COVID-19 POLICY UPDATE 20 June – 26 June 2020
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As Advice NI Head of Policy I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of the Policy Team in collating and producing the Coronavirus Weekly Updates, I would also pay tribute to all other Advice NI staff who contributed to the production and formatting for circulation via email and online.
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- Kevin Higgins
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
- Official DfC Announcements
- Communities Minister Question Time
- UC and Variations in Monthly Salaries
- Further Easements in Shielding Advice
- Guidance for Reopening of Tourism and Hospitality Sectors
- Childcare Recovery Plan and Education Restart Programme
- Further Financial Support for HE Students
- Learning from COVID-19 Experience at Care Homes
- Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Communities
- Rates Discount Deadline Approaching
- COVID-19 Report from Work and Pensions Committee
- Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct
- Return of Primary Care Ophthalmic Services
- COVID-19 Rehabilitation Needs
- Phased Return of Dental Services
- Job Retention Scheme and UC – New Guidance
- Job Retention Scheme for Benefits other than UC – New Guidance
- Redundancy Pay in Relation to the Job Retention Scheme
- Tax Credit Renewals
- Amendments to Tax Credits Regulations
- Digital Appeal Hearings
- Guidance on Returning to the Workplace
- Resources from Housing Rights
- Advice for Blind and Partially-Sighted during Coronavirus
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
Official DfC Announcements
- DfC are allocating £300,000 to the 8 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in NI to help with the regeneration of those areas and to improve the local trading environment; more information at this link https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/communities-minister-announces-ps300000-support-businesses
- The DfC £15.5million COVID Charities Fund announced recently is open for applications. The Fund was set up to provide funding for charities who have exhausted all other support options and who are facing imminent closure. The closing date for applications is 4pm, Friday 10 July; find out more here https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/covid-19-charities-fund
- DfC has allocated £10million to enable the Co-Ownership scheme to reopen to new customers, after confirmation that the housing market can reopen with safety measures in place; more information is available from here https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/minister-ni-chuilin-provides-ps10m-co-ownership
Communities Minister Question Time
- Below are some of the highlights from the Communities Minister question time this week:
- Transition planning is underway to help regional and grassroots organisations to return to normal business and to support organisations badly impacted by the lockdown.
- The community helpline will continue to operate and additional funding has been allocated to support that.
- About £1.8m in additional funding has been allocated for debt-related advice.
- The Minister gave a summary of all the amendments made to the legislation for social security entitlements during the pandemic.
- A review is being conducted of legislation related to the private rented sector, and the role of that sector; the review will look at supply, affordability, security of tenure, tenancy management, property standards, and dispute resolution.
- To alleviate food poverty, grant flexibility has been introduced to allow grant-funded organisations to respond to the pandemic and £3.3m of funding for food-related projects has been delivered under Neighbourhood Renewal.
- To deal with food poverty during school holidays, DfC is looking at getting free school meal supplements to families.
- DfC is working to ensure that the extension of welfare mitigations, including continuation of additional funding for advice services (including appeals).
- Read the full Q&A session here, starting at 2pm http://aims.niassembly.gov.uk/officialreport/report.aspx?&eveDate=2020/06/23&docID=302713
UC and Variations in Monthly Salaries
- The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions acted irrationally and unlawfully by making UC regulations which fail to take into account that the date monthly salaries are paid can vary because of weekends and bank holidays.
- The case was taken to the courts by 4 single parents; read the story here https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/Press-releases-2020/June-2020/Four-single-mums-win-Court-of-Appeal-universal-cre
- Advice NI article warned against this very situation before Christmas; read the press release at this link https://www.adviceni.net/blog/advice-ni-warning-workers-claiming-universal-credit-christmas
Further Easements in Shielding Advice
- The Department of Health announced further easements to the shielding advice given to people who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.
- From 6 July, people who are shielding will be able to meet up to 6 people outside the home, as long as social distancing is strictly observed; and people who are shielding and living alone will be able to form a support bubble with one other household.
- From 31 July, people will no longer need to shield and will instead follow the same guidance and precautions given for the general public i.e. taking care when outside and maintaining social distancing.
- Further details here https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/swann-announces-further-easements-shielding-advice
Guidance for Reopening of Tourism and Hospitality Sectors
- The Department for the Economy has published new guidance, Working Safely During Covid-19 in the Visitor Economy, to enable the tourism and hospitality sectors to open as safely as possible.
- Depending on the rate of infection, caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation may re-open on 26 June. Hotels and other tourist accommodation may re-open from 3 July along with restaurants, cafés and coffee shops. Pubs and bars may open from July 3 for the provision of food and open their beer gardens on a table service basis.
- The full story can be accessed here https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/news/dodds-welcomes-publication-tourism-and-hospitality-guidance
Childcare Recovery Plan and Education Restart Programme
- The Department of Education has just published its childcare recovery plan and education restart programme. The childcare recovery plan aims to restore the sector to pre-COVID-19 capacity levels as quickly as possible, while the education restart programme identifies six priority work-streams to deliver the reopening of schools in August.
- Read more at this link https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/education-minister-announces-publication-childcare-recovery-plan
Further Financial Support for HE Students
- An additional £1.4m is being made available to HE institutions’ annual support funds for alleviating student hardship through the June monitoring round. This additional sum brings the student hardship fund up to £5.6m.
- Any student facing hardship as a result of COVID-19, or for any other reason, should contact their HE Institution to determine if they’re eligible to receive support.
- More information available here https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/news/ps56million-available-alleviate-student-hardship-additional-ps14million-announced
Learning from COVID-19 Experience at Care HomesThe Department of Health has established up the Rapid Learning Initiative Group to learn from care home experiences of Covid-19. The group includes representatives from the independent care home sector, the Health and Social Care system and the Royal College of Nursing. The full story is here https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/work-underway-learn-care-home-covid-19-experiences
Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Communities
- A report has been published by Public Health England providing a summary of the factors that may be influencing the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities. The report provides requests for action which have been used to inform a number of recommendations, and these will form the basis of the next steps being taken forward by the Equalities Minister. Although the report pertains to England, many of the same issues are relevant to NI.
- Read the report at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-understanding-the-impact-on-bame-communities
Rates Discount Deadline Approaching
- Friday 3 July is the deadline for the 4% discount on rates if the bill is paid in full.
- A range of reliefs and entitlements are available including support for those entitled to UC, for people on a low income and for pensioners who live on their own; see www.nidirect.gov.uk/rates
- Land & Property Services is encouraging anyone having difficulty paying to contact them on 0300-200-7801 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read the full story here https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/rates-discount-deadline-approaching
COVID-19 Report from Work and Pensions Committee
- The Work and Pensions Committee has published a report on DWP’s response to the pandemic.
- The report covers key benefits and identifies a number of inherent problems. Some of the recommendations call on the government: to look at the UC system’s inability to suspend Advance payments; to raise the rate of legacy benefits in line with the increases to UC and tax credits that happened during the lockdown; to suspend the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition; to carry out and publish a full analysis of the numbers and characteristics of households who will be newly subject to the benefit cap; to investigate the decrease in the number of new PIP claims and how people have been supported during the pandemic when applying for PIP; to carry out an impact assessment on how the pandemic has effected different groups under equality categories in relation to poverty and household debt.
- The full report can be read at this link https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/164/work-and-pensions-committee/news/147027/raise-the-rates-of-legacy-benefits-to-support-people-hit-hard-by-coronavirus-pandemic-not-just-universal-credit-say-mps/
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
- Further advice on NI Direct for businesses can be found at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-businesses-and-employers and at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business
- Further advice on NI Direct for workers can be found at
- 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
- For the latest figures on COVID-19, including Department of Health daily statistics and dashboard, visit https://www.nisra.gov.uk/statistics/ni-summary-statistics/coronavirus-covid-19-statistics
Return of Primary Care Ophthalmic Services
- Optometrists are preparing for at least 12,200 routine and urgent eye care appointments in July; more details available from this link http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/ophthalmic-services-return/
- The Health and Social Care Board has released a video explaining what ophthalmic services will be offered and how the delivery of some of these may change post-lockdown; watch it here https://vimeo.com/430646036
COVID-19 Rehabilitation Needs
- The HSC is now turning attention to the growing need for rehabilitation of those recovering from COVID-19, and they will be focusing on restoring and rebuilding their rehabilitation services; read more here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/node/5223
Phased Return of Dental Services
- As of 29 June, all dental practices will offer non-urgent dental care treatments that are non-aerosol generating; full details here http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/major-step-towards-return-dental-services-announced/
HMRC and Employment Updates
Job Retention Scheme and UC – New Guidance
- New guidance is available from DWP on how payments under the job retention scheme and SEISS are to be treated for the purposes of UC. Key points include:
- Job retention scheme and SEISS payments are to be treated as earnings in the normal way.
- SEISS payments will be treated as self-employed earnings in the AP they’re received.
- Business grants and loans paid during the lockdown will be treated as payments of capital.
- Self-employed earners who are also paid as employees can receive payments from the job retention scheme.
- Read the full guidance here https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/893696/adm11-20.pdf
Job Retention Scheme for Benefits other than UC – New Guidance
- New guidance is available from DWP on how payments under the job retention scheme and SEISS are to be treated for the purposes of benefits other than UC.
- The guidance covers income-related JSA; income-based ESA; state pension credit; ESA and contribution-based JSA (including new-style ESA and JSA); carer's allowance; and maternity allowance.
- Read the full guidance here https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/893670/m-13-20.pdf
Redundancy Pay in Relation to the Job Retention Scheme
- In response to a written question about the calculation of redundancy pay in relation to the job retention scheme, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy replied that provisions relating to calculation of a week’s pay under the Employment Rights Act continue to apply when an individual is on the job retention scheme.
- This means that employees on standard working hours would receive normal statutory redundancy pay and employees whose pay varies weekly would receive statutory redundancy pay taken as an average over the 12-week period prior to the date of termination. The furlough period should be discounted for the purposes of calculating redundancy payments.
- You can read the full question and answer at this link https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-06-01/53661/
- Advice NI has also written a related paper on the issue of redundancy and UC which you can read here https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/publications/universal-credit-and-redundancy-payments-june-2020.pdf
Tax Credit Renewals
- HMRC recently announced it would automatically renew all tax credits claims this year, apart from those identified as high risk. This means that the majority of people will have their claim automatically renewed.
- Due to an error, they sent around 1 million people a tax credits renewal pack (TC603R) that didn’t include some or all of the income information that was used to calculate their awards. Here’s the statement they circulated, as a result of that error:
This affects the renewals process for tax credits claimants with self-employed income, income from taxable social security benefits, or other income (for instance, income from shares and dividends).
From 25 June 2020, we’ll be writing to those who are affected by this, setting out all the information they need.
This will be accompanied by other communications, including a message on GOV.UK and a text message to some customers to give them the opportunity to contact us in advance of receiving the letter.
To make sure we have paid the correct amount for the award period of 06/04/2019 to 05/04/2020, we need customers to review the total household income we hold for them for the 2019-2020 tax year.
In addition, self-employed customers who have not declared their tax return for the 2019/2020 tax year must estimate their profit or loss and report this with their renewal online or via our webchat service by 31 July 2020. Otherwise, we will finalise their award using the information we hold, and they will not be able to change it at a later date.
If the income details are correct or customers have already contacted us about their income and a self-employed estimate does not need to be given, they don’t need to do anything.
However, they will need to contact us straight away if they disagree with any of the information in the letters or they need to tell us about any changes.
Customers should report changes by completing their renewal:
- online, www.gov.uk/manage-your-tax-credits
- or through our webchat service by searching ‘tax credits general enquiries’ on gov.uk.”
Amendments to Tax Credits Regulations
- The Tax Credits (Coronavirus, Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020 amend tax credit rules to allow claimants affected by the impacts of the pandemic to continue to satisfy the conditions for entitlement to WTC and to ensure that the regulations complement the job retention scheme and SEISS.
- The intent is that furloughed workers and the self-employed should not be disadvantaged by losing entitlement to support they would “normally” get from tax credits. Some of the changes made are:
- To allow WTC entitlement to continue for up to 8 weeks after the job retention scheme ends in order for claimants to establish their normal hours worked.
- To allow claimants impacted by the pandemic but not participating in the job retention scheme or SEISS to continue to satisfy the ‘hours normally worked’ and working ‘for’ or ‘in expectation of payment’ conditions of WTC.
- To prevent workers who are furloughed or treated as being furloughed from combining their furloughed hours with hours worked in extra jobs, where prior to COVID-19 they didn’t meet the eligibility conditions for the WTC “30-hour element”.
- To increase the current 1-month time limit to 3 months, for claimants who are critical workers, to inform HMRC of changes of circumstances that affect entitlement to tax credits, and to help claimants who’ve been unable to contact HMRC due to the pandemic.
- You can see the amendments to the regulations here http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/534/made
Digital Appeal Hearings
- The Advice NI policy team has developed a paper highlighting the challenges associated with digital appeal hearings and the need for in-person appeals to be an available option as well.
- Read the full paper on the Advice NI website https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/advice_ni_social_policy_briefing_paper_digital_appeals_june_2020.pdf
Guidance on Returning to the Workplace
- The Advice NI policy team has compiled a range of guidance notes and information to help you prepare your offices and centres for the safe return of staff, ensure safe workplace and working-from-home practices, and support staff after the lock down.
- The document contains a round-up of post-COVID workplace and public health guidelines from reliable sources such as the Health and Safety Executive, the PHA, and the NI Engagement Forum on COVID-19, and has links to online resources such as posters, risk assessments and checklists.
- You can find the document on the Advice NI website at https://www.adviceni.net/sites/default/files/publications/post-covid-guidelines-for-the-advice-sector-june-2020.pdf
Resources from Housing Rights
- Housing Rights have provided free professional resources setting out the main housing issues caused by COVID-19; access the resources here https://www.housingrights.org.uk/covid-19-and-housing-professional-resource
- Housing Rights hosted a webinar on the effects of COVID-19 for people who are homeless; you can watch it here https://www.housingrights.org.uk/webinar-covid-19-assisting-people-who-are-homeless
Advice for Blind and Partially-Sighted during Coronavirus
- RNIB and Guide Dogs in Northern Ireland, with the support of DfC, the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Board, have developed an advice document providing essential sources of help and support.
- See the document here https://www.rnib.org.uk/northern-ireland/news-northern-ireland/advice-blind-and-partially-sighted-people-during-coronavirus?utm_source=eNews+weekly+bulletin&utm_campaign=5f23bfc036-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_11_01_26_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3f6979e667-5f23bfc036-323231133