This page has been created to provide local (parish and town) councils with information about the coronavirus. It should not be used as a substitute for government advice. However, some practicalities are specific to local councils, and we hope this information will help you plan and manage your risks. If you would like further advice and support on any of these topics for your local council, please contact your local county association.
End of mandatory COVID-19 restrictions
On 21 February 2022, the prime minister announced that the government will be removing remaining domestic restrictions in England. The government guidance can be found here, including the plan for living with COVID-19. From 24 February 2022, people will not be legally required to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19. The advice in the guidance is to stay at home if you can and avoid contact with other people.
In order to decrease the risk of catching and passing on COIVD-19, the government advises people to get vaccinated. It also advises letting fresh air in if meeting inside, or meeting outside and to consider wearing a face-covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, It says to try to stay at home if unwell and to take a test if you have COVID-19 symptoms.
On 19 January 2022, the prime minister confirmed the Plan B measures in place in England will come to an end. That means from 27 January 2022 there will be no requirement to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces. Although face coverings will no longer be mandated, people are still advised to wear them in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when meeting strangers. The end of the government advice for staff to work from home if possible has immediate effect.
Local councils concerned about an increase or prevalence in COVID-19 cases can ask for face coverings to be worn by councillors, staff and members of the public attending council meetings but they cannot insist. Councils are free to permit staff to continue to work from home.
On 4 January 2022, the Prime Minister announced that there will be no further restrictions in addition to the existing Plan B Covid restrictions in place until 26 January. This means councils are not prevented from meeting should they need to do so. We are aware of councils meeting including for precept setting reasons. Our previous advice below on the wearing of face coverings and working from home remains the same.
NALC, along with others in the local government sector, continues to press the Government on the need for councils to have the power to hold remote meetings.
We will continue to update as and when we have further information to share.
Further to our Plan B update of yesterday, the government today issued further guidance on the wearing of face coverings, From today (10 December) in England, face coverings are now required by law in most indoor public places.
The guidance says under “where to wear a face covering” that “there are some places where you must wear a face covering by law, unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse”. It goes on to set out a list of indoor settings where face coverings must be worn. The list contains “community centres (including village halls)”. The guidance also says “you are required to wear a face covering on entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse for removing it”.
Our view of the guidance is that face coverings are required to be worn at council meetings held in indoor public places, subject to exemptions or reasonable excuse (see the guidance for further information). We also refer to our advice of yesterday that councils consider not meeting in December if possible.
On 8 December 2021, the prime minister announced a move to Plan B in England following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.
The government last night issued guidance and expects to issue more guidance and regulations in the coming days. NALC will update as and when we have the information. For member councils, we note in particular the following:
- From 13 December 2021, those who can, will be advised to work from home. We recommend that clerks and council staff attend council meetings remotely. The Plan B guidance does not bring back the ability to hold remote meetings. We, therefore, suggest that councils consider not meeting in December.
- The guidance says, “From 10 December, face coverings will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings”. We await further information on the meaning of “most public indoor venues”.
The Prime Minister confirmed on 12 July that Step 4 of the Roadmap will proceed as planned on Monday 19 July. This means most legal limits on social contact will be removed. There will no longer be limits on gatherings inside and outside and on social distancing. However, as cases continue to rise the government is urging caution and personal responsibility.
What does this mean for local councils?
Councils may wish to bear in mind the following points with effect from 19 July:
- There will no longer be limits on gatherings inside and outside – this means there will be no limits on members of the public attending council meetings subject to e.g. building capacity;
- Social distancing will end (that is, keeping two metres’ distance from others) in council premises;
- The end to the work from home where possible instruction. However, the government does not expect an immediate full-time return to the workplace;
- There will be no mandatory requirement to wear face coverings in places where they were previously required. The Prime Minister referred to the Government’s expectation that people should continue to wear masks in crowded places from 19 July. Councils can ask but cannot compel staff, councillors and the public to wear masks or provide proof of vaccination or COVID negative tests;
- Councils will continue to owe corporate duties – e.g. as employers to council employees and to users of council premises as occupiers of premises.
- An employer’s duty of care is to protect the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this and make sure that employees are protected from anything that may cause harm, also by controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace. The HSE has produced guidance on the duty of care.
- Councils as occupiers of land owe duties to visitors to the land to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe when using the premises for the purposes for which they are invited or permitted by the occupier to be there. NALC’s Legal Topic Note 42 gives general guidance on occupiers’ liability.
- NALC continues to advise councils to undertake risk assessments and implement measures accordingly. The NALC/ BHIB publication “Risk assessment for COVID 19” can be found here;
- Outside of formal risk assessments councils should also consider what reasonable measures they can take to balance the end of social contact restrictions with the ongoing COVID reality - e.g. continuing to livestream meetings so that the public do not have to attend in person to view proceedings, considering working from home requests;
- Councils can continue to provide hand sanitiser in buildings and for use in council meetings, carry out extra cleaning of premises, avoid printing papers and agendas, ensure rooms are well ventilated (doors and windows open) and seek to maintain social distancing/ one way access where possible;
- Where councils hire halls from others, they may have contractual obligations to comply with (e.g. requiring masks to be worn on the premises subject to specific exemptions).
NALC cannot provide definitive guidance and definitive answers that will apply to every member council, particularly given the end of COVID specific legislation. Every council will have to decide what is appropriate for them given their own specific circumstances.
The Government position is that although social contact limits will largely go on 19 July, people should continue to exercise caution, common sense and personal responsibility.
Guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread from 19 July has been updated:
Guidance on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable has been updated and comes into effect on 19 July can be found here.
SOURCES OF ADVICE
The coronavirus situation is fast-moving, and there is an increasing amount of misinformation online. We should be using government advice to inform decisions and be checking that advice regularly.
- The government’s main source of advice on coronavirus includes information on social distancing alongside a wide range of other information. There are also useful coronavirus FAQs that provide useful additional information.
- GOV.UK provides a range of information on working safely during Coronavirus related do different sectors. This further guidance, developed with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, aims to assist employers and businesses in providing advice to their staff.
- You may find ACAS advice useful in considering any employment-related matters that may impact your local council.
- On 4 January 2021, the government announced a national lockdown and published guidance on what you can and cannot do during this time.
- On 22 February 2021, a 4-step plan to ease lockdown in England was announced.
Local councils supporting their communities
Financial impact survey
NALC has gathered evidence on the financial impact of the coronavirus on local councils . This information is vital to our representation to the government on the loss of income to local councils during these difficult times, and the need for a tailored financial support package for the local council sector. A short survey was sent to local councils and NALC’s Super Councils Network to complete. We are also working with county officers on a separate survey on the financial impact on county associations.
Local councils are ideally placed to inform and support residents as they already do in so many spheres — from assisting during flooding and other emergencies to supporting vulnerable or lonely people. And this will almost certainly be the case in the current situation. Cllr Sue Baxter, chairman of NALC, met Nigel Huddleston MP (DCMS minister and their representative on COBRA) on NALC’s Lobby Day on 10 March, who saw a potentially big role for parishes during the current period, including keeping an eye on vulnerable people and encouraging new volunteers to come forward to help.
NALC has also engaged with PHE and communicated the desire from local councils to support their communities and the need for information on how best to do this within the scope of government advice on social distancing. PHE is launching further guidance to support community activities next week, which we will share widely.
We know already the coronavirus has affected every community in many ways, with local councils doing a brilliant job in difficult circumstances. Playing their part to support the community and its residents, businesses, and groups at this challenging time.
Such as Woodbridge Town Council in Suffolk, which has set up an emergency response group of councillors and volunteers which will assist with collection/delivery of medicines, shopping, walking the dog or simply being a voice at the end of the phone, and Hagley Parish Council in Worcestershire, which is acting as an information hub and plans to publicise restaurants offering a delivery service and contact details for NHS helplines. And Backwell Parish Council, Somerset, has a dedicated team of over 30 volunteers who can organise to have someone regularly check with the elderly or at high-risk either by phone, Skype or FaceTime.
You can read more about their work, and that of other local councils, in our newly published Coronavirus case studies publication.
Useful national resources for supporting your community
- On 26 March 2020, the government produced information on how to help people safely.
- Public Health England has also produced a range of material to support the Stay Home, Save Lives' campaign, free to download and use.
- NHS England has launched a national volunteer initiative that you can share with your residents.
- The British Red Cross also has several volunteer schemes to help communities in emergencies.
- Communities Prepared has created free training resources for volunteers and local groups wishing to support their communities during the pandemic — they also provide free training and resources around wider emergency preparedness.
- NALC partners, Parish Online, has published information on how digital mapping can help local councils support their communities during this crisis. To support local councils at this time, Parish Online is offering a 30-day free trial to new subscribers.
Preparing for the return to face-to-face meetings
NALC summary position and guidance on return to face-to-face local council meetings
Following the High Court Judgment on remote meetings, without further legislation there are no definitive answers and NALC is taking the approach of advising the safest course for local councils taking into account both Covid laws and local government law.
The current position is unsatisfactory and will cause huge problems for many of the 10,000 local councils in England, which the sector will address in its usual professional way and in the best interests of residents.
It is clear that the legal position is that local councils need to meet face-to-face, rather than remotely, and be open to attendance in person from the public.
As we have advised previously in our guidance on preparing for the possible return to face-to-face meetings, local councils should take steps to address this issue through measures such as delegation to clerks, deferring controversial decisions or holding meetings later in the year, after the 19 July 2021 roadmap date.
Any face-to-face meeting should be held in line with restrictions and public health advice in place at that time. So, in practical terms, local councils will have no choice but to control the numbers of people physically in the meeting room at any one time in order to comply with the Government’s Covid restrictions.
When calling a meeting, local councils must conduct a risk assessment of any available venue and you can find details of how to in the Managing Facilities and Public Spaces section.
In light of the risk assessment it is advised to set out in the notice of the meeting and the agenda, the arrangements for safely meeting (for example social distancing, wearing of masks and hand sanitising and other measures) and the number of the public that can be accommodated.
If there is a large influx of the public for a meeting which exceeds the room’s safe capacity as stated on the agenda, then the permitted number of attendees should not be exceeded. Local councils should manage as they would usually any disruptive behaviour or health and safety risks.
If the assessment is that the room cannot hold a safety meeting and no other venue is available or there is no outside space then, the local council will need to take appropriate mitigating actions including delaying meetings until after 19 July 2021.
The meeting notice should also set out any arrangements for live streaming and making the meeting available for the public to observe proceedings and encourage the public to watch remotely.
Councils may also want to encourage members of the public to make written representations on issues rather than attending in person.
Further information and statement on the current position
The High Court has decided that the continuation of remote meetings for councils in England is a matter that must be decided by Parliament and not by the courts. They made the point that the Parliament of Scotland and the Welsh Senedd have already passed legislation allowing remote meetings.
As a result of this judgment, issued on 28 April 2021, remote meetings cannot take place in England after 6 May 2021, though this will be reviewed in the longer term through the government’s call for evidence which councils are being encouraged to respond to.
A further High Court judgment on 4 May 2021 addressed the issue of public participation in meetings and ruled that local authority meetings must be open to the public in a physical sense. References to a meeting are “open to the public” or “held in public” in the Court’s view mean the physical attendance by the public. This means that the public can attend in person and councils have to provide such facilities. This should however be provided and managed in line with current restrictions and public health advice. So, in practical terms, local councils have no choice but to control the numbers of people physically in the meeting room at any one time to comply with the Government’s Covid restrictions in place.
The Court judgment concludes:
“None of this, of course, prevents a local authority from broadcasting or live-streaming some or all of its meetings so as to allow wider public access. But such broadcasting or live-streaming does not, on its own, satisfy the requirement for the meeting to be “open to the public” or “held in public”. We say nothing about the numbers of the members of the public who should be admitted in person, which will no doubt be subject to current public health or Government guidance. But subject to that practical consideration, or any other legislative intervention, where the requirement for the meeting to be “open to the public” or “held in public” applies, members of the public must be admitted in person as well.”
Further information and guidance on this from the Association of Democratic Services Officers and Lawyers in Local Government, with which NALC concurs, is set out here.
Both NALC and the Society of Local Council Clerks are disappointed at this ruling (you can read NALC’s statement in response) and are continuing to lobby the Government to address this issue as a matter of urgency as it is a problem of the Government’s own making that they should have resolved already. Our chairman, Cllr Sue Baxter, has made direct representations to the minister and will be meeting him shortly. In the meantime, we would urge everyone to respond to the current call for evidence from MHCLG to enable remote meetings to continue should local councils wish. Please stay in touch with your MPs to draw this matter to their attention and ask them to support you by lobbying the Government.
The current situation will cause many county associations, local councils, councillors and clerks, huge difficulties and the impossible dilemma of balancing these requirements with the other restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic rules.
However, we have a clear legal judgment that existing legislation does not permit councils to hold remote meetings and any practical solutions must not circumvent the law. Just as local councils responded positively to the pandemic embracing remote meetings to conduct business and ensure democratic oversight and accountability, we would expect local councils to make decisions to enable the business to be conducted safely and effectively and in line with the sector’s traditions of good governance, transparency and democratic accountability; and within the framework of the Nolan Principles and the Code of Conduct.
Government guidance on holding meetings safely
The first point of call for local councils should be the government guidance for the safe use of council buildings which gives guidance on matters procedural, such as the delegation of decisions to officers. It has been updated and is kept under review. Individual local councils will have to decide what they do in practice based on their particular needs while also having reference to the requirements of transparency and democratic accountability.
Some key points from the guidance include:
- Use your existing powers to delegate decision making to minimise the number of meetings you need to hold
- If holding a physical annual meeting, local authorities should consider holding it (and any other physical meetings) after 17 May, at which point it is anticipated that a much greater range of indoor activity can resume in line with the roadmap set out by the government on 22 February.
- Local authorities have legal obligations to ensure that members of the public have access to most of their meetings.
- Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, even though redesigning a particular meeting, local authorities should consider whether that meeting needs to continue for the local authority to operate and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between members and others.
- Local authorities that require additional space for essential meetings can hire function and event space at permitted venues. Local authorities should not hire function or event space for non-essential purposes.
- Meetings, where local authorities deem that in-person attendance is not required, should continue to be held virtually. For example, this would include non-statutory or other informal meetings.
NALC advice on risk assessments and mitigating measures
The Covid rules applicable at the time of the meeting must be complied with, including social distancing. It would be wise to ensure that sanitiser is provided. The room should be well ventilated (doors and windows open). One-way access should be provided if possible. Printed papers/agendas should be avoided as much as possible. NALC previous guidance published in March in the section further below set out preparations local councils should be taking to meet face-to-face and advice on how to reduce risk.
NALC and BHIB Councils Insurance have produced a guide on risk assessment for COVID-19. The guide features guidance and information to help make risk assessments and directs to useful resources from the government and the Health and Safety Executive, with specific details on how to adapt your risk assessments for COVID-19. The guide also contains two templates designed especially for local councils that will help start risk assessments. Read the Risk assessment for COVID-19
Templates are also available for:
- Council reopening checklist
- General workplace risk assessment
- Reopening toilets — download the editable version
- Play areas and outside gyms — download the editable version
Previous March guidance on preparing for the possible return of face-to-face meetings
The regulations that allow local authorities to hold meetings remotely apply to local authority meetings that are required to be held, or held, before 7 May 2021. This means that, without any further action from the government, all local authorities including local councils must return to face-to-face meetings from 7 May. NALC is working with a number of national bodies to press the government to extend these regulations beyond this date and will continue to stress the urgency and importance of this issue. However, at this time government has no plans to extend these regulations and so councils should start preparing for the real possibility of face to face meetings from May.
NALC’s position remains that all local councils should continue to meet remotely while the regulations are in force. The guidance below has been written to help local councils prepare for the scenario that remote council meetings cannot lawfully take place from 7 May 2021. There is still much uncertainty around how legislation or COVID-19 risks may change over the coming weeks and months. NALC will update this guidance as the situation evolves. Each council will have to decide which course of action will best fit their needs and manage risks.
To help local councils prepare for this possibility some advice and suggestions are below:
- Consider what council business can be conducted before May so that the council can dedicate time to those issues in remote meetings. The more discussion and decisions you can conduct in remote meetings means the council can aim to hold fewer and shorter face to face meetings after May.
- This may require more meeting time than is currently planned, so the council should look at the meeting schedule in the run-up to May and see if more time or more meetings are required. Where possible, consider holding the annual council meeting and the parish meeting while the current Regulations permit for them to be held remotely (see also NALC’s Legal Briefing L01-20).
- Consider when the council does need to meet face to face, and whether meetings can be delayed to later in the year when the potential COVID-19 risk may be further reduced.
- The council might consider holding a remote meeting as late as possible in April so that councillors who are unable to attend face-to-face meetings will have as much time as possible before disqualification by virtue of s.85 of the Local Government Act 1972 becomes an issue.
- It may help the council’s business continuity to implement (or review) a scheme of delegation. This would allow the clerk to make certain decisions for the council, which would be especially important if the council were unable to hold meetings due to COVID-19 risks. In reviewing/adopting a scheme of delegation the council should ensure there is clarity around which decisions are delegated and which are not, for how long the scheme of delegation is in place, and when the scheme of the delegation will end or be reviewed.
Some tips that may help manage well-attended remote meetings are:
- keeping the meeting short with limited business/votes
- using electronic voting tools (many platforms have built-in tools for voting)
- if you plan to vote by a show of hands or calling a register then budget significant extra time for this
- building in public engagement through online tools, that you could use to ask the public to feedback or express views that you would usually discuss in a meeting You could do also do this before or after the meeting as a way of ensuring ongoing public engagement (there are a number of free tools available online)
- build in time to practice and prepare with the Clerk and Chairman in advance of the meeting
- Further guidance on holding effective remote meetings available from NALC
From May 2021, as face-to-face council meetings resume there will still be the risk to attendees of COVID-19 exposure. Councils should conduct a risk assessment in advance of a face to face meeting which should give consideration to what the council can do to reduce risk to councillors, staff and public including:
- Providing hand sanitiser to those entering the meeting room and making sure hand sanitiser is readily available in the room itself
- Staggering arrival and exit times for staff, councillors and members of the public
- Placing seating at least 2-metres apart
- Ensuring everyone wears face masks
- Holding paperless meetings
- If papers are provided, people should be discouraged from sharing with others and asked to take the papers with them at the end of the meeting to minimise how many people handle the papers
- Arranging seating so people are not facing each other directly
- Choosing a venue with good ventilation, including opening windows and doors where possible
- Choosing a large enough venue to allow distancing – this may mean choosing a different venue to what the council used before.
- The council (or venue owner/operator) will need to identify the venue’s maximum capacity in their risk assessment, taking into account the need for social distancing. Consider how the council will ensure this capacity is not exceeded and how it will manage the situation if more people wish to attend than capacity allows. For example, could meetings be live-streamed or could members of the public submit questions via email?
- If the venue has an NHS QR code to support test and trace then all attendees should register using that app, for those without access to the app they should register attendance in line with the venue’s test and trace procedure. NB all venues in hospitality, the tourism and leisure industry, close contact services, community centres and village halls must have a test and trace procedure
- Venues must conform with the government guidance for multi-purpose community facilities and for council buildings. If the venue is run by the council then the council must take responsibility for this, otherwise, the council can ask the venue to provide confirmation that they do conform to this guidance
- The council must understand and ensure it is acting in compliance with the latest government safer workplaces guidance
- It would be advisable to inform the clerk and any other staff whose role involves supporting or attending council meetings, as soon as possible that the council will need to prepare to return to face to face meetings from May onwards. This will allow them to make the necessary preparations as described above, and also to allow time to engage with staff to alleviate any concerns they may have related to attending physical meetings again.
- Councils should consult with staff (ask for and consider their views to try and reach an agreement) about returning to work as part of their preparations for face to face meetings.
- The council must make the workplace (including council meetings) as safe as possible for staff, this includes undertaking a risk assessment, taking reasonable steps to reduce risks identified in the risk assessment, and ensure it is acting in compliance with the latest Government safer workplaces guidance
- ACAS have produced useful guidance for employers and employees related to COVID-19, including advice on how to support staff to return to the workplace and how to manage situations where staff may be worried or not wish to return.
Engaging with the government
NALC is continuing to engage with the government, and other stakeholders such as the LGA and PHE, how local councils are responding to the current public health crisis, and raising issues regarding any impact on the operation of our local councils.
The House of Commons considered the fast-tracked Coronavirus Bill on 23 March 2020 and House of Lords on 24/25 March 2020. It has now received Royal Assent and is an Act of Parliament. Provisions of particular relevance to local councils are on the postponement of local elections and local authority meetings. We are pressing the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to work with us on any subsequent regulations. We don’t have the timeframe for those at present but will keep you updated.
A summary of issues that we have been raising with MHCLG, including those which relate to the Coronavirus Act, include:
- Holding statutory meetings (such as annual parish meeting and the annual council meeting) – We are communicating the concerns that councils have around their ability to hold meetings within the statutory deadlines.
- Audit deadlines — We are communicating the concerns that local councils have about holding meetings within the statutory deadlines.
- Local elections — With the postponement of local elections, we seek clarification on the implications of this, including on by-elections and neighbourhood planning referendums.
- Democratic decision-making (e.g. if councils are unable to be quorate for an extended period of time) — We are communicating the difficulties that councils are experiencing or expecting. This includes the question of phone/online attendance.
- Public Works Loan Board – We have sought clarification on whether repayments would be subject to deferral in keeping with other measures announced regarding mortgages and loans.
On 16 March 2020, local government secretary Robert Jenrick MP addressed over 300 council leaders and sector bodies calling on the government’s response to coronavirus. He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to supporting councils to focus their efforts on the priority area of social care, providing vital support for vulnerable people and supporting their local economies — read the full press release on MHCLG’s website. NALC is still pressing to clarify how some of these changes not covered in the Coronavirus Act will apply to local councils.
On 30 April 2020, Robert Jenrick MP, secretary of state for Housing, Communities and Local Government, wrote a letter to town and parish councils thanking them for their work supporting communities during this pandemic. Cllr Sue Baxter, chairman of NALC, responded saying “I am pleased the local government secretary has acknowledged and praised the fantastic response from local (parish and town) councils across England in supporting their communities during this pandemic. I welcome the recognition of the financial challenges facing local government and the need for support. We will continue to discuss how best to address this with the government and the Local Government Association.”
NALC will continue to engage with the government on these issues.
Accounts and Audit (Coronavirus) Amendment Regulations 2020
On 6 April 2020, the government brought regulations into force to change audit deadlines – you can read more in the local council activity and operations section.
On 30 March 2020, NALC responded to the government's proposed regulations, which would extend the deadline for the inspection/publication requirements in the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015. Their communication stated that the government was not currently planning to amend the requirements for smaller authorities at that point. NALC has undertaken a rapid engagement exercise seeking input from the local council sector, including representatives from different local councils, county associations, SLCC, and the Association of Drainage Authorities and the National Audit Office.
Local council meetings
On 2 April 2020, the government published The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020. On the same day, NALC wrote to the government to feedback issues and queries related to the new regulations — read NALC’s comments on behalf of the local council sector.
HR and employment
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 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 due to the restrictions being put in place to fight COVID-19 and where they cannot be reallocated to other roles. At heart, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is to help avoid redundancies. For example, where a local council has community facilities closed due to 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 coronavirus response, 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.
If a local council considers furloughing any staff, then NALC and HR Service Partnerships (HRSP) have produced template letters for members to aid this process.
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 latter. The previous period was 30 days.
Councils should be advised to provide accurate and true information when applying for furlough and stick within the scheme's stated rules. 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 claimed 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 to HMRC.
You must also pay the employer National Insurance contributions to HMRC on the full amount 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 regarding these must be paid, or you will need to repay the money 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. In contrast, 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 prioritised for testing. On 1 May 2020, 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. As the employer, the council 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 2020, the National Joint Council for local government services has issued guidance for councils and council staff 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 2020. 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, per the guidance published by Public Health England, NHS Scotland or Public Health Wales and effective on 12 March 2020, and because 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 Regulations' operation under review, and they will cease to affect eight months after they come in to force.
Managing facilities and public spaces
NHS Test and Trace
On 18 September 2020, new regulations came into force, making it a legal requirement for venues to log details of visitors, customers, and staff. Local council venues and buildings that allow public access or bookings must:
- Have a system in place to request and record contact details of their customers, visitors and staff
- Register for an official NHS QR code and display the official NHS QR poster from 24 September 2020
Collecting contact details and maintaining records for NHS Test and Trace is a legal requirement and failure to comply is punishable by a fine.
The government has produced:
- Guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities
- Guidance for the safe use of council buildings
- Guidance on the phased return of sport and recreation
- Guidance for the owners and operators of urban centres and green spaces to help social distancing
- Guidance for people who work in grassroots sport and gym/leisure facilities
We had positive discussions with MHCLG colleagues on recent government guidance on managing playgrounds and outdoor gyms. NALC and SLCC welcome API's guidance that provides practical steps for playground operators. It refers to the government guidance and sets out examples of practice that may be appropriate for local (parish and town) councils or other owners and operators to consider.
BHIB Council’s Insurance have produced guidance on re-opening playgrounds plus a set of templates to help councils risk assess play areas (available above)
RoSPA has also provided additional information to complement government guidance.
Shrewsbury Town Council has produced a template poster for playground signage that any local council can use.
Multi-purpose community facilities
The government has produced guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities and guidance for the safe use of council buildings, including what activities can take place and what practical steps can be taken to manage risks.
Risk assessment for COVID-19
NALC and BHIB Councils Insurance have produced a new guide on risk assessment for COVID-19. The guide features guidance and information to help make risk assessments and directs to useful resources from the government and the Health and Safety Executive, with specific details on how to adapt your risk assessments for COVID-19. The guide also contains two templates designed especially for local councils that will help start risk assessments.
Templates are available for:
- Council reopening checklist
- General workplace risk assessment
- Reopening toilets — download the editable version
- Play areas and outside gyms — download the editable version
There is a range of organisations producing information to help manage facilities and public spaces:
- On 3 June 2020, CFP published a guide to managing public parks during COVID-19. This includes specific sections related to car parks, children’s play areas, outdoor gyms, ball courts, sports activities, public toilets, cafes and visitor centres.
- The Lawn Tennis Association has produced information related to tennis activities during COVID-19.
- Skateboard England has produced a set of guidelines for skating safely.
- The Visitors Safety Group have produced guidance on work practices for landowners and countryside managers.
- The National Allotment Society has issued useful guidance on how to manage allotments per government regulations.
- BHIB Councils Insurance has developed advice on expectations of local councils regarding playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment.
Support to help high streets
The High Streets Task Force, an alliance of place-making experts that encourages, tools and skills to help communities and councils transform their high streets, has launched a range of support for high streets in England.
The support, which is available to local councils and all organisations involved with high streets, includes free access to online training programmes and webinars and data and intelligence on topics including recovery planning and coordination, public space and place marketing.
Coronavirus and cybersecurity
The National Centre for Cyber Security has launched a campaign geared towards the public during COVID-19 times. This includes useful best practice we can all be following at work, but also it is useful information to share with residents.
Two of NALC’s partners have also provided advice for local councils on cybersecurity:
- Microshade has provided additional advice for local councils as fraudsters exploit the spread of coronavirus to facilitate various types of fraud and cybercrime.
- BHIB Councils Insurance has developed cybersecurity tips to help keep local councils and their staff secure and keep online data safe.
Data protection and GDPR
On 12 March 2020, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) released a statement to reassure organisations seeking to support their communities at this time. It includes this information:
"Data protection and electronic communication laws do not stop Government, the NHS or any other health professionals from sending public health messages to people, either by phone, text or email as these messages are not direct marketing. Nor does it stop them using the latest technology to facilitate safe and speedy consultations and diagnoses. Public bodies may require additional collection and personal data sharing to protect against serious public health threats.
The ICO is a reasonable and pragmatic regulator that does not operate in isolation from serious public concern matters. Regarding compliance with data protection, we will take into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency.”
To support this statement, the ICO has also produced further guidance around data protection and coronavirus.
Local death management powers
The government has produced statutory guidance issued under s.58 and Schedule 28 to the Coronavirus Act 2020. The 2020 Act introduced new powers for local authorities and government to support local death management systems' resilience and step in if they become overwhelmed.
Parish councils are excluded from the local authority's definition for s.58 and Schedule 12 to the 2020 Act. Their role as burial authorities is recognised. Essentially the role of parish councils under the 2020 Act is one of co-operation should they choose to do so:
- The powers in Part 1 of Schedule 28 enable local authorities to require persons and national authorities to provide information to assist those authorities to ascertain the capacity to deal with transportation, storage or disposal of dead bodies and other human remains in a particular area or nationally. The guidance on Part 1 confirms that parish councils “are not included in defining what constitutes an English local authority. However, as parish councils are often burial and/or cremation authorities, they may cooperate with local authorities to ensure appropriate death management occurs”.
- Part 2 of Schedule 28 gives local and national authorities powers of direction to manage capacity in the death management system. The guidance on Part 2 provides that parish councils “are not included in defining what constitutes an English local authority. However, as parish councils are often burial and/or cremation authorities, they may cooperate with local authorities to ensure appropriate death.
The government has provided guidance where the coronavirus situation impacts neighbourhood planning, including the referendum process, decision-making, oral representations for examinations, and public consultation — find it by scrolling to the very bottom of the neighbourhood planning guidance.
The recently published issue of NALC’s flagship magazine, LCR, features a coronavirus-themed special section.
As local councils stepped up to help the vulnerable in their communities at the outset of the pandemic, there was clear evidence that the magazine could provide some must-read practical tips to local councils and also present some great leadership cases studies.
So, in this issue, there are coronavirus features on:
- how local councils can manage their volunteers;
- how they have been responding to, and leading on, the pandemic;
- how they can keep their momentum going while working from home.
But please do read the rest of the magazine, which spotlights those councillors, councils and county associations doing excellent work. It also gives information and advice and guidance on a range of topical issues – from actions being put in place to speed up rural mobile coverage, to advice on how to get to grips with the new web accessibility regulations.
This page was last updated on 20 January 2022.