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 10am 03/07/2020

Lockdown Advice

Unresolved Issues

Health Advice

Business Support Info

Benefits and Social Security

Financial Struggles

Schools, Education & Childcare

Travel Advice

Supporting your community

Miscellaneous

 

Lockdown Advice

 

The Northern Ireland Executive have published their recovery strategy for the Covid-19 Crisis. This is a 5 - phase plan for slowly moving out of lockdown and sets out how the Executive will approach easing restrictions in the future. To view the Coronavirus Executive Approach to Decision-Making click here.

Full Lockdown Guidance

 

First Steps to Ease Lockdown


From 18th May 2020 the following easing of lockdown restrictions have been implemented:

  • Reopening of Garden Centres with social distancing measures in place;
  • Reopening of local Recycling Centres with social distancing measures in place;
  • Marriage ceremonies where a person is terminally ill;
  • Reopening of angling facilities although car parks will remain closed.
  • Further easing of lockdown from 19th May includes:
  • Groups of up to six people who don't share a household can now meet outdoors, as long as they practise social distancing
  • Churches can reopen for private prayer and drive-through services can take place if churchgoers remain in their vehicles
  • Some outdoors sports like golf and tennis can resume, although golfers may have to wait until Wednesday to get on a course
  • Drive-in cinemas can operate, and people can attend live outdoor concerts and theatre if they remain in their vehicles

 

The following changes will be introduced on June 8:

  • Those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with people from their own household or a person from another household whilst ensuring social distancing is observed;
  • 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 facilities will be permitted to re-open;
  • 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; and
  • 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.

Further changes to the Coronavirus Regulations are: 

Friday 12th June - 

  • Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people (social distancing must be maintained between people who do not share the same household);
  • Opening the remainder of the retail market  (including shopping centres);

Saturday 13th June- 

  • Permitting those who live alone to visit one other household indoors (people who live alone are able to form a small support unit with one other household);

Monday 15th June- 

  • Opening the housing market for house sales, moves and end to end process such as viewing, securing a mortgage and moving house;
  • Allowing training for elite athletes to commence and outdoor facilities to open;
  • Amenities at DAERA-owned forest and country parks can begin the process of reopening.

Tuesday 23rd June- 

  • Indoor meetings of up to six people can take place however this easement is accompanied by strong public health advice to limit the duration of visits; ensure good ventilation; maintain good hand hygiene; and practice social distancing where possible. The use of a face covering is also strongly advised. The relaxation does not permit overnight stays and those who are medically shielding are strongly advised to continue following the advice that remains in place for that group until the shielding period is paused on 31 July.

Friday 26th June- 

  • Caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation can re-open. 

Monday 29th June- 

  • Places of worship may reopen for religious services;
  • Indoor training for elite and grassroots athletes; 
  • Resumption of contact sport training.

Friday 3rd July- 

  • Other tourist accommodation can re-open;
  • Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops can re-open;
  • Public houses and bars will also be permitted to re-open from 3 July for the purposes of selling food and alcohol on a table service basis. Public houses and bars with outside spaces, such as beer gardens, will be able to use these spaces to serve alcohol on a table service basis;
  • Relaxations also apply to hotel restaurants, bars and outdoor areas. However, spas and leisure facilities at hotels will not be permitted to open at this stage;
  • Visitor attractions can also open from 3 July;
  • Reopening of betting shops.

Monday 6th July- 

  • Hairdressers, barbers, nail and beauty salons, and tanning services can reopen;
  • Resumption of further close contact services including tattoo parlours, piercings and spas.

Friday 10th July- 

  • Reopening of indoor gyms;
  • Reopening of outdoor leisure playgrounds;
  • Passengers and staff on public transport must wear a face covering:
    • on bus, coach and train services
    • in public transport stations
    • in indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep two metres social distance.

Thursday 16th July- 

  • Reopening of libraries. 

Friday 17th July- 

  • Competitive sports;
  • Limited numbers of outdoor spectators permitted (17 July) with numbers increased at a later date (31 July)

Wednesday 29th July- 

  • Reopening of seated venues including cinemas and bingo halls;
  • Reopening of arcades.

Friday 7th August- 

  • Reopening of indoor sports courts and skating rinks;
  • Leisure centres and soft play areas 

Monday 24th August- 

  • Pupils in Years 7, 12 and 14 will return to school on a phased basis. This will be on the guidance of pupils observing the 1m distancing rule. Vulnerable children from all year groups will also return on this date.

Friday 28th August- 

  • Socially distanced indoor spectators permitted. 

Late August- 

  • Open air museums.

 

Guidance to help social distancing in public places can be found here.

 

The dates are conditional on controlling the rate of transmission of Covid-19 and social distancing measures will remain in place.

 

If you have any information or concerns that these regulations are not being adhered to you can use the PSNI online reporting tool here.

 

Guidance for operating a business at this time can be found here.

 

Face coverings on public transport

From 10 July 2020, it’s the law that passengers and staff on public transport must wear a face covering:

  • on bus, coach and train services
  • in public transport stations
  • in indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep two metres social distance

You don’t have to wear a face covering:

  • on school transport
  • if you are under the age of 13
  • if you are a member of staff and are behind a protective screen
  • if you are a passenger or a member of staff and have a reasonable excuse

These reasonable excuses include:

  • if you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • if you need to remove it during your journey to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
  • if you need to eat, drink, or take medication you can remove your face covering
  • if you are asked to remove your face covering by a police officer or other official

There is no need to get a letter from a doctor or government to show that you do not need to wear a face covering.

If you have a condition which means you cannot wear a face covering you only need to say, if asked, that you cannot wear a face covering because you are exempt.

If you do not wear a face covering and you are not under 13 or have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one, you are committing an offence and could be fined.

When you return home, wash your face covering before you reuse it, if the material is washable.

If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in the general waste.

 

Restrictions on gatherings 

  • Groups of up to 30 people can now gather outdoors with social distancing maintained;
  • If you live alone, you may form a ‘bubble’ with one other household;
  • You can visit another person’s home, either alone or with others however the maximum number of people indoors must not exceed 6.

 

Visiting Guidance in Care Settings 

From Monday 6th July changes will be made to restrictions on visiting across all care settings. 

Decisions on allowing visitors will now be made on a day to day basis, by the nurse in charge in hospitals, or by the manager in care homes, and will depend on the ability to ensure social distancing and safety of both patients/residents and the visitors.

All visitors to hospitals and care homes are now also required to wear a face covering

The new guidance includes a number of measures including:

  • In both general wards and intensive care units, one visitor will now be permitted per patient.
  • In Covid-19 free care homes one person will be permitted access to visit at any one time and if necessary a second person if required will be accommodated where possible, as long as this can be carried out safely and under the usual social distancing requirements.
  • Birth partners will be facilitated to accompany women to pregnancy dating  scans, anomaly scans, early pregnancy clinic and fetal medicine appointments, for induction of labour, the duration of labour and for birth as well as to visit in antenatal and postnatal wards as appropriate.

Anyone showing or experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 or any other infection should not visit, even if these symptoms are mild and unconfirmed.  

Visitors to any setting must rigorously follow public health hygiene advice – washing hands before and after visits, using hand sanitiser gel and maintain social distancing.


Guidance for Restaurants Offering Takeaway or Delivery


A comprehensive guide on how to safely open restaurants/ takeaways for delivery or collection during the pandemic can be found here.

https://www.equalityni.org/Footer-Links/News/Employers-Service-Providers/Opening-outdoor-spaces-for-business-requires-plann

Covid-19 Community Helpline


Open 9-5, 7 days a week 08088020020 with text message response facility

Email covid19@adviceni.nit

Advice now available in 10 languages here.

 

Personal

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.

An online version of this app is also available.

A free remote interpreting service for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users to access NHS111 and health and social care services during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

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

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.


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:

  • Childcare Provision - Extension of childcare provision for people who cannot work from home
  • Post Primary Transfer - Calling for the post primary transfer to be replaced by an alternative fairer system

Assistance for:

  • Local Charities, Voluntary Organisations and Social Enterprises
  • Payment holidays for direct debits, utility bills, car insurance
  • Business - support for those still unable to avail of Grant Support such as Sole Traders, Social Enterprises with Charitable Status, Company Directors in Personal Service Contracts and those excluded due to NAVs or not having properties individually valued plus Domestic Properties such as Bed and Breakfasts & Self Catering accommodation. Grants to be on a per premises model as opposed to per business.

- Self-Employed Hardship Fund required for those unable to access the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Need for a central point for business enquiries.

 

 

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.

 

Testing and Tracing:

FOR SOMEONE WITH CORONAVIRUS SYMPTOMS:

  • STEP 1 ISOLATE: As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate for at least 7 days. Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.
  • STEP 2 TEST: You should order a coronavirus test immediately at nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access.
  • STEP 3 RESULTS:

If your test is positive you must complete the remainder of your 7-day self-isolation, and have had at least 48 hours without fever. Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. 

If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to isolate.

  • STEP 4 SHARE CONTACTS:  If you test positive for coronavirus, the PHA will call you within 24 hours with instructions of how to share details of people you have been in close, recent contact with and places you have visited. It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that we can give appropriate advice to those who need it.

 

Covid-19 testing will be made available to all care home residents and staff across Northern Ireland. It is hoped that the roll-out of testing will be available to all residents by June 2020 and a rolling testing programme for all staff will also be put in place.

 

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?

  • It is recommended that you should think about using face coverings in particular circumstances - short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. You must wear a face covering on public transport from Friday 10 July.
  • 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. It is our understanding that all of these letters have now been sent out in Northern Ireland, with roughly 40,000 people being contacted here. If you have received one of these letters please follow the guidance, which can be found here.

 

From 8 June those who are shielding will be able to spend time outside with people from their own household or a person from another household whilst ensuring social distancing is observed.

 

Shielding may be paused on 31st July - letters will be issued in the coming days to those that have been shielding about the new arrangements.

 

Advice for Unpaid and Young Carers


Guidance for those who act as an unpaid or young carer can be found here.

 

Business Support Info

 

NI Business Info Landing Page

Guidance for Businesses Preparing to Reopen
With more staff heading back to work, the Equality Commission have gathered information on rights for both employers and employees in the workplace during the pandemic

 

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 19th March 2020
  • Employees that were employed as of 28 February 2020, on payroll and were made redundant or stopped working for you after that, and prior to 19 March 2020, can also qualify for the scheme if you re-employ them and put them on furlough.
  • Employers will submit information to HMRC about the employees being furloughed and their earnings through an online portal which will open on 20th April. Payments will be made within 6 working days.
  • The scheme has now been extended to October 2020 and from August the scheme will become more flexible to support the transition back to work
  • Companies will be asked to ‘start sharing’ the cost of the scheme from August
  • More information available here.
  • The scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June. You will then only be able to furlough employees that you have furloughed for a full three-week period prior to 30 June - the final date that you can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June for the current three-week furlough period to be completed by 30 June. Employers will have until 31 July to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June.

Flexible furloughing

From 1 July 2020 employers will have the flexibility to bring previously furloughed employees back to work part-time - with the government continuing to pay 80% of wages for any of their normal hours they do not work up until the end of August.  

You can decide the hours and shift patterns that your employees will work on their return and you will be responsible for paying their wages in full while working. This means that employees can work as much or as little as your business needs, with no minimum time that you can furlough staff for.

Any working hours arrangement that you agree with your employee must cover at least one week and be confirmed to the employee in writing. When claiming the CJRS grant for furloughed hours, you will need to report and claim for a minimum period of a week. You can choose to make claims for longer periods such as on monthly or two weekly cycles if you prefer. You will be required to submit data on the usual hours an employee would be expected to work in a claim period and actual hours worked.

If your employees are unable to return to work, or you do not have work for them to do, they can remain on furlough and you can continue to claim the grant for their full hours under the existing rules.

Employer contributions

The first time you will be able to make claims for days in July will be 1 July, you cannot claim for periods in July before this point. 

31 July is the last day that you can submit claims for periods ending on or before 30 June.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will close on 31 October 2020.

From 1 July, employers can bring furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim CJRS grant for the hours not worked.

From 1 August 2020, the level of grant will be reduced each month.To be eligible for the grant employers must pay furloughed employees 80% of their wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month for the time they are being furloughed.

The timetable for changes to the scheme is set out below. Wage caps are proportional to the hours an employee is furloughed. For example, an employee is entitled to 60% of the £2,500 cap if they are placed on furlough for 60% of their usual hours:

  • there are no changes to grant levels in June
  • for June and July, the government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 for the hours the employee is on furlough, as well as employer National Insurance Contributions (ER NICS) and pension contributions for the hours the employee is on furlough. Employers will have to pay employees for the hours they work
  • for August, the government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 for the hours an employee is on furlough and employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions for the hours the employee is on furlough
  • for September, the government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 for the hours the employee is on furlough. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and top up employees’ wages to ensure they receive 80% of their wages up to a cap of £2,500, for time they are furloughed
  • for October, the government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875 for the hours the employee is on furlough. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and top up employees’ wages to ensure they receive 80% of their wages up to a cap of £2,500, for time they are furloughed

Employers will continue to able to choose to top up employee wages above the 80% total and £2,500 cap for the hours not worked at their own expense if they wish. Employers will have to pay their employees for the hours worked.

The table shows Government contribution, required employer contribution and amount employee receives where the employee is furloughed 100% of the time.

Wage caps are proportional to the hours not worked.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will close on 31 October 2020.

Visit the online Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme portal here.

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

Employees awaiting Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme payments, may make a claim to Universal Credit. Payments from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be treated as earnings in Universal Credit, i.e. subject to any work allowance and taper and Universal Credit payments will adjust in response to changes in earnings.

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

 

Working on Commission:


If you are guaranteed a certain level of commission payments in your contract, your employer can claim for this to be covered through the scheme. However, most other commission or discretionary bonus payments are not covered.

 

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

 

To start the process of claiming back Statutory Sick Pay please click here.

 

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 non-domestic business rates payments for first four months of 2020/21 Financial Year and this will be paid by the government with no costs to businesses. No rates will be charged for April, May, June and July. This results in a 33% reduction in business rates.

A further £213m business rates support package has been made available to the sectors hit hardest by Covid-19. These sectors will pay no rates for the full financial year up until 31st March 2021.
Those sectors are:

  • hospitality, tourism and leisure
  • retail (excluding certain supermarkets and off-licences)
  • childcare
  • Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry Airports.
  • The rates support packages will also see all businesses received a one-month extension of the rates holiday up to 31 July 2020.

 

Water and Sewage Bills


Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has confirmed that water and sewerage bills for business and non-domestic customers will be held back until July and a planned annual increase in the non-domestic water and sewerage tariff will also be deferred and reviewed in the Autumn.

 

Grants

 

Applications for the £10k and £25k government grants for businesses have now closed. 

The helpline number for the Small Business Grant scheme is 0300 200 7809. This can be used to check on the status of your grant and is open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.

 

Microbusiness Hardship Fund


Applications for the Microbusiness Hardship Fund have now closed.

 

Rental properties and properties with a Total Net Annual Value below £1,590

  • Under rating legislation, the landlord is liable for rates on non-domestic rental properties with a Total Net Annual Value (NAV) below £1,590. For rental properties and properties with a Total NAV below £1,590, further information is required to ensure that that the grant is being paid to the small business who occupies the property, and not a landlord or letting agent.
  • You should use this portal to register for the £10,000 grant or to provide further information if:
  • Your business is the sole tenant of a rental property where the landlord receives the rate bill
  • Your business is the sole tenant of a rental property and the business receives the rate bill
  • Your business owns the property that it occupies and the property has a Total NAV below £1,590
  • If you match the above criteria, register for the £10k grant here.

 

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:
  • 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.

 

The Prince’s Trust and NatWest Enterprise Relief Fund


Grants will be offered to 18 to 30-year olds across the UK who are self-employed and/or running their own business. Grants can be used to maintain core business operations during the crisis, as well as meet any existing financial commitments, such as paying for essential equipment or settling invoices from suppliers.

To be eligible to apply, you must be a business owner aged 18 to 30, who set up their business in the last four years and don't have any other source of income during the crisis. Register your interest here.

 

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 SMEs – Bounce Back Loans Scheme

  • On 27 April, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that small businesses will benefit from a new fast-track finance scheme:
  • Loans from £2,000 to £50,000
  • Government willl provide lenders with a 100% guarantee for the loan and pay any fees and interest for the first 12 months
  • No repayments will be due during the first 12 months
  • Loans will be easy to apply for through a short, standardised online application
  • Loan should reach businesses within days

Eligibility 

You can apply for a loan if your business:

  • is based in the UK
  • has been negatively affected by coronavirus
  • was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019

Apply for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme here.

 

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.

 

Specific Support for the fishing industry


DAERA have announced a funding package of £1.5m to support NI’s fishing industry. The package includes direct payments for 3 months depending on the length of the fishing vessel. Full details 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.

 

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.

 

Support for businesses in the Republic of Ireland

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

 

 

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

  • Available to those who are self-employed or a member of a partnership that have been adversely affected by Covid-19
  • You will be able to claim a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly trading profits
  • Grant will be paid out in a single installment covering 3 months, and capped at £7,500 altogether
  • You can continue to work, start a new trade or take on other employment including voluntary work subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance

If you’re eligible and want to claim the first grant you must make your claim on or before 13 July 2020.

This scheme is being extended. You’ll be able to make a claim for a second and final grant in August 2020.

The online service for the second and final grant is not available yet. We will update this guidance to let you know when you can make your claim.

If you’re eligible the second and final grant will be a taxable grant worth 70% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering a further 3 months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6,570 in total.

Who can claim:

You can claim if you’re a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and:

  • you traded in the tax year 2018 to 2019 and submitted your Self Assessment tax return on or before 23 April 2020 for that year
  • you traded in the tax year 2019 to 2020
  • you intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021
  • you carry on a trade which has been adversely affected by coronavirus
  • your business has been adversely affected by Coronavirus.
  • Farmers are eligible for the scheme 

Check that you are eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme here. Contact from HMRC to start this week by letter, text and email (check this isn't spam).


The online service will be available from 13 May 2020. If you’re eligible, you will be told the date you can make your claim from. If your claim is approved you’ll receive your payment within 6 working days

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

 

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.

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

 

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.

 

 

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.

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

 

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. 

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.

 

Concerns about unsafe working conditions

 

If you have concerns about your workplace not following the workplace Covid-19 guidance then there are some steps you can take:

  • Contact your local Alliance Representative with as much detail as possible.
  • Report your workplace to the Health & Safety Executive. If your workplace is in Northern Ireland, then you can contact the NI Health & Safety Executive directly via this contact form or by emailing mail@hseni.gov.uk.
  • If your workplace is in the Republic of Ireland, then please use this form
  • If your workplace is in Great Britain then please use this form

The Department of Health has set up a new email contact point for health and social care staff to raise PPE concerns. Covid19PPE.queries@health-ni.gov.uk will be checked every day and the anonymity of staff using it will be protected.

 

Life Assurance Scheme for NHS and social care frontline staff


In a press conference on 27 April, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that families of staff who die from the coronavirus over the course of their essential frontline work, will receive a £60,000 payment.


Mr Hancock added that the Government is “looking closely at other professions that work on the frontline against Coronavirus who don’t have access to such schemes, to see where this may be required”.

 

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

 

 Updates on all Social Security during the Covid-19 outbreak can be found here.

 

Comprehensive information on Universal Credit and Redundancy Payments can be found here.

 

 

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 has been extended to October 2020.
  • 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. 

 

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 advice page.

 

Recovery of benefit overpayment and loans suspended


The Department of Communities will be pausing the recovery of benefit overpayments and loan repayments from a number of Social Security benefits for three months, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Overpayment and loan deductions will cease from the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Employment Support Allowance
  • Industrial Injuries Benefit
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Maternity Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • State Pension
  • Widow’s Parents Allowance
  • Widow's Pension Allowance


Many activities will cease immediately but others may take longer to implement.
Recovery of all Social Fund and Discretionary Support loans will be suspended.


Customers currently making repayments through a Bank Standing Order may wish to contact their bank to cancel their arrangement, however, this will need to be set up again following this pause period. For customers repaying through other means, the Department has already written to employers asking them to stop deductions from salaries and all recoveries by Direct Debit will also be suspended for three months.

 

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) 

Latest information on the changes to PIP due to Coronavirus can be found 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
Budgeting Loans
0800 022 4250
Income Support
0800 022 4250
 

 

NI Housing Executive


NI Housing Executive offices are closed to the public.

  • General Enquiries - visit www.nihe.gov.uk or call 03448 920 900
  • Emergency Repairs - report online at www.nihe.gov.uk, text 66644 starting your message with the word ‘Repair’ and remembering to include your address or call 03448 920 901
  • Housing Benefit - visit www.nihe.gov.uk or call 03448 920 902
  • Homelessness Enquiries - visit www.nihe.gov.uk or call 03448 920 908

 

Financial Struggles

 

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

  • The new coronavirus legislation Private Tenancies (Emergency Modifications) Bill 2020, requires all private landlords to give tenants at least 12 weeks’ notice before evicting them.
  • 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

 

How are my consumer rights affected by the situation?

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

 

Schools, Education & Childcare

 

Education Minister Peter Weir has outlined plans to help support vulnerable children and young people in July and August.

The proposals include:

  • special schools summer provision;
  • youth services with priority given to key worker children; and
  • plans for a summer food scheme.

 

When will the schools open again?


It has been confirmed that schools in Northern Ireland will not open again for the rest of the academic year.

Years 7, 12 and 14 will begin a phased return to school on 24th August, observing the 1m social distance rule. Vulnerable children from all year groups will also return on this date.

Guidance to support safe working in educational settings: 

The Department of Education has issued guidance to educational settings on safe working during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The document covers a number of areas including:

  • The strategy for infection prevention and control to facilitate safe working;
  • guidance regarding the specific circumstances in which personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used; and
  • measures to support specific areas of concern in respect of children with underlying medical needs; Special Educational Needs and safeguarding needs


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 did not have the relevant bank details to process these grants, families should now have been contacted by text message.
  • A summer food scheme will be established for those children who normally receive free school meals during term time.

 

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".


A Levels


In the absence of examinations, students due to complete an A Level this year will receive a calculated grade based on a combination of Teacher professional judgement (including grading and rank ordering by schools) and statistical modelling. This will also include a value added element to take account of the impact resists would normally have on final outcomes.
Students will be able to sit examinations as part of the Summer 2021 examination timetable if they wish.


AS Levels


This year the AS level in 2020 will be decoupled from the A2 and those due to complete an AS level will receive a calculated grade. This will not contribute towards the awarding of A Level grades in summer 2021. The 2020 AS grade will be calculated using a combination of teacher professional judgement and prior pupil performance including GCSE mean scores.
In summer 2021 students who continue to A2 level can choose to either sit only the relevant A2 papers, with the A Level being awarded based on those papers and the AS component being treated as a missing paper, or a student may choose to sit both AS and A2 papers to achieve the overall A Level grade.


GCSE


Young people due to complete all components of their GCSE qualifications in 2020 will receive a calculated grade based on a combination of teacher professional judgement (including grading and rank ordering by schools) and the average centre performance over the past three summer series.


GCSE Modules

  • Students taking units that will not lead to the completion of the GCSE qualification this year will not be awarded any grades. Students will participate in the summer 2021 series and for each GCSE will have the following options:
  • Students not entered for any GCSE modules in summer 2020 should aim to sit all elements of the relevant GCSE in the next academic year (2020/21);
  • Students due to complete part of a GCSE in 2020 can choose to sit only the outstanding units of their qualification in the 2020/21 academic year, with the remaining units being treated as missed papers;
  • Students can also choose to sit all units of their GCSE qualification in the normal 2020/21 examination timetable.

 

Post-Primary Transfer Tests


Post-primary transfer tests will be postponed by a few weeks due to the Covid-19 health crisis.
AQE tests will now be held on 21 November, 28 November and 12 December 2020. PPTC GL tests will be held on 5 December with a reserve test being held on 19 December.

 

Vocational Qualifications

  • Where possible, the majority of vocational qualifications used for progression will be awarded by the end of August, in line with published results dates, so that learners can progress to their chosen pathway.
  • Calculated results will be based in part on teacher, trainer or tutor judgements of their learners’ attainment, where appropriate, in combination with a range of other evidence and use of statistical methods.
  • This will also be adopted as the principle approach for Essential Skills qualifications in those cases where learners were due to undertake their assessments during the summer term.
  • A calculated result will not be suitable for all vocational qualifications, such as those used for occupational competence or licence to practise. Where calculation is not possible, consideration will be given to adapting assessments and/or delivery models where this would not undermine the validity and reliability of the result. Only in cases where this is not possible, should delay be considered.

 

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.
  • A process to lend digital devices including laptops and tablets to children who do not have access to such devices at home has been put in place by the Department of Education. Priority will be given to children who will be studying for GCSEs, A Levels and those children going into P7. Priority will also be given to those who are considered vulnerable and in disadvantaged groups including those entitled to a free school meal and newcomer children.

 

Nursery & Primary 1 Admissions 2020

  • The Education Authority is planning to issue admissions letters for Pre-school and P1 places directly to parents this year.
  • These should be received on 29th April 2020 - due to the impact of Coronavirus some may be slightly delayed.
  • Parents who have applied for places online can check the Citizens Portal from 29th April for details of their child's place.
  • Parents who have applied for a stage 2 - sometimes referred to as 'pre-pre' place - should receive their letter around the same time but be prepared for the possibility of a slight delay.
  • Please check the EA website for regular updates or contact MLA offices if you need help.


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. There has been confirmation from the Department of the Economy that student loans will continue to be paid into the Summer. 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.

 

Private Tenancies

  • The new coronavirus legislation Private Tenancies (Emergency Modifications) Bill 2020, requires all private landlords to give tenants at least 12 weeks’ notice before evicting them and it was confirmed on 15th April that student loans will continue to be paid into the third term.
  • Additional money has been provided to our local Universities to increase their Student Hardship funds. Applications should be made directly via the relevant university.
  • The Economy Minister is unable to force private landlords to provide a rent freeze or to release tenants from their agreements early. Tenants who find themselves in difficulty are urged to discuss repayment plans with their landlords

 

Financial Support for Students

  • Students can apply for Discretionary Support – previously this was not available to students. The money can be used for rent. 
  • Additional money has been provided to our local Universities to increase their Student Hardship funds. Applications should be made directly via the relevant university.

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.

 

Childcare 

The definition of a key worker will no longer apply for access to childcare. 

The safety of children and staff in all settings is critical and a number of infection control measures had been put in place.These included:

  • Health and Social Care Trust Early Years Teams being part of decisions to reopen, assisted by the Public Health Agency;
  • The introduction of Play Pods in registered group childcare settings – organising children and staff in small groups (12 children maximum), who don’t mix with other groups in the setting; and
  • A gradual increase in the numbers of families childminders can provide childcare for, to a maximum of four families from today. It is intended that this will rise to five families in August.

 

Guidance for Childcare Providers

Childminders: 

  • Any childminding setting that is considering reopening should contact their local Early Years Team in the Health Trust so that the temporary ‘pause’ on registration is ended;
  • At this time, a childminder may now care for the children of up to three families although this is likely to change again in the coming months;
  • Parents are being told to use the Family Support NI childcare search for availability of childcare and so it is important that childminders keep the Early Years Team and Family Support NI updated; 
  • Department of Health Minimum Standards must still be observed, with the specified maximum number of children who may be cared for as identified on a childminder’s Registration Certificate;
  • From 29 June 2020, childminders will be able to provide childcare to four families, in their homes at one time on a part-time or full-time basis. This will increase to 5 families in August.

Day Care and School Age Childcare Settings 

  • Providers must first receive endorsement from the Early Years Team in their Health Trust, who will establish if there is sufficient demand, before reopening. The minimum demand should be the lesser of; 

        - 25% of the total number of registered places or 

        - 15 children of key workers and / or vulnerable children.

  • The Trust will continue to work with providers and ensure that care can be provided safely;
  • Further guidance on group size and the possibility of establishing ‘play pods’ will be set out.

Further information and guidance can be found here.

 

‘Safer Schools’ App


A new safeguarding app is now available to teachers as well as parents and carers in Northern Ireland. Parents and carers will be able to access advice on information on social media platforms popular with their children and their friends. School staff will have access to a range of resources as well as up-to-date safeguarding information.


Stay Connected


The Education Authority has developed the Stay Connected website so young people can stay in touch with youth workers, have a chat or access support whilst staying safe at home.

Young people can complete an online form and an EA Youth Service youth worker will get in touch.

The service will run Monday to Friday from 11-2pm and 3-7pm for any young person aged 9 – 25 years old.

 

Childcare Support Scheme


The Department of Health has written to registered childcare providers today regarding emergency measures for childcare.


The letter outlines the process for accessing support available to enable a number of registered daycare settings, school age childcare settings and childminders to remain open for vulnerable children and those of key workers. The letter also explains what support is available for settings which remain closed and are unable to reopen, helping to support the sustainability of the sector.


Childcare providers and childminders who are eligible for financial assistance under the childcare provision scheme will receive an application form early next week.

 

Income Support Scheme for Substitute Teachers


The scheme will ensure that eligible substitute teachers, engaged between 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020, will have access to an income for the period April to June 2020. They will receive an additional income through this scheme which will top up their income to at least 80% of that earned in the period January to March 2020.


Applications can be made through the Department of Education website here.

 

Travel Advice

From 8 June, people entering Northern Ireland from abroad will be told to isolate for 14 days. If you refuse to provide passenger information you may be fined £60. If you leave self-isolation within the 14 day period you may be fined £1,000

There are a number of groups who are exempt, including:

  • Road haulage and freight workers
  • Medical officials who are travelling to help fight coronavirus
  • Anyone arriving from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man
  • Seasonal agricultural workers if they self-isolate on the property where they are working

You do not need to self-isolate if you’re travelling to NI from within the Common Travel Area (CTA).

 

Can I still go abroad?

  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) now advises against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice applies indefinitely as of 6th April.
  • 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?

  • 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.

 

Hotels and other Tourist Accommodation

Plans have been announced to allow hotels and other tourist accommodation to re-open earlier than the original date of 20 July.

Caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation can re-open from Friday 26th June. 

Other tourist accommodation will be permitted to re-open on Friday 3rd July. (Spas and leisure facilities at hotels will not be permitted to re-open at this stage.) 

It is important to note that progress on re-opening will depend on controlling the rate of transmission of the virus.

 

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.
  • Local Councils are beginning to coordinate volunteer efforts via community hubs across Northern Ireland. For more information, visit the website or social media page for your local authority.
  • Tesco Bags of Help COVID-19 Communities Fund - this will fund up to £500 to organisations who are supporting vulnerable groups. For more information and access to online applications click here.

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.

 

Weekly Food Parcels


The Department for Communities has commenced a new weekly service, delivering 10,000 food boxes to the most vulnerable in society during the COVID-19 lockdown.

If you are in need or know of anyone else in need you can contact the Community Helpline on 0808 8020020, email: covid19@adviceni.net or text: ACTION to 82025.

 

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.

 

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 & Expiring Driving Licenses 

Full details can be found here.

The DVA has  reinstated limited Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) testing to ensure supply chains and the health service continue to be supported and is working to expand this service. A statutory authorisation process for ADR vehicles, used for the carriage of dangerous goods has also been introduced.

From 20 July, the DVA plans to resume MOT testing for priority vehicle groups, including those vehicles that are not able to avail of Temporary Exemption Certificates (TECs). This includes taxis and buses due a first time test; vehicles not previously registered in Northern Ireland; vehicles whose MOTs have expired by more than 12 months that includes vehicles previously declared SORN and those sold by car dealerships.

MOT testing for other vehicles such as four year old cars and motorbikes, three year old light goods vehicles and testing of heavy goods vehicles, trailers and buses is planned to commence in August. An exact date will be confirmed once the demand for the initial priority groups has been addressed.  These customers will be sent reminder letters with details of how to book a test at the appropriate time.

There are also plans to reinstate some driver testing services in July for those licence categories, where testing can be done safely in line with PHA advice and guidance on social distancing requirements.  This includes motorbike driver testing, planned from 6 July and tests for drivers of buses, tractors and module 4 CPC tests for lorry, bus and coach drivers, planned from 20 July.

Driver theory tests remain suspended at this time.  DVA officials continue to engage with colleagues in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in GB and it is anticipated a date for the resumption of this service will be confirmed shortly. The Department is also exploring options for an extension to valid theory test pass certificates for those customers whose certificate has, or will expire, during this crisis.

 

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.

 

The UK Government has granted an extension on visas until 31 July for overseas nationals who cannot return home. This will apply to anyone whose leave expired after the 24 January and cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation.

Anyone seeking such an extension must apply using this form.

Further information can be found here.

 

Sports Hardship Fund

New applications to the Sports Hardship Fund have been suspended, pending confirmation of additional funding.

 

 

The Creative Support Fund


Individual artists and creative practitioners, who have lost their work as a result of COVID-19, can apply for funding of up to £500 to take new and innovative approaches in continuing to provide their talents and services to audiences, particularly those facing barriers to the arts.


Applications can be made here.

 

Support For Local Charities 

A £15.5 million fund to help local charities facing financial difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 health emergency will open on Monday 15 June.   

The funding programme will financially support charities that have lost income and are unable to cover unavoidable costs until September 30th 2020.

With up to £75,000 available for eligible organisations, it will be administered on behalf of the Department for Communities by The National Lottery Community Fund. 

Organisations wishing to avail of the fund must meet a number of eligibility points including:

  • Charities that can demonstrate that their fundraising or trading income has reduced due to the impact of COVID -19 and they have unavoidable costs to cover up to 30/9/2020.
  • Charities whose unavoidable costs cannot be covered by existing grants or public funding and are therefore at risk of imminent collapse
  • Charities that have not received other COVID -19  financial support from NI Executive departments such as the Department for the Economy Small Business Support; Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Grant; Microbusiness Hardship Fund or the £6.5m funding provided by the Department of Finance for hospices and charities.

More information can be found here.

 

Holiday Caravan Occupiers


On 23 March 2020 the Government directed that all “non-essential premises” must close with immediate effect. This definition includes “Caravan parks/sites for commercial uses”, which covers holiday and touring caravan parks.
Caravan park licensing is under the control of local Councils and as the majority of council caravan parks are for touring caravans, pitch fees will only be relevant when the guest turns up.
If your caravan is parked in a private caravan park the council will not be able to get involved. We are currently advising people to review their contracts to confirm what the liability is for fees if the park is closed.

 

Looking after your pets & livestock during the crisis


The Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs has published guidance for looking after your pets & livestock during the pandemic. The full guidance can be viewed here

 

Should I still walk my dog if I have to self-isolate?


If you have to self-isolate then you should arrange for someone outside your household to walk your dog.


Am I allowed to leave my house to walk someone else’s dog if they are not able to do it?


Yes, you are allowed to leave your house to help someone who is vulnerable. Walking someone’s dog comes into this category.


What if my pet needs to see a vet?


All non-essential visits to the vet should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment then please call your vet to put an arrangement in place.


I’m a livestock farmer and I need to self-isolate. What should I do?


If you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, or any other types of livestock you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals.
If you cannot find someone to help then please contact DAERA directly on 0300 200 7852


I own a horse. How should I care for it during the lockdown?


If you have a horse in livery, you can visit but your trip should be combined with your daily exercise. You must not visit them if you are self-isolating. You should contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements. If your horse needs a farrier, then you should phone the farrier to arrange the best approach to meet your horses’ needs. You and the farrier must ensure that you keep 2 metres apart, and wash your hands before and after contact with the horse.

 

Advice for Farmers


The Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the Ulster Farmers’ Union have advised that farmers should make plans to ensure their farm can keep running in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak in order to protect the food supply chain in Northern Ireland.

Precautionary steps to reduce potential impacts on the farm include;

  • Identify who you can ask to help and know what skills or knowledge they need to work on your farm.
  • Write down the daily work plan to include what is happening on the farm, which stock are where, what feed they are receiving, animal health treatments, grazing rotation, etc.
  • Provide operating instructions for all machinery and equipment, for example the milking parlour routine, the automatic systems in the hen broiler, pig house and don’t forget the things often taken for granted like checking the meal hasn’t bridged in the bin.
  • Assess feed, fertiliser, oil, medicines, disinfectants and other critical inputs. Where stocks are low, replenish but don’t stockpile.
  • Provide everyone with a list of emergency contacts, i.e. the private veterinary practitioner, technical advisers, local contractors.
  • Ensure everyone is multi-skilled where possible, i.e. everyone could milk the cows if necessary.

Farmers should also be aware that they are eligible for the self-employment grant as covered in the 'Advice for self employed people' above.

 

Rollover of 2020 Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme into 2021


In view of the cancellation of this year’s Gaeltacht Summer Courses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary scheme will be rolled over into 2021. Successful applicants from the 2020 scheme will be given the chance to attend the summer colleges next year instead. Deposits will be paid to Irish Language colleges in the current year in order to secure available places.


Macmillan Cancer Support


Macmillan Support Line open Mon-Sun 9-5 and free to call: 08088080000
Comprehensive cancer information and support, including guidance on how coronavirus might affect cancer care is available on www.macmillan.org.uk


List of Essential Businesses:


Stormont ministers have confirmed that the following essential retail services should continue to trade:


Supermarkets (excluding any cafes within them), convenience stores and corner shops
Grocery markets – not including farmers markets, hot food markets or street food markets.
Local fresh food suppliers like butchers, fishmongers and bakeries.
Hot food takeaways - over the counter services only and not allowing an option to eat in.
Pharmacies/Chemists and Health food shops.
Dental surgeries, opticians, audiology, physiotherapy, chiropody and other professional vocational medical services – for urgent appointments only.
Veterinary clinics and pet shops.
Newsagents.
Hardware and building supplies stores.
Retail services in hospitals.
Petrol stations, garages, and auto repair shops for urgent work only.
High street banks, credit unions and cash points.
Post offices.
Funeral directors, crematoriums and related.
Laundrettes and dry cleaners.
Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop-off points.
Medical or storage services.
Public car parks in towns and cities near food takeaway services.
Public toilets.


The following non-essential retail services should close immediately:


Clothes shops.
Electronics shops.
Hair, beauty and nail salons.
All other non-essential retail shops
All other indoor and outdoor markets including non-food markets and car boot sales.
Hotels, hostels, Bed and Breakfasts, Caravan Parks, Camping sites, Boarding Houses – except where caravans and mobile homes are being used as permanent residences and where hotels are providing emergency accommodation.
Libraries.
Community centres and youth centres.
Places of worship – all churches should close to services except for funeral services. Weddings and baptisms should be postponed. If clergy want to live-stream for church services, they are free to do so.
All indoor recreation sites such as bowling alleys, arcades, soft play areas.
Enclosed spaces in public parks such as playgrounds, tennis courts and outdoor gyms.

 

 

Support for Cross-Border Workers


For information on where to claim financial support at this time, visit this link.