COVID-19 – LATEST UPDATE FROM THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION

I have received the update below just now.

This evening’s announcements

The Government has announced a new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. The Government will pay a taxable grant of 80 per cent of average annual profits over the last 3 years up to £2,500 per month. The scheme will be open for at least three months, backdated to 1 March 2020. The scheme will provide targeted support for self-employed people with profits up to £50,000 per annum. The scheme will be for those who earn the majority of their income from self-employment and have filed a tax return for 2018/19. According to the Chancellor, 95 per cent of self-employed people will benefit from this scheme. Those self-employed workers who have not yet submitted their tax return will have four weeks to do so. The scheme will be administered by HMRC and it is expected that businesses will be able to receive the grant in early June. On the access available to self-employed people now, he mentioned support from the interruption loans, access to Universal Credit and other welfare support.

All the Government’s support, and associated guidance, for businesses can be found at businesssupport.gov.uk.

The Money Advice Service also has a helpful list of financial support available to people, which may be of interest to your resident and staff.

Stay at home, save lives

Updated guidance on staying at home and away from others has now been published.

The Government has also today made new regulations to strengthen enforcement powers in England in efforts to implement the new ‘stay at home’ measures. These powers replace the Business Closure Premises Regulations introduced last week. The regulations give the police powers to enforce the stay at home policy as it relates to individuals, including powers to disperse gatherings, ensure parents are stopping children breaking the rules, issue fines and – where fines are not paid or individuals refuse to comply – impose unlimited court fines and arrests. The regulations confirm that officers designated by local authorities may only enforce regulations 4 and 5, relating to business and other premises closures. The regulations are now in effect.

The Secretary of State has made clear that construction sites have not been asked to close, so work can continue if it is done safely. Employers should ensure their workers on-site are able to follow the public health guidance. They should also consider responsible arrangements for ensuring their workers can travel in line with this advice e.g. staggering site hours to reduce public transport use during peak periods. These arrangements will be kept under constant review. The Government expects the clarification to have a positive impact on the supply chain e.g. Travis Perkins reopened its stores today. This week the Construction Leadership Council published additional guidance to facilitate responsible on-site construction.

The Government has now launched a Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp. The free service is an automated ‘chatbot’ that will allow people to get answers to the most common questions about COVID-19 directly from government. It aims to further reduce the burden on NHS services, including 111, combat the spread of the virus and ensure people stay at home and save lives.

It’s as easy as sending a message ‘hi’ to the dedicated number on WhatsApp. We would encourage you to share details about the Coronavirus Information Service on your communications channels. More information can be found on the Government website.

NHS volunteers

Almost 700,000 people have now registered for the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme via goodsamapp.org/NHS As I updated yesterday, we understand that this scheme will also seek to identify and recruit volunteers to support adult social care. We are working with Government and NHS England and Improvement to ensure that national schemes to recruit volunteers can support local coordination of voluntary care and support by councils and Local Resilience Forums (LRFs).

Welfare

We are now working with councils and government on the implementation of the £500 million Hardship Fund. We are very pleased that MHCLG were able to take on board feedback from LGA and councils and leave considerable flexibility in how this can be used. There is, however, an expectation that has now been widely publicised that some of the funding with be used to provide a reduction to council tax payments for working age claimants of local council tax support. We have worked with colleagues in MHCLG and DWP to align work impacting on councils’ revenues and benefits teams and will be using an existing practitioner engagement group to work through the practicalities of implementing the deduction, including work with the software providers. This group will also be considering issues such as monitoring ongoing demand and New Burdens funding requirements.

The remainder of the funding will be used by councils to target other appropriate support, for example through local welfare schemes. We will be working with councils, partners and central government to provide support and share learning. We will also be drawing on local government’s expertise through our ongoing work on ‘reshaping financial support’.

Broadband and mobile networks

Mobile network operators have made accessing NHS websites free from mobile devices meaning consumers’ data allowances will be unaffected. Today one mobile operator has gone further and is providing free access to sites providing financial guidance, health and emotional support. We welcome these measures and have asked operators whether they will consider extending this offer to council websites.

Mobile UK, the representative body for mobile network operators, has set up a website with information on the actions the four main operators are undertaking in response to coronavirus. The consumer body Which? has also outlined the ways residents can speed up and fix broadband in their homes.