Covid-19 Guidance

This page aims to provide you with the most up to date information on the Covid-19 crisis. This page will be updated on a daily basis as new information becomes available and the situation develops. Please use this page to try and find the answer to your question before contacting your local representative as we are inundated at this time and have prepared this resource to save time to allow us to help others.

Last updated 9pm 31/03/2020

Lockdown Advice

Unresolved Issues

Health Advice

Business Support Info

Benefits and Social Security

Financial Struggles

Schools & Education

Travel Advice

Supporting your community

Miscellaneous

 

Lockdown Advice

 

Full Lockdown Guidance

Personal

You should only leave the house for one of four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

To make sure people are staying at home and apart from each other, the Government is also stopping all public gatherings of more than two people.

There are only two exceptions to this rule:

  • where the gathering is of a group of people who live together - this means that a parent can, for example, take their children to the shops if there is no option to leave them at home.
  • where the gathering is essential for work purposes - but workers should be trying to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace.

In addition, the Government is stopping social events, including weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies. This will exclude funerals, which can be attended by immediate family.

The Department of Health Northern Ireland has launched a new Covid-19 NI information app. The new app provides immediate advice and links to vital trusted information and will be updated as the pandemic evolves. Search COVID-19 NI in the app store.

The Women’s Aid Federation provides a 24hr domestic and sexual abuse helpline 0808 802 1414.

 

Businesses

The following must now close:

  • all non-essential retail stores - this will include clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets, excluding food markets.
  • libraries, community centres, and youth centres.
  • indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, arcades and soft play facilities.
  • communal places within parks, such as playgrounds, sports courts and outdoor gyms.
  • places of worship, except for funerals attended by immediate families.
  • hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial/leisure use (excluding permanent residents and key workers).

Retail shops allowed to stay open are limited to: Supermarkets and other food shops,Health shops, pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies, petrol stations, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, laundrettes and dry cleaners, bicycle shops, garages, car rentals, pet shops, corner shops, newsagents, post offices, banks, market stalls which sell essential goods such as groceries and/or food.

Takeaways and delivery food are allowed to continue operating. Regulations have been relaxed to allow businesses (such as cafes and restaurants) to begin offering a take-out service.


The Responsible Business Network NI have launched a HUB for businesses, schools, communities, parents and individuals to provide helpful information and links. Find out more here.

 

The NHS have expanded their ‘Every Mind Matters’ mental health website to include lots of tips and advice on mental health during the Covid-19 outbreak. This can be found here.

 

Unresolved issues

 
Alliance is lobbying hard on a huge breadth of issues which have not yet been addressed or provided for by the UK Government and NI Executive.

New measures are being announced daily, and we hope to see many key issues resolved in the coming days and weeks.


Here is a list of some of our current priorities:

Protections for people who are:

SICK: Increase Statutory Sick Pay and extend it to all workers

RENTING: Protection from evictions | Payment holiday on rent and bills in line with mortgage provisions

KEY WORKERS: Suspend National Insurance and PAYE contributions for the duration of the crisis | Temporary accommodation for those who cannot live at home due to underlying health issues or C19 in their home | Full access to PPE for NHS staff

MIGRANTS (DOCUMENTED AND UNDOCUMENTED): Access to public funds | Access to healthcare without fear of detention

GENERAL PUBLIC: Universal Basic Income | More testing kits



Clarity on:

  • Government closure guidance for businesses
  • Childcare Provision
  • Level of support to Agency Workers
  • Guidance on Statutory Sick Pay for pregnant women
  • The newly announced Government Schemes for those who are self-employed, in the gig economy and on zero hour contracts

 

Assistance for:

  • Repatriation for people stranded overseas, especially those who cannot afford to fly
  • Local Charities, Voluntary Organisations and Social Enterprises

 

 

Health advice

 

The latest health advice from the Public Health Agency:

  • Stay at home if you have coronavirus symptoms. The symptoms include a high temperature (you feel hot to touch on your chest or back) and a continuous cough (this means you've started coughing repeatedly).
  • Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
  • You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home (111 is now available in NI).
  • If you have symptoms, stay at home for 7 days
  • If you live with other people, they should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms 
  • If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
  • If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
  • You can find regular updates from the Public Health Agency (PHA) on their website or on the Department of Health advice for NI.

 

The latest testing advice:

  • At the moment, the Public Health Agency have decided testing for coronavirus is not needed if you're staying at home.
  • Currently, mass testing will not be carried out in Northern Ireland as we don’t have the available capacity and resources.
  • However, the Health Minister has announced testing capacity would be expanded to about 1100+ Covid-19 tests per day. His department is considering bringing in private suppliers week commencing 23rd March.

 

How can I reduce my chances of contracting Coronavirus?

  • Wash your hands more often - with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitiser when you get home or into work, when you blow your nose, sneeze or cough, eat or handle food.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home.
  • Practice social distancing as much as you possibly can.

 

What is social distancing?

  • This is advice we should all be taking to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission of Coronavirus. Below are some simple steps you can take:
  • Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible.
  • Work from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this. Please refer to employer guidance for more information.
  • Avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs.
  • Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.

 

Should I wear a mask when out in public?

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
  • To find out more on when you should wear masks and how to use them, visit the World Health Organisation’s website.

 

Can you recommend a trusted resource for health information?

  • The World Health Organisation has launched a service on WhatsApp, which is free to use, and can answer questions from the public about Coronavirus, 24 hours a day, worldwide. 

 

Shielding Letters

On Sunday 22nd Feb, the UK government stated that they would send letters to 1.5m high risk individuals and advise them to self-isolate for the next 12 weeks. It is our understanding that Public Health Agency NI will also send out these letters. Roughly 40,000 people will be contacted in NI.  

Guidance here

 

Business Support Info

 

NI Business Info Landing Page

 

Law Centre Advice Line (open 9-5)
028 90244401

 

Support for businesses in the Republic of Ireland
Information on Government support for businesses in the Republic of Ireland can be found here.

 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

  • All UK businesses are eligible.
  • You will need to:
  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change - changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • Staff must have been on your PAYE payroll on 28th February 2020
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

Further information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be found here. It is hoped the scheme will be running by the end of April.

If your business needs short term cash flow support, you may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

More info on your rights as an employee can be found here.

 

Support for Businesses who are paying sick pay to employees

UK government is bringing forward legislation to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • this refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
  • employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible - the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
  • employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
  • employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website
  • eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force
  • the government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible

 

VAT

VAT payments have been deferred for three months. The deferral will apply from 20th March until 30th June 2020. 

For self-employed people, VAT payments due in June will be deferred until 31st January 2021

 

Rates

No rates payments for the next three months and this will be paid by the government with no costs to businesses. The next rates payments are now due in June. This results in a 25% reduction in business rates.

 

Grants

Government launching two new grants.

  • £10k for businesses with NAV <£15k
    • Grants should be paid by the end of this week 
    • If Accounts NI already have the business’ details then the process will be automatic
    • If they don’t have the account details, then the owner will have to submit them. A media campaign will inform everyone how to do this. 
  • £25k for retail, tourism and hospitality businesses with NAV £15k - £50k (more details to follow) 

NAV can be checked here.

The Small Business Grant scheme is now live. Applications can be made via this link.

The helpline number for the Small Business Grant scheme is 0300 200 7809


Eligible businesses only have to complete the application if you don’t pay your rates via Direct Debit. Land & Property Services will be making automatic payments to those eligible businesses whose bank account details are already held for the purposes of paying rates by Direct Debit.

  • Additionally:
  • The first payment will be made by 31st March, if not before.
  • Vacant properties are not eligible
  • Businesses with multiple premises eligible for one grant only
  • Scheme is designed to benefit small businesses and not the landlords who are responsible for paying the rents. Therefore, no grant payments are being automatically issued to landlords of properties with a rateable value of £1590 or less.

 

Advice for Self-Employed People


On 26 March, the Chancellor announced a Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.


Full details can be found on the Government website here.

The Law Centre NI have also launched a document surrounding FAQs on the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. This can be found here.

 

HMRC Helpline


HMRC has set up a helpline for businesses and self-employed people who are concerned about paying their tax due to COVID-19.
0800 024 1222
8am to 4pm Monday to Friday.


What is the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme?

  • The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month.
  • HMRC will use the average profits from tax returns in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to calculate the size of the grant.
  • The scheme will be open for an initial three months (March, April, May) with people able to make their first claim by the beginning of June. The Chancellor has stated that the scheme will be extended if necessary.\

 

Am I eligible?


To be eligible for the scheme you must meet all the criteria below:

  • Be self-employed or a member of partnership;
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19;
  • File a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed or a member of a trading partnership. Those who have not yet filed for 2018-19 will have an additional 4 weeks from this announcement to do so;
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID 19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000 and more than half of your total income come from self-employment. This can be with reference to at least one of the following conditions:
  • Your trading profits and total income in 2018/19
  • Your average trading profits and total income across up to the three years between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.
  • In the Chancellor’s Press Conference on 26 March, he indicated that the scheme is only applicable to those who have been self-employed for over a year. (Universal Credit will still be available to these individuals - more information below).

 

How do I access it?

  • Individuals are asked not to contact HMRC now.
  • HMRC will use existing information to check potential eligibility and invite applications once the scheme is operational. HMRC will then pay the grant directly to eligible claimants’ bank account.
  • For eligible individuals who have not submitted their returns for 2018-19, they will have 4 weeks’ notice from the date of the announcement to file their returns and therefore become eligible for this scheme.

 

When can I access it?


HMRC is urgently working to deliver the scheme; grants are expected to start to be paid by the beginning of June 2020.

 

Can I continue to do business while claiming the grant?

Yes


Am I still eligible for universal credit and business continuity loans?


Yes, those deemed eligible and ineligible for the Scheme can still apply for both, as well as new-style Employment & Support Allowance. You can also apply for these if you are prevented from working because of a risk to public health. Advise them to call 08002321271 to check what they are entitled to.

  • https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/universal-credit
  • https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/contacts/employment-and-support-allowance-centre

According to HM Treasury, self-employed person with a non-working partner and two children, living in the social rented sector, can receive welfare support of around £1,800 per month.

 

Additionally, the government advises to:

  • discuss preparations with your clients, particularly about working remotely
  • check your contractual obligations, eg clauses dealing with unforeseeable circumstances that prevent you from fulfilling your contract
  • check to see what health or income protection insurance you might have in place
  • VAT payments due in June for sole traders, are now deferred until Jan 31st 2021
  • Income tax self-assessment payments due in June are now deferred until Jan 31st 2021
  • More info here

Extra financial support may also be available for those who are in a financial crisis. You can find out the range of options available by following this link

 

Advice for SMEs

  • Advice for SMEs can be accessed via this link

 

Support for SMEs – Business Interruption Loan Scheme

  • All info here
  • Scheme will support loans of up to £5 million in value.
  • The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80 per cent on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims)
  • If they can’t find a lender, then the government has three designated options to help businesses find finance https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/finance-platform-referrals-designated-platforms/
  • The government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments.
  • Scheme available from 23rd March
  • Ulster Bank, Danske Bank and Bank of Ireland all participating 

 

Support for larger businesses 

  • More info here
  • Bank of England will buy short term debt from companies – either new debt directly from the company or previously issued debt through the secondary market. This means companies will be able to continue financing their short term liabilities.
    It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.
    Further details, including on how to access this funding will follow in the coming days, and the scheme has been available from 23rd March.

 

HMRC Helpline - 0800 0159 559

A new tax helpline has been established specifically for people concerned by the impact of the crisis on their ability to pay tax. They can be contacted to help with:

  • agreeing an instalment arrangement
  • suspending debt collection proceedings
  • cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately

HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of Covid-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities.

 

Insurance

Business interruption cover through your insurance depends on the type of cover you have purchased and what is specifically included in your policy. Advise them to read their policy or ask their broker directly, but most policies will not ordinarily include a notifiable disease extension. More information can be found from the Association of British Insurers.

 

Businesses Trading Internationally


If your supply chain has been affected by Coronavirus, the Department for International Trade can help. The department has relationships with a global network of businesses across the world and will be able to advise you on the options available. Their dedicated business support website can be found here.

UK Export Finance (UKEF) works with banks and insurance brokers to help companies of all sizes fulfil and get paid for export contracts. It provides guarantees, loans and insurance on behalf of the government that can protect UK exporters facing delayed payments or transit restrictions. Help from UKEF:

  • if your business is facing disruption due to late payments, UKEF can help ease cash flow constraints by guaranteeing bank loans through its Export Working Capital Scheme
  • if you are concerned about getting paid, UKEF offers an export insurance policy that can help you recover the costs of fulfilling an order that is terminated by events outside your control
  • UKEF can also support finance for overseas buyers through the Direct Lending Facility scheme, so they can continue to buy your goods and services
  • UKEF has over £4 billion of capacity to support UK firms exporting to China, as well as significant capacity across other markets affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) to help cover these risks.

 

Protection from eviction for commercial tenants

  • Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of COVID-19 will be protected from eviction.These measures will mean no business will automatically forfeit their lease and be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment up until 30 June.
  • There is the option for the government to extend this period if needed.
  • This is not a rental holiday. All commercial tenants will still be liable for the rent. Commercial tenants are protected from eviction if they are unable to pay rent.
  • The change will come into force when the Coronavirus Bill receives Royal Assent. No action is required.

 

Employee rights


The Law Centre NI have produced a document outlining the advice and support available for workers during the Covid-19 outbreak. This can be accessed here.

 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

 

  • If you and your employer both agree, your employer might be able to keep you on the payroll if they’re unable to operate or have no work for you to do because of coronavirus. This is known as being ‘on furlough’.
  • You’ll still be paid at least 80% of your wages by your employer and pay taxes from your income. You cannot undertake work for your employer while on furlough.
  • Any UK employer with a UK bank account will be able to claim, but you must have been on your employer’s PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020. You can be on any type of contract, including a zero-hour contract or a temporary contract.
  • If you’re on sick leave or self-isolating because of coronavirus (COVID-19), speak to your employer about whether you’re eligible - you should get Statutory Sick Pay while you are on sick leave or self-isolating, but can be furloughed after this.
  • If you were made redundant after 28 February, your employer can agree to re-employ you and place you on furlough instead.
  • You can be put on furlough by one employer and continue to work for another, if it is permitted within your employment contract.

Further information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be found here.

 

Annual Leave


Health workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 leave years.


The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years, easing the requirements on business to ensure that workers take the statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.

 

Healthcare Workers

 

The Department is currently working to establish further guidance for health and social care and emergency services workers in Northern Ireland on definitions of underlying health conditions in order to protect their health and to ensure that key services can continue to function. 

New guidance will be issued to Trusts soon.

For those staff affected by the 14 day household isolation policy, staff should - on an entirely voluntary basis - be offered the alternative option of staying in hotel accommodation while they continue to work. This should be organised locally by HSC Trusts.

 

Statutory Sick Pay Rebate

 

The Government will bring forward legislation to allow small and medium-sized businesses to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for staff sickness absence due to coronavirus. This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of coronavirus.
You will be eligible if:

  • Your business is UK based
  • Your business is a small or medium sized and employs fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020.

This scheme is currently being developed and further details will be shared once they are available.

 

Useful Links

 

  • NI Business info homepage https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/campaign/coronavirus-updates-support-your-business
  • Industry Guidance on limiting the spread

 

 

Benefits and Social Security

 

Will the Government be offering any support for people who could lose their jobs?

 

  • There is more information on the Government's job retention scheme in the Business Support section above
  • HMRC will supply grants for 80% of salaries up to £2500 per month.
  • This will be backdated to 1st March and open for 3 months initially.
  • First grants will be paid within weeks, and hopes that the full scheme is up and going by the end of April.

 

How do I apply for sick pay?

  • If you're an employee and unable to work because you're ill you may be able to get Statutory Sick Pay. It is paid by your employer and can be paid for up to 28 weeks.
  • This payment will now be from Day 1 of someone being off work. 
  • You can find out more by clicking here or call 08002321271 to see if you are entitled to any additional support. 

 

I have been laid off because of the Coronavirus, what can I do?

  • If you have lost your job due to the crisis, we’d advise you to call the Freephone Benefits Check: 0800 232 1271
  • Advice NI ‘Welfare Changes’ hotline can be contacted on: 0808 8020020
  • Advice NI also have a debt advice service: 08000 281881

 

My employer has asked me to take time off of work, what can I do?

  • Your employer can ask you to stay at home or take unpaid leave if there’s not enough work for you. A lay-off is if you’re off work for at least 1 working day. Short-time working is when your hours are cut.
  • You can find out more about what you are entitled to here.

 

Has the Universal Credit allowance increased?

  • Yes, following an announcement on the 20th March, the Universal Credit standard allowance will be increasing by £1,000 for next 12 months. This increase will automatically be added to payments.
  • Additionally, the Local Housing Allowance in Universal Credit will increase to cover 30% of market rent. 

 

Will I lose my benefits if I self-isolate because of the Coronavirus?

  • The Department for Communities has moved to reassure people claiming benefits that their benefits will not be affected if they need to self-isolate due to COVID-19.
  • A spokesperson said: “If people cannot attend an appointment at their Jobs and Benefits office and/or medical assessment centre because of self-isolation, they should let us know immediately. Nobody will be penalised for doing the right thing. In addition, anyone self-isolating who is self-employed or who works on a short-term contract can apply for Universal Credit or new-style Employment and Support Allowance, during the period of self-isolation.”
  • To apply for financial help, contact the Department’s Finance Support service on 0800 587 2750 (Freephone) or 0800 587 2751 (textphone for customers with hearing difficulties).
  • All face to face appointments have been cancelled. Communication will continue via letter, phone and online journals. No one will be penalised for these postponed appointments
  • You do not need to sign on for JSA.
  • Access To Work programme has been suspended.
  • The latest information on how the current emergency is affecting the benefits system, including attending appointments, can be found here.  

 

I am self-employed, am I entitled to anything?

  • Anyone self-isolating who is self-employed can apply for Universal Credit or new-style Employment & Support Allowance.
  • Self employed people affected by loss of business can access Universal Credit in full at a rate equal to statutory sick pay (£94.25 per week)
  • You can also apply for these if you are prevented from working because of a risk to public health.
  • Call 08002321271 to check what they are entitled to or visit the following links on universal credit and support allowance.
  • Additionally, following an announcement on 20th March, the self assessment tax period will be deferred until January 2021. 

 

Can I get paid leave for stress related to the coronavirus?

  • Unfortunately, as this is an unprecedented situation, there isn’t any specific advice on this yet. 
  • However, if an employee is self-isolating because they, someone they live with or someone they have come into contact with is self-isolating, then they are entitled to 2 weeks statutory sick pay. You can qualify for this by going to NHS 111 online and getting a sick note, no GP involvement is needed. You can find out more on this here
  • If you are not able to get a sick note due to self-isolation, the next step would be to speak to your GP about getting a sick note due to anxiety/mental health reasons. 
  • Finally, a more long lasting approach would be to request to be furloughed by your employer. Details on this can also be found here. The Government has pledged an unlimited fund to pay 80% of the wages of furloughed workers. However, this still needs to pass through parliament (there is political support for it) and there is not yet clarity on how it will work for folks on zero hour, temporary contracts or who work ad-hoc hours.
  • In a worst case scenario, the restrictions around Universal credit have been relaxed to accommodate the self-employed and anyone unable to work, and you can now apply online. Follow the advice here to find out more. 
  • Much of the above relies on your employer acting in good faith and this is something the government has little to no control over. I however would be happy to contact any employer who is putting employees at risk and disregarding mental health. If I can be of any help in this regard please let me know.

Further information on JSA, PIP, WCAs, UC and ESA can be found at this Law Centre NI publication.

 

Discretionary Support


Enhancements to the Discretionary Support scheme have been announced to further support people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency measures include the introduction of a grant payment to assist with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. There is no limit on the amount of an individual award, which will be calculated based on individual circumstances. Read more here.

 

Those already receiving benefits

 

  • If you are receiving benefits, then these payments will continue. All face to face appointments have been cancelled. Communication will continue via letter, phone and online journals. No one will be penalised for these postponed appointments.
  • If someone’s income has reduced and they are already receiving tax credits or housing benefit they should notify the relevant office to have claims reassessed based on reduced income.
  • You do not need to sign on for JSA.
  • Access To Work programme has been suspended.
  • On 24th March it was announced that the below assessments would be suspended for a 3 month period:
  • All new reviews and reassessments for Personal Independence Payment;
  • All re-referrals for Work Capability Assessments across Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit. People in receipt of ESA and UC whose cases have been referred to the provider will be contacted to take this forward.;
  • All reassessment/renewal activity on other health and disability benefits including Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Disability Living Allowance for both children and those aged 65+, and Attendance Allowance.

Further information on JSA, PIP, WCAs, UC and ESA can be found at the Law Centre NI’s publication on 24 March here

 

Useful Benefits Numbers:

 

Attendance Allowance
0800 587 0912

Jobseeker’s Allowance
(for people who have paid contributions and have been laid off as a result of Covid-19) -0800 022 4250

Bereavement Service/Bereavement Support Payment
0800 085 2463
Make the Call – Benefits Advice Line
0800 232 1271
Benefit Cap
0800 587 1679
Pension Credit – Enquiries
0800 587 0892
Benefit Fraud Hotline
0800 975 6050
Pension Credit – New Applications
0808 100 6165
Carer’s Allowance /Carer’s Credit
0800 587 0912
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) - Enquiries
0800 587 0932
Child Maintenance Choices
0800 028 7439
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – New Claims
0800 012 1573
Debt Management
0800 587 1322
State Pension – Enquiries
0800 587 0892
Disability living allowance
0800 587 0912
State Pension – New Claims
0808 100 2658
Employment Service
0300 200 7822
Welfare Supplementary Payments
0800 587 0971
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – Enquiries and Change of Circumstances
0800 587 1377
Finance Support
Discretionary Support
Short Term Benefit Advances
0800 587 2750
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – new claims
0800 085 6318
Finance Support
Funeral Payment
Sure Start Maternity Grants
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Financial Struggles

 

I can’t afford to pay my rent, what should I do?

  • Currently there are no legal protections for renters who can’t afford to pay. However, the Westminster Government is enacting emergency legislation preventing tenants from being evicted from their homes during the coronavirus crisis. Similar assurances would be welcomed here.
  • Speak to your landlord and explain the situation as they are likely to be sympathetic in the current climate. If they do offer a reduced payment or agree to accept late rent, please ensure you get this in agreement in writing.

 

Housing Rights Advice Services Directory can be found here.

 

Will anything be offered in terms of mortgage payment relief?

  • The Chancellor announced on 17th March that homeowners affected by the coronavirus can apply for mortgage payment holidays of up to three months. This was extended to landlords with buy-to-let mortgages on the 18th March, providing they have tenants who are struggling to pay their rent
  • Repayment holidays won’t kick in automatically. Instead, borrowers who are concerned about meeting their repayments as a result of the outbreak should contact their lender ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’. At this point, the lender will assess the customer’s options on a case-by-case basis.

 

Has there been a delay in when we have to pay rate bills?

  • Yes, rate bills will now be issued in June 2020, rather than April 2020. 
  • You can learn more about payment plans, recovery action on debt and arrears and how to get help with rates by clicking here

 

What is a furloughed worker? 

  • If your employer intends to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, they can discuss classifying you as a furloughed worker. This would mean that you are kept on your employer’s payroll, rather than being laid off.
  • If agreed, to qualify for the scheme you cannot complete any work for them when furloughed or they will not be able to claim the grant to cover 80% of your wages. 
  • You can learn more about this here

 

How are my consumer rights affected by the situation?

  • You can find up to date information on your consumer rights here

 

Schools & Education

 

When will the schools open again?


A decision has not yet been taken on this. The most up to date information on all schools here.


Will there be any measures put in place to help those who normally get free school meals?

 

  • A Free School Meal Allowance of £2.70 per day for eligible pupils will be paid directly into a parent/guardian bank account on a fortnightly basis starting from week commencing 30th March. This will include Easter Holidays.
  • If the Education Authority does not have the relevant bank details to process these grants, families will be contacted by text message by 30th March and asked to complete an online form on the EA website.

 

What are schools’ key workers policies? 

  • The Department of Education does not require both parents to be key workers or working at the same time in order to send children into school. 
  • It’s important to note that schools are only being kept open to look after the children of key workers and this facility should only be used if absolutely necessary 
  • You can learn more by visiting the Department of Education’s FAQ page on this topic.
  • For information, the key workers list published by the Department of Education includes:
    • Health and Social Care. This includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, home carers and staff required to maintain our health and social care sector
    • Education and childcare. This includes nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who will remain active during the Covid-19 response
    • Public safety and national security. This includes civilians and officers in the police (including key contractors), Fire and Rescue Service, prison service and other national security roles
    • Transport. This will include those keeping air, water, road and rail transport modes operating during the Covid-19 response
    • Utilities and Communication. This includes staff needed for oil, gas, electricity and water (including sewage) and primary industry supplies, to continue during the Covid-19 response, as well as key staff in telecommunications, post and delivery, services and waste disposal
    • Food and other necessary goods. This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution and sale, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (e.g. hygiene, medical etc.)
    • Key national and local government including those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response.
  • The Health Minister has launched an approved Home Childcare scheme for key workers who have babies and toddlers. 
  • The bespoke home childcare programme has been established to meet the childcare needs of key workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The scheme will match children with a daycare worker from the setting they currently attend. 

 

Will my child have to sit their GCSE or A Level exam?

  • No, all exams have been cancelled but students will still receive a final grade.
  • In a statement from the Education Minister, Mr Weir said the system that would be used to award grades would be "a combination of prior achievements, internal assessments, predicted grades, analysis and modelling of existing data trends to provide the necessary assurance about the robustness, accuracy and fairness of the grades awarded".

 

Will students be expected to still attend online classes?

  • Most schools are making provisions to support remote online learning and your child will be provided with lesson packs.
  • Additionally, lots of local teachers are offering free virtual help with homework if things get too tricky, so contact your school to see if this is something your children can avail of.
  • If you are concerned that your child doesn’t have the appropriate tools to support online learning, please get in touch.

 


Are FE Colleges closed?


Yes, further education colleges closed their campuses as of Monday 23rd March.

Are the universities closed?


Yes, both Queen’s University and the University of Ulster have moved to remote lectures and seminars. You can find the most up to date information here.

 

Will my Student Finance change?


Student Loans Company are regularly updating their website with information for current students, repaying students and prospective students. To visit the Student Loans Company website please click here.

 

Do I still have to pay for my Student Accommodation?

 

Ulster University Student Accommodation:

Students living in the University’s student accommodation who wish to return home will be released from their contractual obligations from 3 April 2020 with no financial penalties. More information on the process for early contract termination will be provided to students staying in accommodation by email in the coming days.

Further information for Ulster University students can be found here.

 

Queens Student Accommodation:

As of 27 March 2020, you can terminate your contract in order to move home; if you do, you will not be charged for accommodation after the date you checkout from 27 March onwards. If you have paid fees for a period past that date, for example if you paid in full to the end of a 38 or 39 week contract ending 6 June 2020, a pro-rata refund will be made after deduction of any charges owing.

Will my child’s nursery close?


In line with the announcement on 19th March, all state nursery and pre-school groups will close, however private nurseries can remain open at their discretion.

 

Covid-19 Approved Home Childcare Scheme

 

Full Details here

Summary: 

  • a bespoke version of the approved home childcarer scheme has been set up which will enable key workers to be temporarily matched with one of their children’s current daycare workers
  • The key workers who can avail of this scheme are listed below:
    • Health and Social Care workers providing clinical care for those who have tested positive for COVID-19;
    • Health and Social Care workers supporting life-threatening emergency work, as well as critical primary and community care provision; and
    • All other Health and Social Care workers, and wider public sector workers providing emergency/critical welfare services (e.g. PSNI/NIFRS/Prison Staff/Social Workers/Teachers in schools remaining open etc).
  • You can apply for the scheme if:  
    • a current employee of a registered daycare setting in Northern Ireland with a minimum of 6 months childcare experience and is deemed eligible by their current employer to participate in the scheme;
    • is 18 or over;
    • has a relevant childcare qualification, or has completed an
    • appropriate induction course; and has first-aid training or commits to undertake an online training course within 6 weeks of becoming an Approved Home Childcarer.

For full application details see this link

 

Travel Advice

 

Can I still go abroad?

  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) now advises against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice took effect immediately on 17 March and applies initially for a period of 30 days.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice. 
  • You can find out more on how to change or cancel your travel plans here for British or Irish citizens.

 

What to do if I am already out of the country?

  • Check here for travel advice in your location regularly and sign-up to email alerts.
  • You must follow the advice of local authorities.
  • If you wish to leave the country you are in, contact your airline or travel company and your insurance provider as soon as you are able, and keep up to date with the latest developments.
  • If the local authority where you are proposes to quarantine you for your own protection, you should follow their advice. When you are abroad, your safety and security is their responsibility.

 

My travel is essential, can I still go?

  • Check here for the latest guidance and best practice around essential travel. There is a checklist which includes points such as insurance, entry restrictions and planning ahead financially/medically.

 

My flight was cancelled, how do I get a refund?

 

  • If your flight has been cancelled you may be entitled to a full refund. To find out your rights, we recommend you contact the Consumer Council or lodge a case with Resolver.

 

I'm stranded abroad, what can I do?

 

UK Government partnership to fly back stranded tourists:

  • The government has launched a new campaign to get stranded tourists back to the UK as soon as possible. In partnership with airlines, the government has announced plans that will see transportation of passengers with pre-booked tickets home, through offering them alternatives where routes are cancelled, allowing them to change tickets, where permissible – including between carriers.
  • Where commercial routes do not exist special charter flights to fly to priority countries to bring back UK residents will be in place.
  • The government has pledged up to £75 million to pay airlines for the additional charter flights to ensure tickets are affordable. Once special flights have been arranged, these will be promoted through the government’s travel advice and by the British embassy or high commission in the country. British travellers who want a seat on the flight will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.
  • British tourists stranded abroad who want to return to the UK should first check if there are commercial routes available by visiting the airline websites, FCO travel advice pages for the country they are in and local British embassy social media.
  • If there are no commercial options, they should visit the travel advice pages and sign up to alerts for their location and follow embassy social media and email updates. When special return flights become available, these will be advertised by the embassy and British nationals on Travel Advice Pages and Embassy social media and those who have registered for updates will be contacted via email. British nationals will be asked to register their interest through our booking agents CTM.
  • Where people are in real need, consular teams will work with them to consider their options. As a last resort, the Foreign Office will offer an emergency loan.
  • Alliance has heard from many constituents who are stranded, and is monitoring this situation very closely. Stephen Farry MP has written to the Foreign Office to urge them to consider an emergency grant, rather than a loan, for those experiencing major financial difficulty.

 

Supporting your community

 

How can I help people in my community?

  • Those that are more vulnerable or at risk are advised to self-isolate and stay at home. As such, many people who are elderly, immunocompromised, or have underlying medical conditions are going to face isolation. We’ve seen some fantastic ways that communities are helping each other, such as:
  • Start a WhatsApp or facebook group or utilise a network like Neighbourhood Watch/Nextdoor, so you can support each other, and contact is easily accessible.
  • If you are able, volunteer to help your neighbours or those that you know who live in isolated rural areas. You can do this by leaving a note, printing off the form saved here or checking out websites like Volunteer Now, Help Around, or Self-Isolation Helpers to sign up to help in your local area.
  • Join or start a local Facebook group for your area
  • Donate what extra food you can afford to purchase to a food bank - check out the Trussel Trust and search for one near you!
  • If you are looking for funding for your community group that specifically aims to support older isolated people, check out The Coronavirus Community Fund who are currently allocating grants.
  • There is also useful additional information in the Supporting Communities newsletter
  • Age UK has created a ‘Neighbourly Volunteering’ video containing ways in which the public can help older people they know. This also includes download and print volunteering post costs and a guide on ‘5 ways to help’. It can be found here.
  • There is a Covid 19 volunteer app accessible via Volunteer Now’s website.

 

The UK Government has released guidance for all those to want to help out in their community at this time
Please read this before beginning to regularly assist people.

 

Visiting Hospitals

All general visiting to hospitals across Northern Ireland has now stopped. The only exceptions to this are:

  • Paediatrics - any children admitted can be accompanied by one parent or carer at a time. Maternity - a person in labour can be accompanied by one birthing partner. There are no visitors permitted in ante-natal or post-natal ward areas.
  • Neonatology and Paediatric Intensive Care - a patient in the neonatal ward/ paediatric ICU may be accompanied by one parent-visit duration to be agreed with the Ward Sister or Charge Nurse.
  • Critical Care Areas (including Adult Intensive Care Units; Coronary Care Units; High Dependency Units) - one visitor permitted to visit. The duration and timing of the visit must be agreed in advance with the Ward Sister or
  • Charge Nursenormally be a maximum of one hour.
  • Palliative (end of life) care - one visitor permitted to visit. The duration and timing of the visit must be agreed in advance with the Ward Sister or Charge Nurse-normally be for a maximum of one hour.

Should I be stockpiling food?

  • No, definitely don’t panic buy. If we all shop normally retailers will be able to keep the supply of goods flowing. Shortages are being caused by panic buying, not by lack of supply.

 

What is the best way to shop?

  • If you can, shop local – it is especially important to support smaller local businesses within our communities. There will be fewer crowds and fresh local produce.
  • Additionally, some of your local shops are offering free home delivery.
  • If you are a member of the elderly community, some of the bigger supermarkets are offering specific hours when only you will be able to shop, so as to avoid big groups of people. Contact your local supermarket to see if this is something they offer and at what times.

 

Should I still go to cafes, bars and restaurants?

  • No, the Government has announced UK pubs, restaurants, bars and other social venues to close as of Friday 20th March in an effort to prevent the further spread of the Coronavirus, but they can continue to provide takeaway services. This will also apply to nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres. We would encourage you to support these businesses if it is possible whilst observing the most recent Government advice on essential movements under lockdown. 

 

Who should I contact for more information? 

  • Your local Alliance party representative will be happy to help you. You can find your local Councillor here, your MLA here or by emailing us on alliance@allianceparty.org 

 

 

Miscellaneous

 

MOTs & Vehicle Licensing

All MOTs have been suspended with immediate effect. Subsequently, Department for Infrastructure have announced that:

  • All HGV and PSV vehicles with an MOT will be issued with a 3-month Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC).
  • Work is underway to put a solution in place for four year old cars and taxis and at present there is no legal way of issuing TECs for these vehicles.   Urgent work is underway to resolve this issue and DfI will update the public shortly. 
  • Vehicle owners are required by law to ensure that their vehicle must be maintained, kept safe to drive (roadworthy) and operate within the terms of operators’ licence conditions.

 

As of 26th March, four year old cars are being given a Temporary Exemption Certificate for six months from the date that their MOT test should have been due. This will allow the vehicle to be taxed and driven on the road. Issuing the certificates will take some time but the exemption will automatically apply from the due date.
It has also been confirmed that motorists with an MOT exemption certificate will not be prejudiced by insurance companies for their lack of valid MOT certificate.

 

Additional measures have also been introduced for licensing:

  • DVA will no longer accept first-time driver license applications
  • Anyone requiring a driving licence renewal for a car, tractor or and motorbike should now apply online here
  • A limited number of HGV paper applications will continue to be processed.

 

Immigration and Refugee Law


The Law Centre NI have created a document outlining all support and contingency provisions for immigration and refugee law in NI. This can be accessed here.

 

Musician Grant


‘Help for Musicians’ have launched a temporary hardship fund for musicians whose income has been impacted by the crisis. Successful applicants will receive a one off payment of £500.
More info here