COVID-19 POLICY UPDATE 13 June – 19 June 2020

Read the latest COVID-19 update from our policy team. Find out information on social security, health, employment, Blue Badge scheme and more.
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
  • Official DfC Announcements
  • COVID-19 Treatment Breakthrough
  • Update on Food Parcel Service
  • DfC Mitigations Update
  • Next Phase of UC Suspended
  • Economic Recovery Funding
  • Coronavirus-related Health Inequalities Report
  • Minister Stepping Aside Temporarily
  • Online Wellbeing Hub
  • Digital Transformation in Health Service
  • Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Consultation
  • Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct

Health Updates
  • Extra Funding Support for Foster Carers
HMRC Updates
  • Job Retention Scheme – New Guidance
  • Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
Other Information
  • Clarity on Issuing Blue Badges
  • Patient and Client Council Survey
  • Volunteers Wanted
  • More Recognition for Carers
  • Webchat Service for Domestic Abuse Victims
  • Chinese Welfare Association Health Survey

Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information

Official DfC Announcements

COVID-19 Treatment Breakthrough

Update on Food Parcel Service

  • The Food Parcel Service was launched in April at a cost of £6.3m to give 12 weeks’ support to those most vulnerable to the virus and to those in financial need due to the crisis.  As part of the transition from an emergency response, a further £1.5m is being used to extend the Service beyond 26 June for those currently receiving a food box who have been asked to shield by their GPs and have no other help to access food.
  • Read the press release here https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/food-parcel-service-be-extended-those-medically-shielding

DfC Mitigations Update

DfC issues a letter to the Cliffedge Coalition with the following points:
  • “The contingency arrangements to provide for the continued delivery of mitigation payments, on the basis of the policy detailed in the existing legislation, have been extended until 30th September 2020.”
  • “A draft Bill to provide for mitigation payments for people affected by the Social Sector Size Criteria policy has been shared with the Executive.  Once approval to proceed has been granted then the draft Bill will be formally presented to the Assembly as quickly as possible.”
  • “The Department will be bringing forward new Regulations to provide for the extension of the remaining mitigation schemes.  It is anticipated that these will be laid shortly after the Bill is introduced.”
  • “Proposals for the review of mitigations are currently being finalised and it is hoped that a formal announcement on how this will be taken forward will be made in the coming weeks.”

Next Phase of UC Suspended

DfC issued the following letter explaining that the planned Move to UC phase has been temporarily suspended:
 
“Dear Stakeholder,

In March this year I wrote to tell you about implementing the next phase of Universal Credit, known as ‘Move to UC’. I advised that we had planned to commence this phase in January 2021.
 
You will appreciate that my Department is now in the position of responding to the Covid-19 emergency with reduced staff capacity and an unprecedented increased demand on services. This means all available resources are being directed to delivering essential frontline services to those who need them, in particular the most vulnerable in our communities.
 
Global events have therefore overtaken our planning for the Move to UC phase here, and work on that has been temporarily suspended. What this means for ourselves, and colleagues in GB, in terms of timing is now unclear, but I will of course keep you informed of any developments.”

Economic Recovery Funding

Coronavirus-related Health Inequalities Report

  • The Departmet of Health has published the Coronavirus Related Health Inequalities Report which presents analysis of health inequalities related to COVID-19 by assessing differences between the most and least deprived areas of NI.  One of the key finding is that the infection rate in the 10% most deprived areas was a fifth higher than the rate in the 10% least deprived areas and two-fifths higher than the NI average.
  • Read the report and the full list of key findings at this link https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/coronavirus-related-health-inequalities

Minister Stepping Aside Temporarily

  • Minister Deirdre Hargey has stepped down from her ministerial role temporarily while she undergoes surgery.  She expects to be back at work within weeks and will be replaced by Carál Ní Chuilín MLA.  The full story is here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-53044068

Online Wellbeing Hub

  • A new online wellbeing hub to promote positive mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic has been launched in partnership with DfC, Department of Health, mental health charities, and the Healthy Living Centre Alliance.  Access the hub at this website www.mindingyourhead.info

Digital Transformation in Health Service

  • As part of rebuilding health and social care after the COVID-19 crisis, a contract has been awarded as part of Encompass, a project aimed at using digital innovation to transform health services and which plans £300m ICT investment over the next 10 years.  The contract will create a single Digital Care Record and has been awarded to the Epic, a patient systems company in the US.  More information available at this link https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/health-minister-announces-landmark-digital-contract-award

Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Consultation

Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct

Health updates

Extra Funding Support for Foster Carers

  • The Health and Social Care Board has secured additional funding to support foster carers during the COVID-19 pandemic which will be made available to all foster carers across NI for a period of up to 12 weeks beginning June 2020.  Further information at this link http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/extra-funding-support-foster-carers/

HMRC and Employment Updates

Job Retention Scheme – New Guidance

  • HMRC has published new guidance to help people prepare for changes to the job retention scheme.  The guidance includes:
    • changes to the scheme and key dates people need to be aware of.
    • how an employer can claim if they bring previously furloughed employees back to work part-time from 1 July, and how many employees they can claim for in any one claim.
    • how to claim, and the information needed to do so.
    • how to work out the amount that can be claimed.
    • more information on amending claims.
  • Important dates:
    • Flexible furloughing of employees starts from 1 July.
    • Claims for periods ending on or before 30 June must be made by 31 July.
    • Employers will be able to claims for further furlough periods as needed and the first time they’ll be able to make a claim for days in July will be 1 July.
  • See the full guidance here https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

  • Employers with fewer than 250 employees can now claim for Coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).  The repayment covers up to two weeks of the applicable rate of SSP and claims can be made for periods of sickness starting on or after: 13 March 2020 if an employee had coronavirus, had symptoms or was self-isolating; 16 April 2020 if an employee was shielding.
  • Full details about the scheme, along with eligibility criteria, are available at this link https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19

Other Information

Clarity on Issuing Blue Badges

The Blue Badge Unit in the Department for Infrastructure have clarified the situation for issuing Blue Badges while PIP reassessments are suspended:
 
“The Blue Badge Unit are aware of issues the Department for Communities are having with carrying out reassessments for people on short term PIP awards. To our knowledge they are issuing six month extensions to the awards.
 
If the Department [for Infrastructure] receive a 6-month extension to a person’s current PIP award along with a renewal application, then we would be able to issue a new badge for the period of the extension. Proof of the extension period is required.
 
This will affect anyone that has an expiry date on their PIP/DLA as current legislation does not allow the Blue Badge to be issued longer than the period covered by the PIP/DLA award.
 
The alternative option open to applicants is to apply under Section C1 (Assessed Criteria) in the absence of any current PIP award. A 3-year Blue Badge may be issued to any applicants that qualify after assessment. We are not currently experiencing any major delays in getting responses from GP practices to our requests for the completion of medical questionnaires.”

Patient and Client Council Survey

  • The Patient and Client Council is carrying out a survey of people who have been advised to shield, and those supporting them as a means of better understanding the impact shielding has had on individuals, to inform the steps and processes that must be considered now and in the future, and to ensure that the voice of those impacted by shielding is heard.
  • Take the survey here https://wh1.snapsurveys.com/s.asp?k=159111662844

Volunteers Wanted

  • Advice NI is looking for enthusiastic and committed volunteers to assist in the delivery of the COVID-19 Community Helpline.  The role involves answering queries from the public over the phone along with signposting to appropriate practical help and support.
  • If you or anybody you know is interested, please contact Laura McDonald at Laura@adviceni.net
  • You can download the role description or find more information at https://www.adviceni.net/covid-19-community-helpline-volunteer

More Recognition for Carers

Webchat Service for Domestic Abuse Victims

  • Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid have launched a new webchat service for women suffering domestic abuse who can't use the phone safely.
  • The new online service runs Monday to Friday, 10am-12pm and can be access by clicking the small chat icon in the bottom right hand corner of their website https://belfastwomensaid.org.uk

Chinese Welfare Association Health Survey