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​
Health Updates
  • Care Homes FAQs
  • New Guidance for Care Homes
  • Dentists Volunteer at Care Homes
  • Type 1 Diabetes in Children
  • Children who are Shielding
HMRC Updates
  • Job Retention Scheme
  • Support for Self-Employed
  • Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
Other Information
  • Immigration Services Update
  • Volunteering
  • 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

Reopening of 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

PQ on the ‘Move to UC’ Pilot Scheme

£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

Health Updates

Care Homes FAQs

New Guidance for Care Homes

Dentists Volunteer at Care Homes

Type 1 Diabetes in Children

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

Support for Self-Employed

Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

Other Information

Immigration Services Update

Volunteering

  • 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

Staying Safe When Getting Help