COVID-19 POLICY UPDATE 23 May - 29 May

This week's update from our policy team covers information on social security, health, HMRC and information on mortgages and the EU settlement scheme.
Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
  • 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
Health Updates
  • 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
HMRC Updates
  • Job Retention Scheme
  • Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme Live
Other Information
  • 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

Relaxation of Restrictions

Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct

Health Updates

Care Homes Surge Plan

Testing for Care Home Residents and Staff

Contact Tracing Programme

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

Continue Protecting Against COVID-19

PHA’s Monthly COVID-19 Update

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

Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme Live

Other Information

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