Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has met her lead team of officials to discuss the contingency plans in place to manage any disruption to its services in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking afterwards Minister Hargey said: “It is my top priority to ensure that my Department is doing all it can to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic including ensuring that the most vulnerable people get access to support.
“I want to reassure people that my Department has robust and tested contingency plans in place to manage disruption to its services. I am determined to ensure that those most in need – low income families, those with caring responsibilities, people with disabilities and our elderly, continue to receive the support they are entitled to.”
The Minister continued to explain new measures introduced to help those affected by COVID-19. “My Department is making urgent amendments to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC) regulations. The changes, introduced today include temporary removal of the three day waiting period for Statutory Sick Pay and the seven waiting days for people making a new style ESA claim. People who need to self-isolate for medical reasons to protect others will be treated as being ill. They do not need to go to a GP as there is a seven day allowance for self-declaration.
“In addition, we will treat people claiming new style ESA and/or UC as having limited capability for work from the start of their claim without a fit note, an assessment or some form of statutory public health notice. The effect of this will be that any work related requirements will be switched off, including the “Minimum Income Floor (MIF) for self-employed claimants.”
The Minister said that the role of the Community and Voluntary Sector has never been more important in delivering critical services on the ground. “I will be writing to all Community and Voluntary Sector groups who receive funding from my Department, to assure them that my officials are working to identify ways in which we could apply flexibility around our normal operating procedures, in order to ease some practical difficulties that they may face in the period ahead. It is important these groups are supported in any way that we can to deliver for the communities they serve.”
The Minister concluded: “This is very much an evolving situation which I, along with my officials, will continue to monitor and work with our stakeholders to respond in a swift manner. Indeed, only this afternoon I met with local councils, the Chief Medical Officer and other health professionals to discuss contingency plans.
“Finally, I repeat the need for people to continue to keep up to date with the medical guidance to help counter the spread of this virus.”