Sources of guidance and support on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Share
Reading Time: 25 minutes

 

A colour image showing COVID-19 virus cells

In order to provide support to Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), the Research and Information Service (RaISe) has produced this round-up of trusted, authoritative sources providing guidance and support relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We will do our best to keep this information updated on a regular basis.

This article was last updated on 30 April 2020.

For ease of navigation, the article is broken down into the following sections:

Key sources of information

The Northern Ireland (NI) Executive has a webpage on NI Direct for all of its coronavirus information. This includes specific sections on staying at home and self-isolation, hand hygiene, coronavirus and the benefit system, business and employers, essential businesses and services, access to government services, advice for educational settings, and travel advice. NI Direct has also published advice for vulnerable people including where to get help with food and medicines; the webpage has details of a freephone helpline to assist vulnerable groups to access information.

The UK Government has published a guide for individuals and businesses in Northern Ireland. It has also published an explanation of the powers in the coronavirus emergency legislation, which will apply in Northern Ireland.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March, the UK Government published guidance on staying at home and away from people. It also published a full list of the businesses and premises that must close.

General advice services

Please note that advice services may be experiencing increased demand for services during this time. Many are no longer offering face-to-face appointments in order to protect the safety of clients and staff but can be reached by telephone. Please refer to advice service websites for instructions on how to contact the service.

Advice NI can be reached via telephone and email using the following contact details:

Age NI, in conjunction with the Commission for Older People, is offering a free check-in and chat telephone service for the over 60s in NI who feel isolated during this time.

Law Centre NI provides advice on social security, employment, health and social care, and immigration and asylum. They can be contacted on 02890 244401 (Monday to Friday, 9am–5pm) or if phone lines are busy by email [email protected]; Law Centre NI has also published:

The Women’s Aid Federation provides a 24hr domestic and sexual abuse helpline 0808 802 1414; links for local groups can be found here.

NICVA states that it will continue to help and provide support to the voluntary and community sector. It has a dedicated webpage providing information for organisations managing the impact of COVID-19. NICVA has also provided a list of potential funder’s websites and provides other funding advice and information resources.

CO3, which supports chief executives in the third sector, has provided a set of templates to assist organisations on issues such as forming a COVID-19 policy, working from home protocol, sending furlough letters to staff, and other issues.

The Consumer Council has set up a Coronavirus: Important Consumer Advice service, including specific sections on travel, home energy, personal finances, postal services, water, shopping and food safety, avoiding scams, and telecoms. Some of these are also referred to under the relevant sections below.

Housing Rights provides a useful directory of advice services which is searchable by council area and by service (for example, addiction services, organisations for disabled people, children’s organisations etc).

Borderpeople has published advice and support on unemployment and other social security payments for cross-border workers. The information is available to download here.

 

Volunteering

Volunteer Now has published three ‘good practice papers’ which are available to download here:

  • Good Practice Considerations for Groups involving Volunteers in Response to COVID-19;
  • Good Practice Guidelines for Volunteers when Volunteering for a COVID-19 Opportunity; and
  • Informal Volunteering in Response to COVID-19 – Keeping Yourself and Others Safe.

Volunteer Now has also added a #HelpEachOther section on its website for individuals wishing to volunteer and for organisations that would like to promote volunteering opportunities.

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’.

The Trussell Trust network of foodbanks is seeking volunteers to help their local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic (eg warehouse helpers and drivers). Further details are available to download here.

The British Red Cross is seeking community reserve volunteers to help their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further details are available to download here.

NI Direct provides information on Emergency Volunteering Leave, whereby a new, temporary, statutory right is available for eligible workers to take such leave to help the health and social care system in response to the coronovirus outbreak.

The Community Development Health Network (CDHN) has issued guidance, agreed with the Department of Health, for organisations providing volunteers to help with the distribution of medicines in local communities and manging visitors to local pharmacies. The guidance can be downloaded here.

A virtual community hub, including a dedicated helpline (Freephone 0800 587 4695) has been set up by Belfast City Council to support residents during the coronavirus pandemic. The hub will provide assistance to Belfast residents to help co-ordinate the distribution of food parcels in partnership with the Department for Communities. It will also provide advice on jobs and benefits, practical assistance such as collecting prescriptions, and offers emotional support if needed. Further information is available here. In addition to the community helpline a dedicated email address has also been set up for Belfast residents [email protected]

 

Health & social care

The latest official health advice from the Public Health Agency can be found on their dedicated webpages on COVID-19.

The latest scientific and technical advice provided to support government decision-making in its response to COVID-19 can be found on the UK Government webpage, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has a dedicated section on its website to provide information on any regular health and social care services that may be impacted as a result of coronavirus. It states that information for each of the Health and Social Care Trusts will be updated weekly.

The Department of Health has launched a dedicated COVID-19 app with immediate advice and links to trusted information. An online version of the app has also been created. The Department has put together a statistics dashboard to enable the progression of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland to be monitored.

The NHS Confederation has set up a COVID-19 page to provide the latest information, guidance and support for health and care leaders.

Progress on the different vaccines and treatments can be tracked via resources provided by RAPS and the Milken Institute.

The Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) has a FAQ section on its website for registrants, providers and people using social care services during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Royal College of Nursing has created a set of COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQs covering issues such as what nursing staff can do to protect themselves, what they should expect from their employer and what to do if they have concerns.

Maternity Services in Northern Ireland during COVID-19: To help answer any questions that pregnant women may have about their pregnancy, maternity care or childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Health Agency has developed a comprehensive online resource which can be found here. Each of the HSC trusts have also set up a dedicated regional helpline, staffed by midwives which is available 9am to 5pm Monday–Friday and 9am–1pm Saturday and Sunday.

  • Northern Area HSC Trust: 028 9442 4859
  • South Eastern HSC Trust: 028 37563702
  • Belfast HSC Trust: 028 961 51173
  • Western HSC Trust: Altnagelvin Hospital 028 71611412 or South West Acute 028 66382175

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also published information for pregnant women and their families on COVID-19 and pregnancy.

Family Health Partnerships: The family nurse partnership is an Intensive home visiting service for first time teenage mums. Information on some of the changes to the provision of this service during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.

Caring for a sick child during the COVID-19 pandemic: The HSC are encouraging parents not to take risks with a sick child and to continue seeking help as normal by contacting your GP or in the case where you think your child is seriously ill by attending the appropriate A&E department. More information about caring for a sick child and when to seek help can be found here.

The Pharmaceutical Society NI has a COVID-19 page with regulatory statements and frequently asked questions.

Smoking and COVID-19: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a short section which explains why smokers may be at increased risk during the COVID-19 pandemic which can be found here. For those who would like information on quitting smoking, the PHA has a dedicate website with plenty of resources which can be found here.

Lung Conditions and COVID-19: Asthma UK has a dedicated section on its website which provides COVID-19 related health advice for people with asthma. The British Lung Foundation also has a dedicated advice section for those living with various Lung Conditions which can be found here.

The British Heart Foundation has created guidance on coronavirus: what it means for you if you have heart or circulatory disease.

Carers UK has created a coronavirus guidance resource which sets out the current government guidance as it relates to carers and offers suggestions for making plans. The page also includes a Wellbeing Action Plan with some tailored tips on keeping a positive frame of mind.

Age UK has created a coronavirus section on its website which covers issues directly relating to older people. The section provides useful tips for staying safe and well at home and how to cope with feelings of anxiety around coronavirus.

The Mental Health Foundation has a dedicated section which offers advice and support on how to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. It also provides a useful section on talking to children about the coronavirus.

Aware NI has published a reminder about its resource ‘a guide to looking after the mental health of you and your baby’, which may be used by families needing extra support during this period.

The organisation Youngminds has an advice page on its website which provides advice for young people who may have be feeling anxious as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The British Dental Association has set up a resource on its website to provide information for dental practitioners during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Oral Health Foundation also has an advice section for the public on how regular dental services will be affected during the coronavirus outbreak and how to access care in the event of an emergency.

Cancer Research UK has also added a COVID-19 information section to its website for anyone who is affected by cancer.

WellChild, a UK charity for children with complex needs and disabilities, has an information section for parents and carers which covers treatment plans, carers, hospital appointments and signposts to other resources.

The Chief Social Worker for Northern Ireland is urging people to look after their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak and outlines a number of resources currently available including:

  • The Health and Social Care Northern Ireland COVID-19 app (also referred to above) which provides advice and links to online mental health support;
  • Tips from the Public Health Agency on how to look after your mental health;
  • NI Direct advice on taking care of your mental health and wellbeing; and
  • The 24/7 Lifeline helpline which is available on 0808 808 8000.

 

Personal finances

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has confirmed additional temporary financial relief measures, beginning on 14 April 2020, on loans, credit cards, overdrafts and other forms of credit for customers impacted by coronavirus. It also proposes to further extend the measures already in place to include help for motor finance and high cost credit customers, although this would not come into effect until after 24 April.

The debt charity Step Change has published a dedicated online resource for debt and coronavirus.

The Consumer Council has a section in its coronavirus advice pages on Personal Finances, including information on sick pay, mortgages, benefits, overdrafts, bank loans and what banks are doing to help consumers. It also has a section on scams relating to COVID-19 and how to avoid falling for them.

The Money Advice Service has provided advice on financial help in relation to the effects of coronavirus, including a section on coronavirus and your money. Resources include advice on what to do if you have problems paying your rent or mortgage, information on coronavirus scams, and where to find free, confidential debt advice if you have debt worries. The Money Advice Service also provides information on how mortgage payment holidays work and the circumstances in which a consumer may be granted one.

The UK Government has agreed with mortgage lenders that they will offer repayment holidays of three months to households in financial difficulty due to COVID-19. This has been extended to buy-to-let mortgages. Answers to some frequently asked questions are on the UK Finance website; the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) website may also be useful.

Money Saving Expert also provides advice, including financial product help on mortgages, loans, credit cards, overdrafts and savings products.

The British Retail Consortium has announced that the contactless card payment spending limit would be increased from £30 to £45, with roll-out beginning on 1st April.

The UK Government Guidance: Closing certain businesses and venues notes the following exceptions: high street banks, building societies, short-term loan providers, credit unions and cash points. Many high street banks are operating reduced branch hours and information can be found on individual websites. The Irish League of Credit Unions (governing some credit unions in NI) has issued a statement on COVID-19 with some frequently asked questions.

 

Consumer rights and insurance

The FCA support for consumers includes advice on the steps which can be taken to remain aware of any possible impact on personal finances.

The Association of British InsurersCoronavirus Information Hub includes advice, guidance, and common questions relating to insurance products and long-term savings products.

The UK Government Competition and Markets Authority has issued a statement on sales and pricing practices during the coronavirus outbreak.

Money Saving Expert provides advice on consumer rights in relation to cancelled events, subscriptions, bill help, and other issues.

 

Employment

The NIBUSINESSINFO.CO.UK website offers coronavirus updates for employers and employees including support for employers managing staff health, pay, leave and absence.

The Department for Communities has  issued a reminder that local employers can advertise jobs for free via EmployersOnlineNI.com.

The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) is producing regular updates for voluntary and community organisations on employment related issues arising from the Coronavirus outbreak. These include:

The Labour Relations Agency has created a new homepage with COVID-19 advice for employers and employees. This contains useful information on issues such as working from home and social distancing whilst at work (particularly for the vulnerable). It also has guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), including a sample furlough letter, and a useful section on self-isolation and sick pay.

The UNITE union offers updates on coronavirus issues for members. These include advice for furloughed workers, employee rights while schools are closed, and support for the self-employed.

Trade union NIPSA has published several coronavirus webpages offering employment advice to members. These include help for agency workers, occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic and advice for Department for Communities staff living with vulnerable persons.

The think tank the Resolution Foundation has produced a useful, straightforward guide to the recent UK Government packages of support for pay and incomes due to the coronavirus.

The House of Commons Library has published a set of FAQs on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

 

Social security

The Department for Communities (DfC) provides COVID-19 service updates containing the latest information about COVID-19 and DfC services. The Department states that the webpage will be updated regularly with the latest information, and advises people to check their page for advice on benefits and other public services.

The Minister for Communities has outlined measures to ensure people continue to have secure accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Steps include assurance for social and private tenants; those who have purchased their homes through Co-ownership; as well as crucial support to those experiencing homelessness. The Minister also announced that the Housing Executive, which leads on the response to homelessness, has a central COVID-19 team in place and has sourced additional accommodation. Further information is available to download here.

NI Direct Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Benefits: this page provides information for people claiming benefits, or considering claiming benefits, during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is stated on NI Direct that the page will be updated frequently. The page contains information and advice on:

  • Appointments at Jobs and Benefit Offices
  • Jobseekers Allowance and Signing On
  • Benefit Payments
  • Arrangements for contact with Work Coaches
  • Claiming Universal Credit
  • New arrangements for Make the Call
  • The suspension of the Access to Work Programme
  • Postponement of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) appointments and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appointments at appointment centres
  • How to Claim PIP and ESA
  • Eligibility for statutory sick pay
  • Tax Credits
  • Universal Credit

NI Direct provides guidance on statutory sick pay and COVID-19.

Financial Support information is available on NI Direct including Discretionary Support; Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment; Short-term Benefit Advance; Sure Start Maternity Grant; Budgeting Loans; Cold Weather Payments.

A number of key announcements have been made by the NI Executive in recent weeks regarding social security measures, including:

  • 24 March 2020 – Minister for Communities announces enhancements to the Discretionary Support Scheme to further support people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • 24 March 2020 – Minister for Communities announces the suspension of reviews and reassessments for health and disability benefits for the next three months;
  • 20 March 2020 – Minister for Communities announces the release of £200,000 for Coronavirus Community Fund;
  • 18 March 2020 – Minister for Communities outlines initial support for Community and Voluntary Groups in response to COVID-19; and
  • 26 March 2020 – The Communities Minister and the Education Minister have announced plans in respect of free school meals.
  • 5 April 2020 – Minister for Communities announces thousands to benefit from a Food Parcels Service.

 

Community funding

Community Foundation NI’s Coronavirus Community Fund is open to groups working with people of all ages at increased risk as a result of the virus. Funding of between £1,000 and £10,000 may be available. Further details on the fund is available here.

Community Foundation NI is working with Comic Relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver the No Child Goes Hungry: Community Support Programme. Grants of up to £2,500 may be available to constituted community and voluntary organisations. Further information is available to download here.

Supporting Communities’ Special Coronavirus Funding Bulletin provides information on a number of funding opportunities including details on special coronavirus funding by local councils.

Tesco Community Grants: Tesco Bags of Help COVID-19 Communities Fund is setting up a new short-term fund to support local communities. There is a streamlined application process and a single payment award of £500 may be available to organisations who support vulnerable groups. Further information is available to download here.

The National Emergencies Trust (NET) is launching a fundraising appeal to help those most affected by COVID-19. Individuals and charities should not apply directly to NET for funding, this will be distributed by local community foundations.

The National Lottery Community Fund provides funding for groups responding to the COVID-19 situation.

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has announced changes to the way in which it will deliver its services in response to COVID-19 – further information on annual reporting, charity registration, and advice regarding charity meetings and AGMs is available here.

The National Lotteries Community Fund has provided a webpage with updates on funding in relation to COVID-19. It has announced that all funding decisions it makes over the next six months will be devoted to addressing the current COVID-19 crisis. Further information can be downloaded here.

NICVA is offering free access to its GrantTracker database for one month during the COVID-19 crisis. Given the negative impact COVID-19 is having on fundraising, the database may help provide access to funding sources on both COVID-related grants and grants to support work after the pandemic. Further information is available here. NICVA has also highlighted that Crowdfunder is currently waiving their platform and transactional fees to help organisations in finding funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Halifax Foundation NI provides small and medium grant programmes; the organisation has announced that any COVID-19 related applications designed to support the community will be prioritised.

The UK Chancellor has announced a £750m package of support to ensure that frontline charities across the UK can continue their vital work during the coronavirus outbreak. Of this, £60 million will be allocated to the devolved administrations and further Barnett allocations may follow depending on the final proposals funded through the direct grant pot. For further information see the Chancellor’s announcement.

 

Housing

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has published a dedicated webpage on COVID-19 containing information on arrangements for contacting local offices; the availability of online services; homelessness advice; rent arrears; repairs; Housing Benefit payments. It also contains a list of contact numbers including, for example, contact details for repairs and out of hours homeless help.

The latest edition of the Department for Communities Private Rented Sector Landlord Newsletter offers advice to landlords who have tenants experiencing financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Housing Executive, in conjunction with the Department for Communities, is working urgently to secure additional accommodation for those threatened with, or experiencing, homelessness. If anyone has accommodation which they could make available they are asked to contact [email protected] stating the location and size of property and their contact details.

The Minister for Communities has announced her intention to bring forward a Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Bill 2020 to provide private tenants with additional protections during the COVID-19 period. The Bill will ensure that landlords are required to give tenants 12 weeks’ notice to quit before seeking a court order to begin proceedings to evict. The Department also states that the Lord Chief Justice’s Office has announced courts will only be listing urgent matters. Once a landlord has served a notice to quit on a tenant, they can then only get possession of the property through an application to the court and these matters are not deemed urgent matters at this time.

The Department for Communities has also published a guidance document ‘COVID-19 Guidance for Private Rented Sector Landlords and Tenants’ which provides general advice and information for tenants and landlords in the private rented sector covering issues such a advice on rent payments, the carrying out of emergency repairs and information on minimising moves with rented accommodation and eviction proceedings. The guidance will be kept under review and updated as matters develop.

The Minister has also announced that the Housing Executive’s rent increase of 2.7% that was due to come into effect on 6 April will now not come into effect until 1 October 2020.

Housing Rights has published information on the COVID-19 pandemic for mortgage holders; it covers mortgage payment holidays including for those with existing payment difficulties, borrowers with existing agreements to repay mortgage arrears, and court action in relation to mortgage arrears.

The Department of Health has published COVID-19: Guidance for Homeless Providers in Northern Ireland.

The Crisis Cover Initiative involving leading homeless organisations in Northern Ireland has issued an urgent appeal to ask members of the public to register as COVID-19 emergency staff. A range of skill sets and roles are required including reception and cleaning staff, support workers and night staff. All positions are paid roles. For further information see the Simon Community website here.

Housing Rights provides a housing and debt helpline on 028 90245640 (Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 4.30pm); they can also be contacted by email. Information on tenant’s rights and other housing issues is available on their Housing Advice NI website. Landlords and estate or letting agents can call the Landlord Advice line for information relating to private tenancies, on 028 90245640 (open Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 2.30pm). Housing Rights has provided a dedicated webpage for information on COVID-19. It currently contains information on claiming benefits, advice for private renters and advice for landlords on steps they can take if a tenant’s income becomes affected as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) has published a series of FAQs for housing association tenants, staff and sector partners.

Supporting Communities has published a new blog article on tenant participation in the time of coronavirus to disseminate ideas on proactive participation in communities and practical actions for housing providers.

UK Finance, which represents the banking and finance industry, has provided a list of FAQs following the Chancellor’s announcement on 17 March that borrowers in financial difficulty can apply for a mortgage repayment holiday of up to three months. UK Finance advises that customers who are concerned about their current financial situation should get in touch with their lender at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss whether or not this is a suitable option for them. On 18 March, UK Finance made a further announcement signalling the mortgage industry’s support to offer a ‘payment holiday’ of up to three months to residential buy-to-let landlords who have tenants who are experiencing financial difficulties.

Propertypal is urging those with vacant properties to consider letting them out to a health worker for free or a nominal fee. Propertypal will advertise the property for free.

The Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association has published a range of information including FAQs for existing customers and for new customers which may arise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-ownership has advised that from 27 March it is pausing applications from new customers and also new valuation requests for both equity and home purchases given that these activities involve visits to customers’ homes. The UK Government has released guidance about moving home during the pandemic and Co-ownership is asking its customers who are currently buying through co-ownership or selling their home to bear this guidance in mind.

Campbell Tickell has announced that it has been commissioned to co-ordinate liaison between Northern Ireland’s homeless accommodation providers and statutory agencies in Northern Ireland during the pandemic.

The Housing Executive has announced the temporary suspension of the House Sales Scheme from 25 March 2020 due to the latest guidance on COVID-19 (this will be for an initial period of eight weeks). Those with an existing appliance will have their case paused (ie not cancelled) and normal working arrangements will resume as soon as possible.

The Chartered Institute of Housing has published a range of useful resources on a range of issues in response to the COVID-19 pandemic including supporting vulnerable tenants, working with migrants and refugees, gas safety and dealing with anti-social behaviour. Some of the publications are applicable to the English and Welsh housing sectors specifically but some of the more general advice is useful for both the social and private housing sectors in Northern Ireland.

 

Food

The Consumer Council has a section in its coronavirus advice pages on shopping and food safety, including information and updates about shop closures, changes to opening hours, food safety and a note on pricing practices.

According to DAERA, food supply chains are operating and fully functional at this time and there is no need for panic buying.

In response to increased demand for food a number of food processors are actively recruiting staff and details of available posts can be found here.

A Facebook group, ‘Who is delivering? Northern Ireland’, has been set up to share information on businesses which are delivering food, groceries and pre-made meals. The team behind the Facebook group has now created an interactive map showing the location of food shops which are delivering at the current time.

 

Childcare, education & further education

The Department of Education has created a webpage with the latest information in relation to COVID-19 and its impact on education services. It also has a page providing a list of resources to assist children with learning during the period of school closures due to COVID-19.

The Education Authority has also created a COVID-19 webpage providing updates on measures introduced regarding the delivery of education and associated support services in Northern Ireland. It has also published information for key workers to assist them in finding a school in a suitable location, if their usual school is not open. Key workers can complete a placement request form if their school is not open and EA officers will process requests and respond as soon as possible.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools has put together a number of resources and statements on its website.

Employers For Childcare operates the Family Benefits Advice Service which provides free, impartial and confidential advice on childcare issues, including the financial support available and helping key workers identify suitable childcare. They can be contacted on 0800 028 3008 or on email [email protected].

The Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership has created a resource pack to help families with ‘structure, learning and fun’ in their daily routine during this difficult time.

The National Autistic Society has created an advice page for parents of children with Autism, with tips and strategies for coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Health has provided a bespoke home childcare scheme in operation for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, including details for parents who are key workers and require the services of an approved home childcarer.

Both the Ulster University and Queen’s University have developed dedicated COVID-19 webpages on their websites to provide information to students, staff and potential applicants. The information on these webpages is being updated on a regular basis.

The higher education policy website, WONKE, issues a weekly ‘WONKHE Mondays’ email briefing, containing the latest news and analysis of how higher education in the UK is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.

 The local FE colleges have also produced dedicated advice through individual webpages as follows:

Business & industry

The Finance Minister, Conor Murphy MLA, issued a news release on 24 March setting out measures to support suppliers and businesses impacted by COVID-19, following on from a statement regarding support for agency workers in the Civil Service.

The UK Government has created a page with information for businesses and employers in Northern Ireland, including changes to the way sickness and disability benefits are assessed and an updated HMRC tax helpline.

InvestNI provides the Business.info website which has information on the many different support packages available, including small business grants, rates holidays and many other issues.

There is a portal on the Department for the Economy website which provides access to a Small Business Grant Scheme.

The UK Government has issued procurement policy notes on the payment of suppliers during the crisis.

A wide range of industry groups and business support agencies have now created their own advice and guidance pages. These include the following:

Environment

Planning NI has released a statement announcing that the DfI Planning offices in Clarence Court and Ebrington Square will be closed to the public due to COVID-19. Details of planning applications will continue to be available on the Public Access website.

NI Direct has a section on its website explaining how bin collections may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. It also explains how people with confirmed or possible coronavirus should dispose of their waste.

The Chartered Institute of Waste Management has issued advice for businesses in the waste sector.

 

Justice

The Department of Justice has set out the latest Court Business Continuity Arrangements.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has created a COVID-19 advice and information page.

  

Parliament & government

Parliament Buildings, home to the Northern Ireland Assembly, has closed to the public. No public tours, events or visitor activities will take place until further notice. However, plenary sessions and some committee meetings are still taking place at the present time. The Speaker made a statement on 18 March that, ‘All non-essential Assembly business will be avoided in order that it does not distract from the delivery of public services to deal with the impact of COVID 19’. On 31 March, the Assembly appointed an Ad-Hoc Committee on the COVID-19 response; it held its first meeting on 7 April.

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has provided an overview of what is being done by local councils currently.

The Minister for Communities has determined to make funds available to cover council costs incurred when planning for or responding to COVID-19 related issues. This guidance sets out the terms and conditions for the Department to establish a scheme to provide emergency financial assistance to councils under Article 26 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order.

Each of the local councils has set up COVID-19 support pages:

The Minister for Communities has announced the provision of £1.5m to councils to help support COVID-19 measures. The money will come from the COVID-19 Community Support Fund to target need and alleviate poverty.

 

Transport & travel

Public Transport

The Public Health Agency has advised people to avoid non-essential use of public transport, and where necessary to vary travel times to avoid rush hour. As a result of decreased demand, Translink is operating a reduced bus and train service. Full details of the new timetables are available on Translink’s website and journey planner. The measures which Translink is taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are detailed on their website.

As of March 2020 community transport operators funded by the Department for Infrastructure have been asked to suspend all Disability Action Transport Services and to significantly restrict Dial-a-Lift services to essential journeys only. Links to the 12 Community Transport Partnerships are available on the NI Direct website.

Motoring

The Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) has suspended all MOT tests for three months. The ways in which this will be managed are as follows:

  • All HGV and PSV vehicles with an MOT will be issued with a 3-month Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC);
  • Four year old cars will, from 26 March 2020, be given a Temporary Exemption Certificate (TEC) for six months from the date that their MOT test should have been due. This will allow the vehicle to be taxed and driven on the road. Issuing the certificates will take some time but the exemption will automatically apply from the due date;
  • Urgent work is underway to put a solution in place for taxis. At present there is no legal way of issuing TECs for these vehicles; and
  • All customers whose MOT vehicle test is due must still book the test so that, if a test has to be cancelled, a temporary exemption may be automatically applied.

The Minister for Infrastructure has put measures in place to temporarily relax drivers’ hours rules for the delivery and movement of goods such as food, fuel, agricultural products and waste. Anyone driving under the EU drivers’ hours rules (Article 14(2) of Regulation (EC) No 561/2006) or the NI domestic drivers’ hours rules, and undertaking carriage of goods by road, can use the relevant relaxation where necessary.

The relaxations apply from Monday 23 March 2020 and will run until Tuesday 21 April 2020.

The Driver & Vehicle Agency has suspended practical driving tests for three months from 19 March 2020 to 18 June 2020.

The Consumer Council has a section in its coronavirus advice pages on travel, including information on airlines, ferries, package holidays, travel insurance, public transport and cancelled travel plans (including refunds).

 

Utilities

The Utility Regulator has changed the way that people should get in touch with them during the COVID-19 outbreak.

NI Water has information available on its website detailing the measures it has put in place to ensure its services continue to run during this time. The Consumer Council has a section in its advice pages on coronavirus regarding water, including information on impacts to provision and updates from NI Water.

NI Electricity Networks has issued guidance on how it is responding to the crisis, including how it will be prioritising essential work and how it will be conducting meter readings and meter faults.

The energy suppliers Firmus Energy, Power NI and SSE Airtricty NI have issued advice to customers. This has particular relevance to vulnerable and older customers and those on pre-paid meters.

The System Operator for Northern Ireland has also published a statement regarding their response to COVID-19.

BT has also issued advice to customers in relation to their response to the outbreak. This advice relates to the provision of communication infrastructure.

The Consumer Council has a section in its coronavirus advice pages on home energy, including information on natural gas, electricity, home heating oil and liquid petroleum gas (LPG). It also has a section on telecoms, including the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on broadband, and digital TV services such as Sky Sports.

The Consumer Council also has a section on postal services, including information about impacts to Post Office branches, Royal Mail, DPD, Yodel, Hermes, DHL and UPS.

 

Rural affairs

The Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has published guidance for farmers and farm businesses operating during the COVID-19 outbreak. This guidance is being published on a dedicated page on the DAERA website and is being regularly updated. DAERA’s facebook page and twitter feed are also providing regular and specific COVID-19 updates.

The DEARA dedicated webpage includes information under a number of topics such as:

Whilst some of the services on offer have been curtailed, farmers can also still contact DAERA offices directly by ringing the following number: 0300 200 7840.

DAERA also has responsibility for the management of many forests and country parks and has now closed car parks to all vehicles. Playparks and on-site toilet facilities are also now closed along with camping amenities, museums, mobile concessions and visitor centres. Members of the public are also being urged not to visit the parks on foot.

The NI Assembly Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is now receiving weekly briefings from DAERA on its response to the COVID-19 crisis. Those updates can be found on the Committee webpage.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has also produced a frequently asked questions document to assist members dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rural Support’s helpline provides a listening and signposting service for farmers and farming families on a range of issues.

The Rural Community Network is also providing support/advice to the wider rural community and rural voluntary/community sector which is accessible through their facebook page. They are also contactable by phone on 028 86766670 or email [email protected]

In terms of rural transport, the dial a lift service for people living in rural areas who are unable or find it difficult to use public transport is currently restricted to essential journeys only until further notice. Essential journeys are to be in line with Government advice which is currently for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home). The contact details for community transport providers can be accessed through the dedicated NI Direct webpage

With regards to the seafood sector, Seafish has established a dedicated webpage that is providing dedicated coronavirus updates for the seafood industry and which is being updated regularly.

 

Culture & sport

Various cultural and sporting organisations have issued guidance and support in dealing with the effects of COVID-19, including the following:

In addition, the Minister for Communities has instructed officials to work with Sport NI and the NI Sports Forum to put in place steps to support the sport sector. Further information is available to download here. On 14 April, the Minister announced a Hardship Fund for sports clubs and sporting organisations from the voluntary and community sector which are unable to receive support from other Government COVID-19 Mitigation Funds. Clubs and organisations will be able to apply to Sport NI for a small grant of £2,000.

 

 


Save

Save

Share