Your Questions to Government and Latest Answers - Update

28 May 2020 Geoff Nuttall    Last updated: 23 Jun 2020

NICVA has been gathering and seeking answers to the questions you have been posing to Government in the current Covid-19 emergency.  Read the latest answers here.

What is the government guidance on safely returning to work?

Both NI Direct and the PHA’s Covid-19 web pages[1] signpost to this page for businesses and employers - https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidance-and-priority-sector-list-published which contains guidance for employer organisations on returning to work and operating safely.  It also includes links to other relevant guidance.

NI Business Info guidance for businesses and employers

The link above takes you to this workplace safety guide, and this list of priority sectors.  These were both produced by the NI Executive based on the advice of the ‘NI Engagement Forum’, a Forum established by the Executive and described as “a collaboration of business organisations, trade unions and key statutory bodies, to advise Government on how best to manage the challenge of COVID-19 as it applies to the NI Economy / Labour Market”

Whilst the above document does not make specific mention of voluntary and community organisations, it does include sectors in which VCSE organisations are active, such as health and social care.  Under the health section it includes – “Social Workers and social care activities” and “Any private provider assisting the public sector in delivery of these services.”

Health & Saftey Executive (HSE) advice on working safely (including risk assessments)

The HSE also provides guidance on working safely here -

https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/index.htm

including sections with the following headings –

NICVA is engaging with government departments and in particular the Department of the Health to encourage further clear guidance to be made available through their communication channels for organisations returning to work during the current Covid-19, including voluntary and community organisations.  

[1] NI Direct link - workplace safety guide and priority business sector list PHA link -https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus

For further information and advice on returning to work see also this recent NICVA article - https://www.nicva.org/article/returning-to-work

What government funding is available to sector organisations to deal with the impacts of Covid-19?

The confirmed sources of Government funding for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations currently available in NI are listed on the NICVA website here 

  • UK Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme HMRC (see - here)
  • DfC Discretionary Support Scheme (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)
  • DfC COVID-19 Creative Support Fund.  For artists and institutions​
  • DfC emergency sports fund.  For grassroots sports organisations

Northern Ireland is also set to receive around £22 million from the Covid-19 funding package for UK charities announced on the 8th April. See - https://www.nicva.org/article/chancellor-s-announcement-of-750m-to-support-charities-what-s-happening-in-northern-ireland Details of the priorities, eligibility, delivery mechanisms and applications procedures for this funding in Northern Ireland are still being finalised.  NICVA will publish details of these as soon as they are confirmed

Can sector organisations access the Covid-19 support grants being offered to businesses?

Invest NI has indicated on its NI business website www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk that voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations are not eligible to receive the Covid-19 Small Business Support Grant Scheme, which offers grants of £10,000 provided to all small businesses who are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme.  NICVA has been raising concerns about this exclusion on behalf of social enterprise organisations. 

Invest NI also administers £25,000 grants for (businesses) in the hospitality, retail, tourism and leisure sectors.  Whilst the guidance on their website doesn’t explicitly exclude social enterprises working in these sectors, organisations are reporting to NICVA that their applications have been rejected.  In some case this appears to be because maximum eligible NAV thresholds are being applied on the non-rateable premises of charities, rather than on the rateable commercial elements of their operation.  Again NICVA is urging that the flexibility is applied to enable social enterprises in these sector struggling to survive to access these grant and continue to deliver both economic and social/environmental benefits in their areas. 

Invest NI has indicated that if there are changes to these schemes, any new information will be updated on NI Business Info website.  https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/ It should also be noted that social enterprise organisations may be eligible for some or all of the above sources of government funding

Update on 28.05.20 -

See below the latest Department for the Economy response in relation to the non-eligibility of Social Enterprises with charitable status for some of the Covid-19 business support grants (10K grants, Hardship Fund)

"Whilst the Department recognises the important and valuable contribution of the social enterprise sector to the local community, it is aware that some businesses, including social enterprises, do not qualify for Business £10k or £25k business support grant schemes.

The Small Business Support Grant provided a one-off grant of £10,000 to businesses that are currently in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief or Industrial Derating, and have a total Net Annual Value of £15,000 and below. If a business receives another form of rates relief, unfortunately they were not eligible for this grant.

The Business Support Grant of £25,000 is available for businesses in the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors with a total NAV of between £15,001 and £51,000. Businesses outside these sectors are not eligible for the grant. A social enterprise business with charitable status may have been eligible for the £25k scheme if its main function relates to the defined sectors.

Social Enterprises (that do not have charitable status) are eligible for the Microbusiness Hardship Fund if they meet the criteria set out for Fund.

Those in this sector should visit the www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk website, where information on a range of UK-wide schemes and advice for the self-employed is available and is updated regularly to capture any developments."

  

 

Can barriers to migrant workers accessing Covid-19-related government support be removed?

The UK Cabinet Office indicated on 08.04.20 that -

Regarding the NRPF condition – The Home Office are willing to look again at the wording in tandem with DWP and NIE's Department for Communities but in the meantime they have confirmed that ‘contributory’ employment and support allowance and statutory sick pay are not classed as public funds. In addition, the coronavirus job retention scheme and self-employment income support scheme, protection for renters and mortgage holidays are also not classed as public funds and so those currently marked as NRPF should be able to apply. Currently it is only the discretionary grant that is classed as public funds for immigration purposes.

EEA Nationals - DWP are drafting further guidance to deal with universal credit applications from EEA nationals as pragmatically as possible. I'm hoping this means that they will not have to go through the usual lengthy residency processes but I have asked DWP to confirm directly.

Further update on 30.04.20 - New gov.uk page available re support for migrants living in the UK  A new gov.uk page has just gone live which explains the support people can get if they do not have permission to live permanently in the UK. It can be accessed via this link:​ https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-get-support-if-youre-a-migrant-living-in-the-ukAdvice sent by Housing Rights last week in relation to housing matters might also be useful https://www.housingadviceni.org/coronavirus

Which VCSE volunteers are classified as ‘Key Workers’?

For the purposes of being eligible for childcare in schools for children of Key Workers this is being dealt through individual negotiation by parents with schools
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (NI) 2020 (below) provides volunteers with a “reasonable excuse” to be out and about, without a requirement for proof, see extract below -
(d)    to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 2 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007([1]), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;
(f)     to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;
Volunteers and organisations hosting volunteers are urged to read Volunteer Now’s comprehensive guidance available here: https://www.volunteernow.co.uk/information-resources-related-to-covid-19/ 

Can Government funders apply flexibility with part-funded posts to allow 100% grant to be allocated to some posts whilst furloughing other staff?

Following representation by NICVA, the Department of Communities has changed its position and will consider this flexibility.  For more details and how to apply see -​​https://www.nicva.org/article/government-responds-to-nicva-calls-for-flexibility-to-furlough-staff

Can I furlough workers recruited before the 28th Feb but not starting till after, or annual seasonal staff?

​​UK Treasury (HMT) has confirmed the scheme is open to any individual who was on an employer’s PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020. Full guidance can be found at: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme . This should cover seasonal workers who have been on payroll for a long time even if not in season on 28th Feb.

HMT has chosen the Feb date to reduce the substantial risk of fraud associated in delivering such a large-scale program at pace. This means those employed on or after 1 March are excluded from the scheme, and while there is flexibility for those who were recruited before, and started work before but needed to be added to payroll later, there is no flexibility for those who were recruited before 28th February but who did not start work until after March 1st. There would need to be large scale compelling evidence to revisit this particular decision​

Can the PHA update its Covid-19 web page to include explicit guidance on safe volunteering and providing support safely? ​​

This issue has been raised with the PHA via DfC and directly by NICVA​

Is there a similar mechanism for Northern Ireland to the gov.uk register of vulnerable people​ https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable​

​​There is currently no similar register of vulnerable people for Northern Ireland nor a central database of those who have received ‘shielding letters.’  For individual enquiries on this, people are urged to phone the Covid-19 Community Helpline on 0800 802 0020

For Covid-19 related advice for vulnerable people see also - https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-vulnerable-people

Can Carers Allowance in NI be increased to cover additional overheads due to the Covid-19 crisis?

Government has so far agreed that there should be no break in Carers Allowance. ​see:

After UK Govt published their plan for social care in response to Covid-19, Carers UK issued a further statement, included a call for rise in Carers Allowance during the COVID 19 crisis

Call for rise in Carers Allowance -

https://www.carersuk.org/northernireland/news-ni/carers-uk-reacts-to-government-s-adult-social-care-plan-on-coronavirus

Update from Department for Communities 24.04.20 -

The Department has introduced two important temporary measures to help unpaid carers through the current COVID-19 emergency:

  • Unpaid carers will be able to continue to claim Carer’s Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring, because either they or the person they care for becomes infected with coronavirus or has to self-isolate because of it.
  • Providing “emotional support” to a severely disabled person will also now count towards the Carer’s Allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week.

The rate of Carer’s Allowance was increased to £67.25 a week from April 2020 as part of the annual benefits up-rating exercise. 

Carers on low incomes can access additional financial support through income-related benefits and their associated carer premiums/additions.

 

Carers claiming Universal Credit will also be able to benefit from the increase in the standard allowance (around £1000 a year) recently announced.

In addition, those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance may, depending on their circumstances, be eligible to access the range of other emergency financial support that my Department is providing, including Discretionary Support.

The government response to COVID-19 continues to evolve and the Department’s website is kept up to date with changes and easements made to all benefits in response to the pandemic - you can find this at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-and-benefits.

To ensure a person is in receipt of all the money and support they are entitled to they can contact the Department’s Make the Call Service on Freephone number 0800 232 1271.​

 ([1])   S.I. 2007/1351 (N.I. 11). Sub-paragraph (3B) was substituted, with sub-paragraphs (1) to (3) and (3A) to (3E) for sub-paragraphs (1) to (3) by s. 78 of and paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 7 to, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (c. 9)

07.05.20 - Scottish government announces top-up of carer's allowance see - https://welfareweekly.com/coronavirus-scottish-unpaid-carers-set-to-rece...

Why are Government not making any changes to the Benefit Cap in response to COVID-19  (ie temporarily lifting the cap)?

Response from the Department from Work and Pensions via Social Security Policy & Legislation Division within Department for Communities NI:

‘’At this unprecedented time, the Government has quickly and effectively introduced over £6.5bn of measures that benefit those facing the most financial disruption.

DWP  is experiencing significant increased demand and so the Government has to prioritise the safety and stability of the benefits system overall.

There are no changes in respect of the benefit cap, which means that some claimants will have a limit on the total amount of benefits they can receive, as such the following continues to apply:

  • Universal Credit claimants with household earnings of at least £604 in an assessment period, which can include statutory sick pay, employer sick pay and earnings from self-employment, will continue to be exempt from the cap.
  • In addition, Universal Credit claimants may benefit from a nine-month ‘grace period’ where their benefit will not be capped if they have a sustained work record. i.e. monthly earnings of at least £569 (£604 from April 2020) for the past year. 
  • Housing Benefit claimants who are entitled to Working Tax Credit will continue to be exempt from the cap.
  • Exemptions will continue to apply for the most vulnerable claimants that are entitled to disability benefits and carer benefits. 
  • People  can approach the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for a Discretionary Housing Payment if they need additional support to meet rental costs. ‘’
geoff.nuttall@nicva.org's picture
by Geoff Nuttall

Head of Policy and Public Affairs

[email protected]

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