Psychological first aid training
Front line staff and volunteers at the forefront of the coronavirus response across England will be able to access a new Psychological First Aid (PFA) training course developed by Public Health England. The free online course teaches responders how to give practical and emotional support on issues such as job worries, bereavement or isolation to those affected by COVID-19.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The government have introduced a scheme to allow some employers to furlough certain members of staff and reclaim a proportion of their salaries — find out more about the scheme.
The government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is available to public sector organisations and the guidance states that "the government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak".
NALC feels that the government guidance at this point is not clear on whether local councils could reclaim salaries from furloughed employees or not. We have continued to seek more detail from the government to clarify this situation.
It would appear to be possibly relevant for those staff whose jobs have fallen away as a result of the restrictions being put in place to fight COVID-19 and where they cannot be reallocated to other roles. At the heart, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is to help avoid redundancies. For example, where a local council has community facilities that have been closed as a result of COVID-19, there will be no income from these facilities to pay for the caretaker or other staff who run the facilities.
So where local councils have staff who are unable to work in their current roles, where that role is funded from income other than precept, and they are unable to be redeployed to another role to support the response to coronavirus, the council may wish to consider furloughing those staff with the hope of being able to reclaim a portion of their salaries. But at this stage, while NALC could not be certain that the council would be successful in claiming back that salary, we are hearing from councils that have been successful in applying. Therefore if councils believe it is appropriate to apply then they should consider doing so.
The government has opened applications to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and produced guidance to support organisations who wish to make a claim through this scheme.
If a local council is considering furloughing any staff then NALC and HR Service Partnerships (HRSP) have produced template letters for members to aid this process.
Template letter asking to be furloughed
Template letter to confirm furloughed arrangements
HRSP has also uploaded FAQ’s on their website this morning with the latest updates on the scheme.
There have been recent headlines about a crackdown on furlough fraud. This tends to focus on employers who have provided inaccurate or false information, or who have then broken furlough rules – in the main by having furloughed staff continue to work.
HMRC does allow organisations to ‘correct’ any over or underpayment. The period of time in which employers can correct any errors and amend claims under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme without incurring penalties has been extended to:
- 90 days after the day on which the Finance Act 2020 was passed (22 July 2020); or
- 90 days after the day on which the income tax on the payment made becomes chargeable,
whichever is the later. The previous period was 30 days.
Councils should be advised to only provide accurate and true information when applying for furlough and to stick within the stated rules of the scheme. If they realise they have made any errors in their claims they should correct this as quickly as possible.
For councils that have successfully claimed under the furlough scheme
HMRC also provide information on what you must do following a successful claim which includes the following information:
Once you’ve claimed, you’ll get a claim reference number. HMRC will then check that your claim is correct and pay the claim amount by BACs into your bank account within 6 working days.
keep a copy of all records for 6 years, including:
- the amount claimed and claim period for each employee
- the claim reference number for your records
- your calculations in case HMRC need more information about your claim
- for employees you flexibly furloughed, usual hours worked including any calculations that were required
- for employees you flexibly furloughed, actual hours worked
- tell your employees that you have made a claim and that they do not need to take any more action
- pay your employee their wages, if you have not already
- You must pay the full amount you are claiming for your employee’s wages to your employee.
You must also pay the associated employee tax and National Insurance contributions to HMRC, even if your company is in administration. If you’re not able to do that, you’ll need to repay the money back to HMRC.
You must also pay to HMRC the employer National Insurance contributions on the full amount that you pay the employee. If you have submitted a claim for the employer National Insurance contributions and pension contributions, then the full amount you claim in respect of these must be paid or you will need to repay the money back to HMRC.
Employers cannot enter into any transaction with the worker which reduces the wages below the amount claimed. This includes an administration charge, fees or other costs in connection with the employment. Where an employee had authorised their employer to make deductions from their salary, these deductions can continue while the employee is furloughed provided that these deductions are no administration charges, fees or other costs in connection with the employment.
The government guidance on getting tested for COVID-19 is available which includes information on who would be regarded as an essential worker and so be prioritised for testing. On 1 May, Robert Jenrick MP wrote to all local government employees in England thanking them for their support during the pandemic, and outlining how staff can get tested.
As an employer, if the council provides homeworking expenses for your employees, you have certain tax, National Insurance and reporting obligations. The council as the employer is has the same health and safety responsibilities for staff working from home as they do for those in an office. The Health and Safety Executive has useful information that could inform your approach.
NALC's partner HR Services Partnership are keeping their website updated with issues related to the coronavirus.
National Joint Council guidance on working from home
On 17 March the National Joint Council for local government services has issued guidance for councils and council staff on working from home.
Statutory Sick Pay
The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020 were made on 12 March 2020 and came into force on 13 March. They amended the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 and provide that statutory sick pay will be available to anyone isolating themselves from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease, in accordance with the guidance published by Public Health England, NHS Scotland or Public Health Wales and effective on 12 March 2020, and by reason of that isolation is unable to work. The government has said that the Statutory Sick Pay will be payable from the first day (not, as previously from day four) and that employers with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim the cost from the government up to a maximum of two weeks’ Statutory Sick Pay.
The Secretary of State is required to keep the operation of the Regulations under review and they will cease to have effect eight months after they come in to force.