COVID-19 POLICY UPDATE 23 May - 29 May
- Official DfC Announcements
- Update from the Executive: Review of Coronavirus Regulations
- Pension Credit Applications
- Rates Bills on the Way
- Relaxation of Restrictions
- Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct
- Care Homes Surge Plan
- Testing for Care Home Residents and Staff
- Contact Tracing Programme
- Update on COVID-19 Symptoms
- Guidance for those Shielding
- Continue Protecting Against COVID-19
- PHA’s Monthly COVID-19 Update
- Mental Health Action Plan
- Support for Mental Health
- Job Retention Scheme
- Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme Live
- Support for People Struggling to Pay their Mortgage
- EU Settlement Scheme Update
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
Official DfC Announcements
- The Minister, Deirdre Hargey, has called for landlords to act responsibly to ensure tenants have security tenancy during the crisis. She has encouraged landlords and tenants to work together; read more here https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/news/hargey-encourages-landlords-and-tenants-work-together
- DfC is expected to announce its £15.5m COVID-19 Charities Fund soon. The Executive approved the funding and DfC will be responsible for delivery. They are currently considering how the Fund will be administered. All charities will be eligible to apply but there will be criteria to ensure double funding doesn’t take place.
Update from the Executive: Review of Coronavirus Regulations
- The Executive announced that it intends to make changes to the Coronavirus Regulations in the weeks ahead, but stressed that the changes would be conditional on the R number i.e. the transmission rate of the virus, and that people should not become complacent.
- The R number currently sits at 0.9 and if it remains at or below this level, certain restrictions will be eased in just over a weeks’ time, on the week commencing 8 June.
- These easements include:
- People will be permitted to leave home to attend to the needs or welfare of an animal or animals.
- Outdoor marriages and civil partnership ceremonies will be allowed, with number of people attending limited to 10.
- Outdoor sports courts will be permitted to reopen.
- The conduct of business by outdoor non-food retailers will be permitted, including new and used car retailers; retailers of light motor vehicles, lorries/trailers; retailers of caravans or motorhomes, and retailers of agricultural or other large machinery.
- The conduct of business by non-food retail outlets with lower frequency customer visits and / or with a greater propensity for larger store areas, will be permitted. But only where those outlets have direct street access or direct access within a retail park.
- This is the third review of the Regulations. The last time restrictions were relaxed, the R number was actually lower, between 0.7 and 0.8. It’s for this reason that the restrictions aren’t coming into force right away but have been delayed until 8 June.
- The Executive intend to review the restrictions again on 4 June.
- A strong message was given by the Executive, warning people to continue following the advice of maintaining social distancing, washing their hands and staying at home as much as possible.
- The advice and the restrictions are not open to interpretation and not adhering strictly to them risks further spread of the virus. The battle against the virus is far from over, and despite any statistics that might seem encouraging, and we must be prepared for a second wave.
Online Pension Credit Applications
- Pensioners are now able to apply for Pension Credit online, providing an additional option to add to the existing methods of claiming, i.e. by phone or by completing a downloadable application form, which remain in place.
- To find out information about the different ways to apply, see this link https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/applying-pension-credit
Rates Bills on the Way
- This year’s rates bills were deferred from going out at the usual time and the Executive froze the element of the bill which it sets. But it’s been announced that Land & Property Services (LPS) will issue bills to households this week.
- You can find out about the range of rates reliefs and entitlements at this link www.nidirect.gov.uk/rates
- Anybody having difficulty paying is encouraged to contact LPS on 0300-200-7801 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read more here https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/households-receive-rate-bills
Relaxation of Restrictions
- The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (NI) 2020 became law on 28 March 2020 and require a review every 21 days. Go to the following links to see the most recent version of the Regulations and how they impact our everyday lives:
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 Surge Plan
- HSCB (Health and Social Care Board) and the PHA (Public Health Agency) have developed a surge plan to deal with the challenges COVID-19 presents for care homes; more information can be found here http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/coronavirus/covid-19-care-homes
Testing for Care Home Residents and Staff
- COVID-19 testing is to be made available to all care home residents and staff; the roll-out of testing for residents should be completed next month and a testing programme for staff will also be put in place; more information at this link https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/testing-be-available-all-care-home-residents-and-staff-minister
Contact Tracing Programme
- The PHA launched a pilot Contact Tracing Programme last month to help look at how they could limit the impact of a second wave of COVID-19 by finding all the people someone has been in contact with once they’ve tested positive for the virus.
- The pilot began on 27 April and is now being rolled out across the region, with all positive cases of COVID-19 being contact traced. More details about the programme and the plans to deliver it can be found here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/contract-tracing-programme-continues-expand-northern-ireland
- An older announcement from April can be found here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/contact-tracing-help-limit-second-wave-coronavirus
Update on COVID-19 Symptoms
- The COVID-19 symptoms of a new continuous cough or fever have been known from the start of the pandemic but the medical profession is telling us that we should also be aware of an additional symptom: the loss of smell or taste, also called anosmia.
- Further information is available from this link https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/statement-four-uk-chief-medical-officers
Guidance for those Shielding
- As the 12-week shielding period comes to an end, the Department of Health is reviewing the advice for those individuals who are shielding and will have updated guidance available before the 12 weeks end; read more here https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/shielding-will-last-no-longer-necessary-minister
Continue Protecting Against COVID-19
- The Department of Health has urged people to continue protecting themselves against COVID-19 and not to become complacent just because restrictions are being eased; find out more here https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/department-health-urges-public-continue-protecting-themselves-against-covid-19
PHA’s Monthly COVID-19 Update
- The PHA is launching a monthly COVID-19 update. To subscribe, visit www.pha.site/subscribeupdate
Mental Health Action Plan
- The Department of Health has published a Mental Health Action Plan containing 38 actions aimed at improving the mental health of the population; the Plan includes a section on COVID-19; read more here https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/swann-publishes-mental-health-action-plan
Support for Mental Health
- The pandemic may be having an impact for some on their mental health and Dr Ciaran Mulholland talks about the issue in this video https://vimeo.com/420996467
- A range of mental health resources are available from the following link www.mindingyourhead.info
HMRC and Employment Updates
Job Retention Scheme
- The government decision to extend the Job Retention Scheme to the end of October 2020 has been ratified in law through a new Treasury Direction made under Sections 71 and 76 of the Coronavirus Act 2020; the full details are here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/treasury-direction-made-under-sections-71-and-76-of-the-coronavirus-act-2020
Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme Live
- The HMRC Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme is now live. Employers with fewer than 250 employees can claim and the repayment will cover up to 2 weeks of the applicable rate of SSP. Employees don’t have to provide a doctor’s fit note but they will need either an isolation note from the NHS or a GP shielding letter; the full details of the Scheme are available at this link https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19
- Employers who can’t find the information they need, are asked not to call HMRC but instead to go through HRMC’s webchat service at https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/ask-hmrc/virtual-assistant/support-for-coronavirus?VA=GOVUK&_ga=2.234314398.1258637369.1590571225-1426655660.1585836970
Support for People Struggling to Pay their Mortgage
- The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) has announced proposals to continue support for people struggling to pay their mortgage due to COVID-19. For mortgage holders coming to the end of any payment holiday, and who are still experiencing payment difficulties, they should be offered further support, including another 3-month extension of their payment holiday. Those who have yet to ask for a payment holiday, the time to apply for one will be extended to the end of October 2020.
- Read the full story at this link https://www.fca.org.uk/news/press-releases/fca-support-customers-struggling-mortgage-coronavirus
EU Settlement Scheme Update
- Home Office support services and application routes have now all fully reopened in line with public health guidance and this includes the reopening of the postal route for submitting identity documents for applicants unable to use the EU Exit: ID Document Check app to verify their identity. Find out more here https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/05/26/eu-settlement-scheme-impact-of-coronavirus/