COVID-19 Policy update 25 April - 1 May

Our latest COVID-19 policy update for 25th April - 1st May contains information on social security, employment, HMRC and health.

Contents

Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information
  • Official DfC Announcements
  • DWP Ministerial Statement
  • DfC Statement on ESA
  • DfC Statement on Discretionary Support and Annual Income
  • DfC Statement to Advice NI on Discretionary Support
  • DfC Statement on UC and Childcare Costs
  • DfC Statement on Extension of ESA SDPs
  • DfC Statement on Benefit Payment Dates
  • Amendments to Calculation of Statutory Family Benefits
  • Amendment to Working Time Regulations
  • Funding from Housing Executive
  • Second Independent Review of PIP Assessment Process – Closing Date Extended
  • Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct
Health Updates
  • Dental Services during the Lock Down
  • People Advised to Seek Medical Help if Needed
  • Advice on Treating COVID-19 Symptoms at Home
  • Childcare for Key Workers
  • COVID-19 App Updated
  • Volunteer Drivers to Deliver Medicines
  • Updated Guidance for Domiciliary Carers
  • Diabetes Helpline
  • COVID-19 Testing
HMRC Updates
  • Job Retention Scheme Updates
  • Job Retention Scheme – Wages Now Being Paid
  • Income and Savings of Self-employed When Claiming UC
  • HMRC Tax Policy Consultations
  • COVID-19 and Working Tax Credits
Employment
  • Online Isolation Note
  • Compassionate Leave
  • Labour Relations Agency
Other Information
  • ISL/BSL Remote Sign Language Interpreting Service
  • Henderson Group Community Cashback Fund
  • COVID-19 Grant Schemes from Local Councils
  • Volunteer Now
  • Emergency Volunteering
  • Consumer Guidance

Social Security Changes, Announcements, Information

Official DfC Announcements

DWP Ministerial Statement

DfC Statement on ESA

  • DfC provided the following statement in response to queries regarding ESA50 completion:
“As you are already aware, the Minister announced a temporary suspension on all Work Capability Assessment re-referrals for three months from 24 March. All scheduled face to face appointments have been cancelled and those affected will be contacted. Those who are still required to participate in the Work Capability Assessment process are encouraged to provide any medical evidence that they may already have in their possession, including their completed ESA50. This is to allow for advantageous decisions to be made where the evidence permits it. However, nobody will be disadvantaged for not returning their questionnaire during these unprecedented and difficult times.”
 

DfC Statement on Discretionary Support and Annual Income

  • We asked DfC how DS works out annual income, whether calculations took current income and multiplied it up, or whether they used the previous year’s income.  The concern was around those in difficultly now, who may have had household income higher than £18,137 or would expect to earn more over the whole year but who currently have no income e.g. newly self-employed who won’t be eligible for SEISS.
  • DfC responded as follows:
“In a case like this we would take current income and multiply forward to assess the annual income threshold so customers with previous self-employed (or indeed any) earnings which had now completely ceased would be assessed only on income still currently available to them.  I’m sure you are aware of the current provision for support for living expenses for those affected by COVID-19 and the online application form but I’m attaching the NI Direct link for info just in case.”
 
The NI Direct link referred to in the statement is https://consultations.nidirect.gov.uk/dfc-antrim-jbo-finance-support/5655d754/

DfC Statement to Advice NI on Discretionary Support

DfC statement to Advice NI:
 
“We are operating a reduced service due to the having fewer advisers as a result of the coronavirus and the measures that have been put in place to stop the spread.  This means that we are giving priority to applications for the Discretionary Support COVID-19 grant, the Universal Credit Contingency Fund and Discretionary Support living expenses.  However, we can still deal with applications for items where the need is urgent and we have an escalation process in place for this.  I will issue a reminder to our staff regarding the process today.”

DfC Statement on UC and Childcare Costs

Statement from DfC in relation to UC and childcare costs:
 
“Childcare costs are paid upfront on a monthly basis by the claimant who then returns that receipt to UC and the childcare element for that assessment period is then paid (at the end of month).  Both the work condition and the childcare costs condition must be satisfied in order to have their childcare costs reimbursed in their UC.
 
If you are not currently receiving childcare because of coronavirus and your childcare provider is asking for an advance payment to retain a place, your costs will be reimbursed if you pay and report them and your childcare recommences in either your current assessment period or the next two. If the childcare recommences later than this you will not get these costs reimbursed.”

DfC Statement on Extension of ESA SDPs

Statement made by DfC when asked whether ESA SDPs were to be extended, as PIP has been:
 
“The extension of PIP awards means system intervention by ESA staff to extend SDP awards so as not to affect ESA customers’ entitlement.  We expect this work to land next week onwards – we are putting plans in place to treat this work as priority and hopefully there is minimal disruption to customers’ payments.  It’s business as usual action for ESA only difference is the bulk of cases affected requiring the action above.  That piece of work of work required on our legacy system should generate a computer entitlement letter for the customer.”

DfC Statement on Benefit Payment Dates

Statement made by DfC regarding benefit payment dates falling on the May bank holiday:
 
“If your payment is due on Friday 8 May, you will still be paid by that date.  All benefits operate on different payment systems but you will not receive your payment later than the day it would normally be due.”

Amendments to Calculation of Statutory Family Benefits

  • Amendments to the calculation of earnings for the purposes of statutory family benefits and maternity allowance, where workers are furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme, came into force on 25 April.  The amendments were made under the Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (Normal Weekly Earnings etc.) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 and the Maternity Allowance and Statutory Maternity Pay (Normal Weekly Earnings etc.) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.
  • The amendments relate to statutory maternity pay, paternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory shared parental pay and mean that workers now receive the same amount, had they not been furloughed.
  • Find the legislative changes at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/70/made and https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/69/made

Amendment to Working Time Regulations

  • New regulations have been issued that introduce an exception to the bar on carrying forward untaken leave under the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (WTR) as a result of the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Find the legislative changes at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/68/made

Funding from Housing Executive

Second Independent Review of PIP Assessment Process – Closing Date Extended

Coronavirus & Government Services Information from NI Direct

Health updates

Dental Services during the Lock Down

  • Dentists are unable to provide a normal service during the lock down but advice and urgent treatment is still available.
  • Watch this video message from Dentist Philip McLorinan explaining why a normal service can’t be provided and what’s available instead: https://vimeo.com/410563917

People Advised to Seek Medical Help if Needed

  • The lock down shouldn’t deter people from seeking medical help if they need it.  Health and social care professionals have called on people experiencing ill health or social care problems not to delay seeking help from GPs, hospitals or social care services.
  • Read more here http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/dont_delay_help/

Advice on Treating COVID-19 Symptoms at Home

Childcare for Key Workers

COVID-19 App Updated

Volunteer Drivers to Deliver Medicines

Updated Guidance for Domiciliary Carers

Diabetes Helpline

COVID-19 Testing

  • Testing is currently limited to patients who are being admitted to hospital and to key workers.  People are advised be cautious about obtaining testing from non-governmental sources.  A positive or negative test will not be recognised by the HSC or change the advice given, and people will still have to observe recommended isolation periods.
  • HSC is not offering testing to people in the community.  If a person calls at your front door offering to test you, do not allow them to enter your home.  Close and lock the door.  Inform the police.
  • More details are available here https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus#testing

HMRC updates

Job Retention Scheme Updates

The Job Retention Scheme has further updates this week, specifically at the following links:

Job Retention Scheme – Wages Now Being Paid

  • Payments for claims made on Monday 20 April will be in employers’ bank accounts by 28 April.
  • HMRC have said that it takes 6 working days from when a claim was made for a payment to come through.  Anybody still waiting on a payment is asked not to chase payment as HMRC won’t be able to give any updates before the 6 working days have ended.
  • Payments will be automatically sent to the bank account nominated in the claims.
  • Employers are asked to retain all records and calculations in case HMRC need to contact them.

Income and Savings of Self-employed When Claiming UC

  • In evidence given to the Work and Pensions Committee, DWP clarified how income and savings of self-employed people will be treated when claiming UC during the lock down.  When asked about the interaction between payments from the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) and UC, Neil Couling from DWP and Minister Will Quince confirmed that “we only take into account income received in the month in which it's received.  My understanding of the SEISS is that payments will not be paid until June at the earliest...If self-employed people need support now and claim universal credit, they'll get two months of universal credit without the SEISS payments being taken into account and we won't go back so there's no attribution...My advice to self-employed people with no other means of support ... is claim universal credit.”
  • And “...money set aside for tax liability can be considered to be a business asset and therefore doesn't fall under the £16,000 savings rule.”
  • Listen to the committee evidence here: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/86ed5d4f-9daf-40b0-9b97-384ddc6cc897

HMRC Tax Policy Consultations

COVID-19 and Working Tax Credits

Copied here is an update from HMRC regarding working tax credits in COVID-19:
 
Working tax credit entitlement is based on meeting certain working hour thresholds (16, 24 or 30 depending on your circumstances).  The number of hours you work is generally based on your ‘normal’ working hours.
With the current situation, you may have had your normal hours reduced, have been laid-off temporarily, been ‘furloughed’ or made redundant. You only need to report a change to HMRC when your normal working hours change – temporary changes may not need to be reported. Use the table below to help you understand if you need to report a change in your working hours to HMRC.
 
WARNING: This is based on the latest information we have available – the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation has developed quickly and rules are subject to change/updating – please ensure you regularly check https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
 
Change What does it mean for working tax credit? When do I need to report a change to HMRC?
Temporary reduction in hours: For example, you normally work 32 hours a week but have been reduced to 12 hours a week due to the coronavirus crisis. HMRC will treat you as continuing to work your normal hours (those before the reduction) for at least 8 weeks. There will be no change to your working tax credit entitlement during that period. You do not need to tell HMRC about the temporary reduction initially. Check
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
after 8 weeks to see whether the period has been extended or whether you need to report the change at that point.
Permanent reduction in hours: For example, you usually work 35 hours a week but your employer reduces your hours to 20 permanently.  Your normal hours will change for working tax credit. Depending on how your hours change you may get less working tax credit or you may no longer qualify for working tax credit. If you no longer qualify, you may get a four week run-on of working tax credit. You need to tell HMRC as soon as the change to your hours becomes permanent. You can do this via the online service or via the tax credits helpline.
Temporarily laid-off: This means your employer does not have enough work for you but intends to recall you when work becomes available again. Due to the current Coronavirus crisis, HMRC will treat you as continuing to work your normal hours (those before the temporary lay-off) for at least 8 weeks. There will be no change to your working tax credit entitlement during that period. We are awaiting further guidance as to what will happen after 8 weeks.  You do not need to tell HMRC when you are laid off if it is temporary. If it is still ongoing after 8 weeks you should check GOV.UK to see whether the period has been extended or whether you need to report the change at that point.
Note: if the lay-off is made permanent at any point or you are made redundant you must report this change to HMRC immediately. 
Furloughed workers: This is where you agree with your employer to vary your contract to become ‘furloughed’ – this usually means you will be placed on unpaid leave. 
If you are furloughed in the current situation your employer may be entitled to a grant to cover 80% of your salary (up to a maximum amount) via the coronavirus job retention scheme
Due to the current Coronavirus crisis, HMRC will treat you as continuing to work your normal hours (those before the furlough) for at least 8 weeks. There will be no change to your working tax credit entitlement during that period. We are awaiting further guidance as to what happens after 8 weeks. You do not need to tell HMRC when you are furloughed temporarily. If it is still ongoing after 8 weeks you should check
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus to see whether the period has been extended or whether you need to report the change at that point.
Self-employed: If your hours reduce or your self-employed work temporarily ceases. As long as you are still trading (i.e. you haven’t completely closed down your business) HMRC will treat you as continuing to work your normal hours (those before the reduction due to coronavirus situation) for at least 8 weeks. There will be no change to your working tax credit entitlement during that period. We are awaiting further guidance as to what happens after 8 weeks. You do not need to tell HMRC about a temporary change in your hours. If it is still ongoing after 8 weeks you should check
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus to see whether the period has been extended or whether you need to report the change at that point.
Note: If you cease self-employment completely and don’t intend to continue trading then you will need to report that as a change of circumstances to HMRC when your self-employment ceases.
Redundancy: You lose your job. If you no longer qualify for working tax credit, you may qualify for a four-week run-on of tax credits. You need to tell HMRC about this change as soon as possible.
Note: If you lose your job and get another job within 7 days, assuming your new job meets the hours requirements for WTC, you will remain entitled to WTC despite the gap but you should give HMRC your new employer’s details.
Sickness/illness Many people will continue to be treated as ‘in work’ during periods of sickness or illness for working tax credit purposes. If you continue to be treated as in qualifying remunerative work for your period of sickness or illness under existing rules, then you will only need to notify HMRC of a change at the point you are no longer treated as in work.
 
Childcare Childcare support via WTC is linked to your working hours – as long as you are treated as working your normal hours, you will continue to qualify for childcare support if you need it. See above for the changes you need to report and when if your work changes. For information about how the coronavirus affects childcare support and benefits for children see our guidance at  https://www.litrg.org.uk/tax-guides/coronavirus-guidance/coronavirus-childcare-support-and-benefits-children
 
Income changes
 
Tax credits are based on annual household income. As we are currently in the 2019/20 tax year (which ends on 5 April 2020), your award will either be based on an estimated 2019/20 income or your actual 2018/19 income.
 
If your income falls, you can usually give a new estimated income to HMRC. Whether this leads to an increase in your award depends on whether your household income falls by more than £2,500 compared to your previous year income. If the reduction in your income is less than £2,500, then there will be no change to your current year award. However, when the new tax year starts on 6 April, you should be sure to give HMRC an updated estimated income for 2020/21 so they can see if your award can be adjusted. You must be careful not to over-estimate any fall in income as if you do there may be an overpayment at the end of the year.
 
If you are already in receipt of tax credits and find yourself needing extra financial support, for example you need to claim help with paying your rent, you may need to claim Universal Credit (UC). If you do this, your tax credit claim will end, and it is unlikely you will be able to go back to tax credits at a later date. If you, or you and your partner if you have one, have reached state pension credit age, then you cannot claim UC – but may be able to claim pension credit instead.

Employment

Online Isolation Note

Compassionate Leave

  • Employees have the right to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving someone who depends on them.  This is sometimes called 'compassionate leave' and employees can’t be penalised for taking the time off as long as they have genuine reasons.
  • More information available from this link https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/time-dependants-compassionate-leave

Labour Relations Agency

  • The Labour Relations Agency provides advice and help for workers, employers, employers' associations, trade unions and other organisations or individuals; on matters about employment practices and employment relations.
  • Contact details are 03300-552-220 (for queries about conciliation, mediation and arbitration) / 03300-555-300 (for general queries about employment rights); info@lra.org.uk; https://www.lra.org.uk

Other Information

ISL/BSL Remote Sign Language Interpreting Service

  • A new region-wide ISL/BSL remote sign language interpreting service is now live, developed through partnership between the Health and Social Care Board, DfC and the Department of Health.  This service is temporary (planned for 9 months), is provided by Interpreter Now and funded by DoH and DfC.
  • Further details about the service, how it can be accessed and how it works are available on the HSCB website – the site has links to explanatory videos in BSL and ISL: http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/interpreting-service-bsl-isl/

Henderson Group Community Cashback Fund

  • The Henderson Group (retail company behind the Spars and Vivos) is responding to the COVID-19 crisis with a new Community Cashback fund of £20K.
  • The fund is aimed at helping communities in need and is open to a wide range of not-for-profit organisations, especially those supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.
  • Full details about the fund and how to apply can be found here: https://henderson-group.com/csr/community-cashback-grant/

COVID-19 Grant Schemes from Local Councils

Volunteer Now

Emergency Volunteering

  • Suitably skilled and/or experienced workers will be able to take Emergency Volunteering Leave in blocks of two, three or four weeks during any sixteen-week volunteering period.  The emergency volunteering leave is unpaid; however, a compensation scheme will be set up to compensate eligible emergency volunteers.
  • To find out more, visit https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/emergency-volunteering-leave
  • Use the Volunteer Now #HelpEachOther campaign or register for paid work as part of the HSC Workforce Appeal at https://www.hscworkforceappeal.co.uk/

Consumer Guidance