COVID-19 Policy Update 18 - 24 April
ContentsSocial Security Changes, Announcements, Information
- Official DfC Announcements
- Update on UC
- Consent / Signature on Claim Forms
- Guidance on New-style ESA, Including for COVID-19
- Looking Out for Each Other
- Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct
- Informal / Unpaid and Young Carers
- Advice for Pregnant Women during COVID-19
- Staying Connected Southern Trust Helpline
- Community Pharmacy Scheme and Prescriptions Deliveries
- Community Health and Development Network
- Mental Wellbeing
- Advice for Safer Shopping
- Life Here Love Here Small Grants Scheme
- Job Retention Scheme Updates
- Job Retention Scheme – Extended
- Job Retention Scheme and NINOs
- HMRC Webinars
- Accessing the Government Gateway
- New Online Feature from Credit Strategy
- Budget Energy COVID-19 Response Fund
- Updated Food Bank List
- COVID-19 Advice for Customers
- Helplines NI
- Guidance on Funeral Arrangements during COVID-19 Crisis
- Covid-19 Bereavement Resources
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
Official DfC Announcements
- The Minister is set to introduce legislation in the Assembly to extend to 12 weeks the notice-to-quit period a landlord must give a tenant. This legislation is contained within the Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Bill 2020 and will provide private renters with additional protections during the COVID-19 period; you can read more at https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/minister-hargey-strengthen-protec...
- Details of the Bill and its progress through the Assembly can be found at this link http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/assembly-business/legislation/2017-2022-man...
- The official report can be accessed from http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/officialreport/report.aspx?&eveDate=2020/04/21&docID=300445
- DfC has produced a guidance document for tenants and landlords in the private rented sector, and covers issues which may arise during the Covid-19 outbreak. More details can be found here, https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/publications/covid-19-guidance-private...
- Entitlement to SSP has been extended to those who are shielding as a result of COVID-19, under the new statutory rule Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations (NI) 2020 – an amendment to the Schedule to the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1982; more information is available from this link https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-and-benefits#t...
- Information about what happens with tax credits if impacted by COVID-19 can be accessed here (it’s very important for anybody in receipt of tax credit to check what is available to them before making a claim for UC) https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-and-benefits#t...
- The Assembly has approved a change to Discretionary Support legislation to provide increased access to emergency financial support for claimants in crisis. The change raises the Annual Income Threshold to £20,405; read more here https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/minister-announces-further-suppor...
- The Hardship Fund for Sport, launched on 14 April, is to be increased from £500K to £750K due to the high level of demand; more detail at https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/hardship-fund-sport-generates-exc...
Update on UC
- Claimants new to UC are being asked to claim online where at all possible. The online process will ask for basic information about personal circumstances and DfC will then verify identity. They have switched to a ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ system now so claimants don’t need to contact them after they’ve completed their online claim. Those new to UC can find further information and guidance at https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/
Consent / Signature on Claim FormsStatement from DfC:
“We do clearly recognise the difficulties Representatives may currently have in obtaining the customers’ signature due to social distancing guidance/ self-isolation. A temporary easement has been introduced to support people who wish to make PIP/ DLA / AA / application whereby we will accept the claim form as valid if signed on the customer’s behalf. It should be endorsed at normal declaration/ signature box with the annotation below:
“On account of the COVID 19 movement restrictions I have obtained consent from xxxxx to complete this form and sign on their behalf. I understand xxxx will be asked to sign this form at a later date – Advice Worker signature, organisation and date”.
As you are aware the normal implied consent arrangements do not allow for a representative to request a reconsideration by phone or in writing on behalf of a customer however in the current circumstances we have introduced a temporary easement and have advised staff that if a representative is acting on the customer behalf and wishes to register a reconsideration then it should be accepted.”
Guidance on New-style ESA, Including for COVID-19
- More detailed guidance about new-style ESA, including how the benefit works in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-style-employment-and-support-allowance-detailed-guide
- The guidance provides information about eligibility, how to claim, what to expect from the process, what happens after a claim is assessment, how much to expect, and how to report a change of circumstances, including for COVID-19.
Looking Out for Each Other
- A new campaign has been launched to communicate how people can best help friends, family and neighbours in isolation safely and suggests actions people can safely take. The campaign directs people to visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-how-to-help-safely--2/coronavirus-how-to-help-safely
- To register for volunteering opportunities in NI, visit Volunteer Now at https://uk.becollective.com/register?referrer=/groups/5dba678da6aebd002a09a719/profile%3FgatewayGroup%3D5dba678da6aebd002a09a719%26ignoreRegionGuess%3Dtrue%26modal%3DJoinGroupButton-group-5dba678da6aebd002a09a719
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
Free Advice NI Training – Updated for COVID-19New regulations in the last week or two have made some changes to Carer's Allowance (Breaks from caring), Housing Benefit (Income Disregard rises), Access to Benefits for Temporary Release Prisoners, Social Fund (Funeral Expenses amount rises) and Discretionary Support (Living Expenses for COVID-19 issues). A free, online course covering this called Benefits, Financial Support and Covid 19 is accessible from http://www.adviceni-learningonline.net/course/index.php?categoryid=20
The link will also take you to COVID-19 specific courses on JSA, ESA, UC, Employment Law and Triage.
Informal / Unpaid and Young Carers
- A booklet is available for informal carers, young carers and family members, that pulls together already existing sources of information into one place and signposting carers to others who may be able to help.
- The advice can be accessed from this link https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/advice-for-carers-during%20-vovid19.pdf
Advice for Pregnant Women during COVID-19
- Normal maternity services have been temporarily reconfigured and to keep people informed of the changes, the PHA has launched a new Maternity COVID-19 website. The site also details the sources of support available during the crisis and the alternative service provision provided.
- The website can be accessed from this link https://www.ni-maternity.com/
Staying Connected Southern Trust Helpline
- The Southern Trust has set up a helpline for children, young people and families who might need advice and who could be socially isolated due to the current crisis. The service provides a listening ear, support, guidance and links to services; the number to call is 028-3756-7150; more information is available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga4duGdet7I&feature=youtu.be
Community Pharmacy Scheme and Prescriptions Deliveries
- For information on the Community Pharmacy Scheme and how people can volunteer to deliver prescriptions, go to https://www.cdhn.org/community-support-community-pharmacy-faqs
Community Health and Development Network
- The Community Health and Development Network has compiled an A-Z list of definitions and information about COVID-19 and the crisis. You can read it at https://www.cdhn.org/covid-19-z
- People looking for ways to take care of their mental wellbeing while self-isolating can get advice on NI Direct at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-taking-care-your-mental-health-and-wellbeing
Advice for Safer Shopping
- The PHA booklet Advice for Safer Shopping gives advice on how to shop more safely during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect yourself and others and help prevent the virus spreading. It includes a meal planner and shopping list to help you manage your shopping.
- The booklet can be accessed here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/advice-safer-shopping-during-covid-19-and-translations
Life Here Love Here Small Grants Scheme
- The Live Here Love Here Small Grants Scheme will make available funding to community groups enabling them to respond according to local need for people impacted through reduced contact with society. For groups who want to apply, the details are here https://www.liveherelovehere.org/cgi-bin/generic?instanceID=30
Job Retention Scheme UpdatesThe Job Retention Scheme went live at 8am on Monday 20 April and is now open to employers to make a claim. Employers should apply immediately to ensure payment gets to them by the end of the month.
- Guidance on the scheme can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
- The most up-to-date tool for employers calculating a claim can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/work-out-80-of-your-employees-wages-to-claim-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
- Employers are asked to have all their information and calculations ready before beginning their application, and to retain all records and calculations in case HMRC needs to contact them.
- A simple, step-by-step guide is available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-step-by-step-guide-for-employers
Job Retention Scheme – Extended
- To continue to keep the social distancing measures in place, the Job Retention Scheme will now be open until the end of June; read more here https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-extends-furlough-scheme-to-end-of-june
- Updated guidance for employers is at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
- Updated guidance for employees is at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
Job Retention Scheme and NINOs
- When making a claim to the Job Retention Scheme, employers are asked to provide a National Insurance number (NINO) for each employee that they’ve furloughed.
- But in some cases, they might not have a NINO for all employees and if so, HMRC have issued the following advice:
- Where an employee has a NINO but the employer doesn’t know it, the employer should make all reasonable efforts to establish it, including by making use of the RTI NINO Verification Request submission if appropriate.
- Where an employee does not have a NINO and the employer has less than 100 furloughed employees, they can contact the COVID-19 helpline on 0800-024-1222 and the claim can be processed over the phone; if the employer has 100+ furloughed employees, they’ll have to provide a payroll or employee reference number for any employee without NINO in their file upload.
- HMRC have recorded a number of webinars on COVID-19 related topics, including the Job Retention Scheme and how to make a claim, which provide an overview of the support available to help employers and employees.
- These have been uploaded to YouTube and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8EcnheDt1zhTsyhT9ak3xiXnmlvbHJJV
Accessing the Government GatewayHMRC has the following advice for people experiencing difficulty accessing the system because they don’t have an active PAYE enrolment. In order to make a claim they’ll need to:
- Have a Government Gateway (GG) ID and password – if they don’t already have a GG account, they can apply at https://www.gov.uk/log-in-register-hmrc-online-services/register, or by going to GOV.UK and searching for 'HMRC services: sign in or register';
- Be enrolled for PAYE online – if they aren’t registered yet, they can do so at this link https://www.gov.uk/paye-online/enrol, or by going to GOV.UK and searching for 'PAYE Online for employers'.
New Online Feature from Credit Strategy
- Credit Strategy has launched the Covid-19 Tracker, a dedicated website section for all members covering related announcements from government, regulators, lenders, service providers and trade bodies. Access the website here https://www.creditstrategy.co.uk/covid-19
Budget Energy COVID-19 Response Fund
- Budget Energy NI have launched a £50K Covid-19 Response Fund aimed at supporting their customers during the current crisis. The fund is now open for applications and will provide a one-off £50 credit to customer accounts or top-up code for Keypad meters. Applications will be assessed on a first-come basis and will close when the £50K has been allocated. To apply for the fund, customers are asked to complete an online application form which can be accessed at www.budgetenergy.co.uk
Updated Food Bank List
- The Consumer Council has compiled information for food banks across NI; read more at https://www.consumercouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-04/Food_Banks_1_April_2020.pdf
COVID-19 Advice for Customers
- The Consumer Council has compiled advice for customers who may be affected by coronavirus, found at https://www.consumercouncil.org.uk/coronavirus
- Helplines Network NI is a single point of access to NI Helplines telephone numbers and websites.
- The Network currently includes 30 member organisations delivering over 30 helplines that provide a variety of vital support services including information, advice, counselling, a listening ear and befriending.
- See the full list of helpline organisations here www.helplinesnetworkni.com
Guidance on Funeral Arrangements during COVID-19 Crisis
- Guidance is now available for the bereaved on new temporary arrangements for death and burial / cremation process. The guidance provides information on pre-funeral arrangements, funeral services, gatherings after the funeral, as well as the timescales for funeral services taking place.
- Go to this link to read more https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-bereaved-about-funeral-arrangements
- All cremation services for NI are dealt with by the City of Belfast Crematorium. Cremations will still be carried out but unfortunately, no family or friends can be in attendance. The Belfast City Council website has further details at https://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/community/crematorium/crematorium-about.aspx
- All cemeteries will stay closed to members of the public, except for funerals and burials; more information at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-bereaved-about-funeral-arrangements
Covid-19 Bereavement Resources
- The PHA have published booklets providing advice for people who have experienced a bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic period.
- The first two booklets offer advice on dealing with grief and bereavement, and practical advice on dealing with those aspects of a death that may be different during the pandemic period. Access them at:
- The third booklet deals with helping children to cope with the death of a loved one and you can find it here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/sites/default/files/2020-04/Saying%20Goodbye%20workbook%20for%20children%20Final%2004_20.pdf