Coronavirus update – April 2020
This is an exceptionally difficult time for so many people – whether as a result of illness or the illness of loved ones, caring for others or hit by a business’ loss of earnings. The sheer scale and size of what everyone is dealing with is beyond anything I have ever known and there will be many changes to keep on top of. I and my assistant are trying to answer as many questions and calls for help as we can, sometimes directly, sometimes by directing you to other sources of assistance. My colleagues and I will also carry on pressing the Government to do as much as possible to help people affected by the emergency – being as constructive as we can while asking the questions that have to be answered.
In the meantime, a massive thank you to everyone working in key services- from health and social care to policing and rubbish collection, from food supply, sale and delivery to transport, processing claims for grants and social security, looking after children and much more. We owe you a debt of gratitude. The same goes for those who have signed up to mutual aid groups, others joining the NHS scheme and the many others supporting neighbours, assisting foodbanks and other community provision informally. You are heroes.
If you need help or know someone else who does:
0208 359 2000
Use the website www.barnet.gov.uk/
020 7974 4444
Advice and information
including Universal Credit and benefits advice:
If you rent your home and are facing an eviction STAY PUT- no legal action can be taken to evict you for at least the next three months
But if you are homeless for other reasons:
Shelter’s national advice pages are also very helpful:
Which? has created a free dedicated consumer rights hub to keep people updated with useful information and advice.
This includes what people should do about cancelled travel arrangements, postponed events and insurance issues; right through to helping people to spot fake news and scams, how to manage their finances if they find themselves in an uncertain situation, and recommending technology to help them stay in touch with elderly and self-isolated friends and family.
Paying the bills and keeping warm
Check this page from Citizen’s Advice.
Energy suppliers have launched an emergency package of support to ensure that customers are able to keep their gas and electricity supply. If you have Residents with pre-payment metres but can’t leave their house, speak to your supplier who can offer things like having a pre-loaded gas or electricity card sent to them in the post or having funds added remotely to your credit. If you are struggling with your bill, ask for help from your supplier. More info here:
Violence in the home
Sadly, the national lockdown is putting people under great pressure and some of this is leading to an increased risk of abuse or violence in the home. No one should have to put up with this.
If you are in immediate danger call the police on 999
If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone call 999 and then press 55.
The National Domestic Abuse helpline provides support for potential victims and anyone worried about families or friends. The website also has a form through which women can book a safe time for a call from the team.
0808 2000 247
Women’s Aid has provided additional advice specifically designed for the current COVID-19 outbreak, including a live chat service. Link here.
The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. It can be contacted on 0808 801 0327.
If you are a member of the LGBT+ community, Galop runs a specialist helpline on 0800 999 5428 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al- Hasaniya has a service for Arabic speakers
020 8969 2292
It is inevitable that many people will struggle with their mental health during this emergency, including with feelings of anxiety and depression- and sometimes for the first time. There are LOTS of useful helplines and sources of advice available:
Mind: 0300 123 3393
Mental Health Foundation
Samaritans: 116 123
Childline: 0800 1111
Talking to children about coronavirus:
All the main websites for advice and information:
Official Government Advice
Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do: click on the link:
Guidance and updates from the NHS on the coronavirus outbreak: click below
Mayor of London
Get the latest information and guidance for those living and working in London.
Get coronavirus support as an extremely vulnerable person.
What’s happening in my office?
My assistant and I are at work as usual, working remotely, replying to emails. We are not experts, so often have to refer people to other sources of help. We are also too small an office to be an emergency service, but we will continue to do our best to help with constituents.
What people are asking me about and what more needs to be done?
Lots of residents are contacting me about ‘non-essential’ works creating noise and nuisance and apparently in some cases risking the health of workers.
The Government has decided to allow construction to continue and neither I, Mayor Sadiq Khan nor local Councils have the power to close building sites.
Operators installing or maintaining broadband networks fall within the list of ‘key workers’ published by the Government. The Council is prioritising support for operators seeking access for business continuity reasons (I.e. maintenance of existing networks or hospitals and schools).
I have started to hear from people who are concerned over the potential continued use of Airbnb and other short lets during the Coronavirus epidemic. These enquiries are mainly coming from people who live next to properties used as short-lets who are concerned that people are continuing to use these addresses for holidays and other unessential travel. I thought it would be helpful to share some of the information I have received over the past week or so.
I am aware that in general it can be hard to know exactly who is operating, or visiting, a short let and how often they are being used, since there is no registration scheme in place. However, it is important to understand that currently the use of AirBnBs is also implicitly restricted by the emergency Coronavirus laws.
Following the first round of measures ordering the closure of pubs and theatres, the Government last week extended this to a further set of businesses and other venues, including: hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts and boarding houses.
There is an exclusion to businesses that have opened their doors to NHS workers, who the Government rightly classify as key workers. Last week AirBnB announced an initiative for COVID-19 responders who need housing support:
This may well explain why some people have seen continued activity at their neighbour’s addresses.
Obviously if you believe someone who is using an AirBnB – or indeed any of your neighbours- are consistently ignoring the Government guidance and you do not believe they are doing so for essential work or other permitted reasons, you are well within your rights to contact the Police on 111. I do however think it is worth knowing that a number of these short-lets are now being used to house NHS staff.
Royal Mail say:
As cases of coronavirus increase across the country, we are experiencing growing levels of employee absence due to illness and self-isolation. Despite our best endeavours, it is likely that some areas of the country will experience a reduction in service levels due to coronavirus-related absences at the local mail centre or delivery office. We will continue to actively monitor this rapidly evolving crisis. We will keep talking to you.
Protecting our customers
We have taken several steps to protect both our people and customers. For example, our postmen and women will now leave parcels on doorsteps and step back to a safe distance for the customer to collect the item. We are also temporarily not handing over our hand-held devices to customers to capture signatures. Postmen and postwomen will instead log the name of the person accepting the item and can sign on their behalf. We recognise that post is important to the elderly, particularly those away from their friends and families in care homes. Therefore, we have been delivering to a central point (e.g. reception) rather than individual addresses within care homes since last week.
Temporary service changes: in addition to the service changes outlined on 30 March, Royal Mail are limiting the opening times of their Customer Services Points (CSPs) in the local delivery offices. Because more people are home than would usually be the case, they are able to deliver the vast majority of items on the first attempt. This has resulted in fewer people needing to collect items from CSPs. With effect from Monday 6 April, the largest locations will be open between 07:00 and 11:00am. All other CSPs will be open between 07:00 and 09:00am. All CSPs will be closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. More information can be found at www.royalmail.com/services-near-you.
Food supplies and price hiking
The Government are confident about food and other supply lines being maintained so there is no need for panic buying (although it is worth mentioning that some extra demand on stores reflects the closures of all the cafés and places where people eat out, school meals etc).
Some shop owners have behaved badly in hiking prices for scarce items and we will flag this with the Council’s Trading Standards officers if we hear of any such cases (though be aware they are very stretched). The Competition and Markets Authority is also warning of action in cases of profiteering.
Here are some useful ways to report examples you come across:
National Consumer helpline 0808 223 1133
Competition and Markets Authority 0203 738 600
Help with your business
The situation with COVID-19 is changing daily, and I know that many businesses are feeling worried.
If you’re a local business owner, employee, or self-employed, please check the additional advice from the government on how to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on your business and the support measures that are available to UK businesses and employees.
The Federation of Small Businesses is providing advice and guidance for small businesses and self-employed peopleExternal link on how to respond to the COVID-19 virus and the support that is available from government and elsewhere.
You may also find it useful to visit the London Growth Hub, where you’ll find fact sheets, a business checklist and have the opportunity to speak with an adviser one-to-one.
Under new government guidance, many businesses and premises are required to close. Please see the full list and details here.
The Government has set up a dedicated support page where businesses can find the right support, advice and information to help with the impact of coronavirus.
HMRC support during COVID-19
. Coronavirus helpline – offering a better experience
. Self-employment Income Support Scheme
. Job Retention Scheme – Update
. Statutory Sick Pay – Update
. Working Tax Credit Uprating – Update
. VAT deferrals
. COVID-19 Scammers Target Taxpayers
Coronavirus helpline – offering a better experience
HMRC updated helpline number to support customers impacted by coronavirus is 0800 024 1222 and is open from 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday. They have introduced this number to ensure extra capacity on their network so customers can get through more quickly. Calls to the old helpline number will be redirected.
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
The Chancellor has announced a new Self-employment Income Support Scheme to support self-employed people who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.
GOV.UK has further details about who is eligible for the scheme and how it will work.
Self-employed people do not need to get in touch with HMRC as the scheme isn’t yet open for applications. HMRC will contact eligible people by the beginning of June inviting them to apply.
Unfortunately this might lead to an increase in scam emails, calls and texts. Remember that HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your bank details, PIN or password. If someone texts, emails or calls claiming to be from HMRC, saying that financial help can be claimed or a tax refund is owed, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such your name, credit card or bank details, please do not respond.
The Government has also introduced the following help for the self-employed:
. Deferral of Self Assessment income tax payments due in July 2020 and VAT payments due from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020
. Grants for businesses that pay little or no business rates
. Increased amounts of Universal Credit
. Business Interruption Loan Scheme
. Directors of their own company paid through PAYE may be able to get support using the Job Retention Scheme.
Job Retention Scheme – Update
The Government says it is committed to doing whatever it takes to support businesses and individuals through the Coronavirus pandemic. As you’ll be aware, last week the Chancellor announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The scheme allows businesses to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.
HMRC have been working hard to develop this scheme, and have now published further details on GOV.UK. They are aiming to have the scheme open by the end of April 2020. More detailed guidance will be published closer to the time and they will continue to provide updates through online channels.
Guidance for employers is available on GOV.UK
Guidance for employees is also available on GOV.UK.
Statutory Sick Pay – Update
For businesses with fewer than 250 employees, the cost of providing two weeks of COVID-19 related statutory sick pay per employee will be refunded by the Government in full. This will provide 2 million employers with up to £2 billion to cover the costs of large-scale sick leave. Individuals who are employed by a Personal Service Company are entitled to SSP on the same terms as any other employee.
HMRC will provide further details on how employers can access the rebate as soon as possible.
Businesses that are unable to pay VAT due between 20 March and 30 June 2020, now have the option to defer that payment until 31 March 2021. They will not need to apply for deferral as eligibility is automatic. Businesses who normally pay by direct debit should cancel their direct debit with their bank if they are unable to pay. Please do this in sufficient time.
COVID-19 scammers target taxpayers
HMRC has seen that fraudsters are taking advantage of COVID-19 to offer spurious financial support and tax refunds. They text, email or phone taxpayers offering the bogus refund or aid, or threaten them with arrest if they don’t immediately pay fictitious tax owed. These scams often target the elderly and vulnerable.
If someone texts, emails or calls claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you are owed a tax refund or can claim financial help, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it’s a scam.
1. Recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your bank details, PIN or password.
2. Stay safe – don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in emails you weren’t expecting.
3. Take action – forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to email@example.com and texts to 60599.
4. Check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams and to recognise genuine HMRC contact.
5. If you think you have received an HMRC-related phishing or bogus email or text message, you can check it against examples published on GOV.UK.
6. Contact your bank immediately if you believe you’ve submitted card details to a scammer and report to Action Fraud if you suffer financial loss.
Working Tax Credit Uprating – Update
Working Tax Credits payments will be increased by £1,045 to £3,040 per year from 6 April 2020 until 5 April 2021.
The amount a claimant or household will benefit from will depend on their circumstances, including their level of household income. But the increase could mean up to an extra £20 each week.
The increased payments will come into effect on the 6 April, but individual payment dates will vary. Only contact HMRC if you have not received an increased payment by 18 May. Find out more about Working Tax Credit payments on the HMRC app or through a Personal Tax Account
Claiming Universal Credit
Nearly a million people have made claims for Universal Credit in the last two weeks- making this the biggest rise in social security claims ever.
Many temporary changes have been made to help people claiming or receiving benefits, details of which are here.
A USEFUL TIP– if you are unable to complete your claim in one go because the system is overloaded, and worry that you may lose out because of this TAKE A SCREEN GRAB or print the screen in an email as evidence for back-dating.
What more do we want to see happen?
We are continuing to press the Government on a very wide range of issues, from health- including the roll-out of tests and the supply of personal protective equipment, especially in the NHS, for care workers and others in key services – to school meals, childcare, business support and more.
Rather than include details of all these things here, if you would like more information on any particular area please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
However, given the amount of interest in help for the self-employed, I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the key concerns here:
More help for the self-employed
Following an understandable amount of anxiety about the initial employment support scheme in so far as it applied to the self-employed, I was obviously very pleased to see further measures introduced last week which aimed to address some of these issues and assist a wider range of people. The key features of this Scheme are:
. The self-employed will be eligible for a cash grant worth 80% of a self-employed person’s average monthly trading profit over the last three years;
. This will be capped at £2,500 per month and will last for at least 3 months;
. The Government has said this covers 95% of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment;
. The Scheme will be open to those:
. With a tradable profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 over the last three years; With more than half of their income over these periods from self-employment;
. It will not be eligible to those “who pay themselves a salary and dividends through their own company” (though they can use the Job Retention Scheme if they are operating PAYE schemes)
However, I am still hearing from people who set up days before the cut-off, recently changed the name they are trading under, whose incomes it is very difficult to translate into a monthly average and a range of other highly specific circumstances in which little support is offered. Too many people are simply falling through holes in the net.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has acknowledged that the self-employed are an incredibly diverse population and that his plan would help ‘95% of people who earn most of their income via self-employment.’ I remain concerned about the ‘5%’ whom these measures do not assist. Here in London, in particular, we have an exceptionally diverse group of people in this category, including many who work in the creative sector.
Breaking news about workers made redundant or who left work after February 28th
It has just been announced that for people made redundant or leaving work after Feb 28th due to the impact of coronavirus- your previous employer can rehire you and put you on the furlough scheme, which means the government will pay 80% of your wages. This is up to the individual employer, as is whether they top up the wages to the full amount, but it is an option not there previously.
Some of the other issues include:
We are concerned that June is too long to wait the self-employed – people need financial support now, in the coming days, and cannot wait months;
The self-employed may not be eligible for Universal Credit if their partner is in work or if they have some savings that remove them from eligibility;
If the self-employed are unable to get financial support sooner, they may well feel pressured to work, risking their own health and the health of others;
There are further uncertainties and questions left open by this Scheme:
a. What support is available to the approximately 250,000 people (5% of the self-employed) who will not benefit from this Scheme?
b. How many self-employed people pay themselves a salary and dividends through their own company, but do not have a PAYE scheme, and so will be covered by neither this Scheme nor the Job Retention Scheme?
c. The delay is presumably partly because of capacity limits at HMRC – but what extra staffing and resourcing is being made available to HMRC to carry out these tasks?
d. Would a significant increase in staffing at HMRC enable the grants to be made sooner?
e. Why did it take New Zealand, admittedly a smaller economy, only days to set up a grant scheme when this is estimated to take around three months?
f. Why did the Government set the cap at £50,000 of profits?
g. The Scheme makes some allowances for people who have recently become self-employed, but how many people will miss out because they have become self-employed in recent months?
h. Are non-UK nationals who are self-employed covered by this Scheme?
Whilst colleagues in Parliament are working on proposals to close those gaps, I am afraid that at this moment, the immediate advice I can offer to people set to receive no income from work over the coming months who are not covered by either business or self-employed schemes is to claim Universal Credit.
Ways to volunteer and to donate
If you would like to volunteer locally, you can register through the Barnet Council website: https://engage.barnet.gov.uk/communityhelphub
NHS Volunteer Army
Volunteers needed to help vulnerable people stay safe and well at home.
Sign up here
Wishing you all the very best through this difficult time.
Andrew Dismore AM
Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden