/CCS207_CCS0520583832-002_Explanatory_Memo_to_CP_232_PRINT.pdf
- The application for the Scheme is free and the deadline for applications is June 30, 2021; free, confidential EUSS immigration advice, information and support are available at FREEPHONE 0800-138-6545 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) has launched an online presentation giving guidance on the OISC's complaints redirection scheme to assist advisers and organisations to remain fit and competent, to comply with the OSIC Code of Standards and to act in the best interests of the client; watch the presentation here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/complaints-redirection-presentation
- Volunteer Now has launched a new online campaign #HelpEachOther for those who wish to volunteer for COVID-19 related opportunities and for organisations who need volunteers to deliver their services to the most in need; further information is available at www.volunteernow.co.uk
- Anyone wishing to volunteer for health and social care support roles can do so via www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/
Schools Open for Educational Supervision
- A list of schools open for educational supervision is available at www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/schools-open-supervised-learning-key-workers-children-and-vulnerable-children
- A link to the guidance on schools clustering is available here https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/guidance-schools-cluster-arrangements
Staying Safe When Getting Help
- Practical advice is available to help people stay safe when receiving voluntary help; read more here https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-staying-home-and-self-isolation