Coronavirus (COVID-19) information and advice

Reopening your business safely

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice and Information

Here you will find the latest advice from GOV.UK and the NHS.

See the latest government information on what you can and can’t do.

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus.

Somerset West and Taunton Council will preserve critical services, safeguard the public, and ensure our most vulnerable residents are supported. The situation is subject to change based on the latest advice from Public Health England.

SignHealth is a charity dedicated to making sure Deaf people get the same sort of access as hearing people to healthcare and health information. See sign language videos with information about coronavirus.

Stay up to date by following us on Facebook and Twitter

SWT has closed its offices to protect our community and staff but the Council is still working, delivering critical services and ensuring our most vulnerable residents are supported.

Our customer services team are answering calls on 0300 304 8000 between 8am – 6pm. If you have a homeless emergency please call the free phone number 0808 164 5186.

You can also use our Coronavirus support online form.

Many of our services can be accessed online and we would encourage you to use these where possible.

Customers can help us through this unprecedented time by not communicating via paper post as far as possible as we are no longer processing incoming mail. Please do not contact us by post until further notice. If you have written to us since 23 March please contact us again via our website.

This is particularly important for the planning service where we would encourage you to use the Planning Portal to submit applications or email planning@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk for advice.

Somerset Coronavirus helpline

A single phone number is also now available for anyone in Somerset who needs Coronavirus-related support from their councils.

The Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline number, 0300 790 6275, will make it easier for people access any local authority help they may need, including emotional support, in the current crisis.

It links together the district and county council contact centres and will be operating seven days a week, 8am to 6pm, making it the one number you need to remember for Coronavirus-related enquiries. See Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline launched for further information. 

For quick up to date information regarding SWT services please follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

If you have concerns about your own health and coronavirus please visit the NHS website.

There has been a significant increase in coronavirus related frauds.

Follow these tips for staying safe when online:

Watch out for scam messages

Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details.

Dealing with phishing emails

Shopping online

If you’re making a purchase from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask a friend or family member for advice before completing the purchase. Where possible, use a credit card to make the payment, as most major credit card providers insure online purchases.

Protect your devices from the latest threats

Always install the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from the latest threats.

Using passwords to protect your devices

Top pieces of advice to stop fraud

  • Check that the message makes sense: This applies not only to the grammar and spelling, but also to the message as a whole – does what you are being asked to do sound right? Would that person typically ask you to do this action in this way?
  • Always confirm that a message is genuine by calling the person or organisation involved: Avoid using any numbers featured in the correspondence, look these up separately
  • Never click on links and attachments, unless you are 100% sure that they have been verified: There is almost always another way to check (e.g. by using your web browser)
  • Stop and think before engaging with any correspondence: This applies not only to emails but to calls/texts/social media messages. Criminals look to apply pressure in some way to force people into making mistakes, so take a step back, don’t be rushed, and get a clear perspective.
  • Only use official sources (e.g. Government website) for information around Coronavirus
  • Watch out for fake login pages/URL spoofing: When visiting a page/logging in, check the URL in the address bar to ensure that you’re on the correct page, and everything operates as it should do. For added piece of mind, you can bookmark important sites and only visit those sites via that bookmark.

More information

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a great article which you can find on their website.

Reporting

If you have been a victim of a cyber crime, please report it to Action Fraud, which is the UK’s national cyber crime reporting portal. You can make a report by telephoning 0300 123 2040 or on their website.

Reporting helps build intelligence for law enforcement, which can aid investigations as well as informational campaigns to prevent others from becoming victims.

Action Fraud operates a 24/7 live cyber reporting line for organisations.

Health Protection regulations have come into force requiring the closure of crematoria to the general public except for those mourners attending pre-arranged services.

The Taunton Crematorium remains open for pre-arranged services and is staffed but we ask that contact with the office is made by phone or email not face to face.

We continue to conduct services and are asking for reduced attendances with a maximum of 25 people.

All our cemeteries remain open at this time in line with Government advice and we ask visitors to observe the appropriate social distancing.

Please note the cemetery at the Taunton Crematorium is open to the public with some restrictions in place while works are being undertaken.

Useful contact details

Businesses are advised to keep updated on the latest information and advice to inform their responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19).  Here are the latest links for advice, support and guidance.

Download our Financial Support for Business Guide

Small Business Grant Fund and Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund payment

Guidance to employers and businesses about COVID-19

Support for those affected by COVID-19

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (for businesses with a turnover of less than £45m)

Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (for businesses with a turnover greater than £45m)

Remote Working Advice Toolkit

Heart of the South West Growth Hub - Guidance for Business

COVID-19 Advice and Support for Employees

The Government's COVID-19 Business Support Website

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offers loans of up to 5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank - Loans will be interest free for the first 6 months.  Please visit the British Business Bank website for details

A new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans, further details are available from the Bank of England website. 

If you would like help to interpret Government guidelines on apprenticeships or would like to consider skilling up during this challenging time, please the Skill Up Somerset team.  You can email m.howard@skillupws.org.uk or call 07395796297 or you can view the Skill Up Somerset website

We are processing Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses Grant requests in the order in which we have received them and will be making further payments each working day until all eligible businesses, that have provided the necessary information, have been paid. We will send an email to each eligible business once their claim has been passed for payment so they know the money is on its way.

For eligible businesses that have not yet provided the necessary information to obtain a grant you can find out more and upload your details on our Business Grants webpage.

The Council can provide the following support to ratepayers:

Business Rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and childcare nurseries

The Government has introduced a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and for childcare nurseries in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

You are eligible for the business rates holiday if your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector.

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure e.g. sports grounds, gyms, museums
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation
  • for providing services to visiting members of the public e.g. travel agents, estate agents, hairdressers, funeral directors

Or

  • if you are a provider on Ofsted’s Early Years Register and your property is wholly or mainly used for the provision of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

We have applied the rates holiday to those rate accounts that we believe are eligible, and issued revised bills showing £zero to pay for 2020/21 (subject to the property remaining occupied by the ratepayer).

You do not need to contact us to apply unless you have not previously claimed retail discount – if this is the case please contact us by email: revenues@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

The rates holiday is applicable to occupied properties only.

Grants for retail, hospitality and leisure ratepayers

The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme provides ratepayers in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property.

These grants are available to sole traders, limited companies, partnerships as well as community and voluntary organisations.

Ratepayers are eligible for a grant fund payment from this Council (subject to certain exclusions) if, at the 11 March 2020, they were the ratepayer for a property in the Somerset West and Taunton area which was entitled to:

  1. Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) - you will receive a grant payment of £10,000
  2. Rural Rate Relief (RRR) – you will receive a grant payment of £10,000
  3. The Expanded Retail Discounts, and which have a rateable value of less than £51,000 - you will receive the following levels of grant payment:
  • Ratepayers with a rateable value up to £15,000 can receive a grant payment of £10,000
  • Ratepayers with a rateable value over £15,000 and less than £51,000 can receive a grant payment of £25,000

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues for assembly and leisure e.g. sports grounds, gyms, museums
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation
  • for providing services to visiting members of the public e.g. travel agents, estate agents, hairdressers, funeral directors

To find out more about these grants, and to provide the information required in order for a payment to be made, please visit the Business Grants - COVID 19 response page of our website.

Rates instalments

If, due to present financial pressures, you think that you will miss all or part of a rate payment, we may be able to reschedule your instalments so that they start later or are spread over a longer time. Please either call 0300 304 8000 (option 3) or use the general enquiries online form on our website.

SWT is working with partner organisations across the county to identify and support the network of volunteers offering help to the elderly, people self-isolating, and those identified as at risk across our communities. The Council would like to thank all those that have come forward with offers of help and would remind everyone to only make essential outings and follow advice on social distancing to reduce the risk of transmission. Information on local community groups you can volunteer with or get help from.

Somerset Coronavirus Appeal offers grants for groups helping people in need

The Somerset Coronavirus Appeal, launched by Somerset Community Foundation (SCF), is offering fast-tracked funding for all local charities, community organisations and volunteer groups helping those in most urgent need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Grants up to £10,000 are available, and SCF pledges to award funding within three working days.

Please view our Coronavirus community support pack.

If you have received a letter from the NHS telling you that you're clinically extremely vulnerable, you can register on the gov.uk website to get support as a clinically extremely vulnerable person.

If you are Somerset West and Taunton Council tenant who needs help applying for the temporary jobs, please get in touch on employment@inspired2achieve.net or call 0193 5 404 075.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse continues to be a priority for all councils in Somerset due to its long lasting impact on the lives of survivors and their families This Covid-19 edition of the Somerset Domestic Abuse Newsletter has useful local and national information to help you identify and support people affected by domestic abuse at this time.

SWT will be holding virtual committee meetings from Monday 27 April 2020 until further notice.

The temporary arrangements have been put in place following Government legislation and guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Members of the public will still be able to register to speak and ask questions which will be read out by the Governance and Democracy Case Manager during Public Question Time.

The meetings will be live streamed so that members of the public can watch from home. For more information please visit our webcasting website.

In Environmental Health we are responsible for helping to enforce The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. The following provides advice and guidance on the requirements for those businesses still permitted to trade in order to ensure their staff and customers remain safe from the virus.

For businesses to check that they are permitted to trade at the current time please go the Gov.uk website for guidance on closing certain businesses and venues.

A number of other businesses and venues can open from 4 July – Full list and guidance on the requirements for opening.

As restrictions on business begin to lift it is essential that this is carefully planned to ensure both your staff and customers remain safe. Better Business for All have produced a COVID-19 Toolkit: Considerations for Restarting your Business (Version 4) to help you with this.

The government has also published two sector specific documents that will help you understand what you need to do to comply with the regulations and ensure your staff and customers remain safe.

In addition to the above, this Public Health England guidance will assist employers, businesses and their staff in trading safely during this time.

More specific guidance for food businesses.

If you plan to offer a delivery or takeaway service during these times, there is some specific guidance to follow.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) also has a raft of information relating to COVID-19 that ALL businesses may find useful with regards to their Health & Safety responsibilities.

The Government has also produced guidelines for working safely during coronavirus.

If buildings, rooms or facilities have been closed, water could stagnate and cause Legionella to grow. Guidance for managing Legionella in building water systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posters

We have put together a series of posters for food businesses, some of which you may find useful to print and display in your premises.

Reporting outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 early outbreak management information has been created to make sure that people who run businesses or organisations know how to recognise and report an incident of coronavirus (COVID-19).

This information is contained within ‘action cards’ that have been designed for specific situations where an outbreak could occur. This could be a:

  • restaurant or café
  • construction site
  • place of worship

Full details can be found on  COVID-19 early outbreak management on the Gov.uk website.

If you are concerned about a business who is trading at this time, you can visit the Gov.uk website to check if this is permitted. If you find that it is not permitted to trade, or have concerns over a business’s practices (i.e. social distancing) please contact Environmental Health on using our general enquiries online form.

Guidance for consumers on Coronavirus and Food

Guidance on safe shopping

Guidance on how to wash your hands effectively

We wrote to existing customers on 8 April 2020 to tell them of a change to their Housing Benefit (HB) because of the following changes made by Central Government to give more help during the outbreak of coronavirus. All new customers will get the same help.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

The Government increased help to customers who rent their home from a private landlord by increasing LHA rates so they meet at least 30% of the market rents in the area.

From 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, the LHA rates are:

  • Shared accommodation - £84.50 a week
  • One bedroom - £103.56 a week
  • Two bedrooms - £136.93 a week
  • Three bedrooms - £164.55 a week
  • Four bedrooms - £207.12 a week

Additional earnings disregard

We have temporarily increased the additional earnings disregard (the amount we ignore when working out the earned income of qualifying customers) from £17.10 a week to £37.10 a week from 6 April 2020. This is because the Government has temporarily increased the basic element of Working Tax Credit (WTC) by the same amount and means you won’t lose out when we reduce your HB because your WTC has gone up.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are applying the increased WTC over a 35-day period from 9 April 2020. The increase will apply from 6 April 2020 and you will get a back payment. HMRC will tell us of the changes to WTC and we will reassess HB awards. This will means HB will go down but from a later date and you will not be overpaid HB.

It's important to keep up to date with the latest information and advice from the government.

If you are experiencing difficulties meeting your mortgage repayments because of COVID-19, you may be entitled to a ‘mortgage holiday’ for 3 months. This includes if you are a landlord whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19.

You should contact your mortgage lender as early as possible to discuss the options and the application process.

For homeowners, the Department of Works and Pension (DWP) may also be able to help towards interest payments on;

  • your mortgage
  • loans you’ve taken out for certain repairs and improvements to your home

To be considered for this help you usually need to be getting, or treated as getting, one of the following qualifying benefits to get SMI:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit

This help is called Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). It’s paid as a loan, which you’ll need to repay with interest when you sell or transfer ownership of your home.

Read more about Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI).

If your income has been affected by the Coronavirus and this means you are going to miss a payment or are not able to pay the full amount, then it is very important that you contact us as soon as possible on 0300 304 8000 or by email at revenues@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk so we can discuss the available options with you.

We may be able to:

  • start your instalments from June (rather than April)
  • spread your instalments over 12 months (Apr to Mar) rather than the usual 10 months (Apr to Jan)
  • help you apply for Council Tax Support
  • advise you on making a claim for a Discretionary Council Tax payment (where you qualify for Council Tax Support)

if you make payment by direct debit please do not cancel your direct debit without speaking with us first.

If you are making a claim for Universal Credit and you are liable for Council Tax please call our Benefit Case Managers on 0300 304 8000 to make a claim for Council Tax Support. Normally we receive a notice from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) once you receive Universal Credit. This can take several weeks so we are asking you to call our Benefit Case Managers immediately to see if we can award you any help with your Council Tax quickly. We will carry out a telephone claim and award support based on your income until we get your Universal Credit award details.

If you are not claiming Universal Credit you can apply for Council Tax Support directly from the Council. Please call our Benefit Case Managers on 0300 304 8000 where we will go through a claim with you over the telephone. You can also apply online.

If you are of working age and you get any amount of Council Tax Support (CTS) during 2020/21, we will apply a further reduction of up to £150, from a grant we have received from the Government. We sent new bills to existing CTS customers on 5 May 2020. We will award this extra help to all new CTS customers from this date automatically – you do not need to contact us or make a separate claim.

Additionally, in our Council Tax Support scheme we apply a Minimum Income Floor (MIF) for self-employed customers who have been in business for more than 12 months. This means we work out the earnings for self-employed customers using the National Minimum wage based on a normal 37 hour week regardless of the declared net profit. We will remove the MIF from 1 April 2020 and work out income based on actual circumstances and will review this at the end of June 2020. We will send these customers a new Council Tax bill.

This means self-employed people could get more Council Tax Support and more people will qualify for this – ring us if you think you now qualify for Council Tax Support because of this change.

If the impact of Covid-19 means you are no longer working as self-employed please contact us on 0300 304 8000 and we will discuss your claim and remove your declared income until you receive the Government help for self-employed or you can return to work.

If you have lost your job or your income has reduced, please also see ‘Help with Income’ below, as this contains advice regarding financial support available.

If you need help with your rent please see ‘Help with rent’ below.

There are various state benefits available that provide help for living expenses for those who have lost their job, or seen a significant reduction in their earnings.

This help is not delivered by the Council but instead through Government Departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Read about Coronavirus and claiming benefits.

If you are making a claim for Universal Credit and you are liable for Council Tax please call our Benefit Case Managers on 0300 304 8000 to make a claim for Council Tax Support. Normally we receive a notice from the Department for Work and Pensions once you receive Universal Credit. This can take several weeks so we are asking you to call our Benefit Case Managers immediately to see if we can award you any help with your Council Tax quickly. We will carry out a telephone claim and award support based on your income until we get your Universal Credit award details.

For those receiving Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, from 6 April the Government is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit for one year. Both will increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating. This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants.

If you are self-employed and claiming Universal Credit, and are required to stay at home or are ill as a result of coronavirus, the Minimum Income Floor (an assumed level of income) will not be applied for the period of time whilst you are affected.

From 6 April the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change will apply to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the outbreak.

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by coronavirus. The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Read more about eligibility for SEISS

For employees that are unable to work because there is no work to do because of COVID-19, If you and your employer both agree, your employer might be able to keep you on the payroll (even where you were made redundant after 28 February 2020). This is known as being ‘on furlough’.

Your employer could pay 80% of your wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

The scheme is expected be up and running by the end of April 2020.

Check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

SWT tenants

If you have been affected by Coronavirus or self-isolation and this has meant you are going to miss a rent payment or not pay the full amount, then it is very important that you contact us as soon as possible on 0300 304 8000 so that we can discuss this further with you.

If you are currently claiming:

  • Housing Benefit or
  • Universal Credit with housing costs towards rental liability

and you need more help with housing costs and you can ask the Council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). DHPs are not benefits. No one has an automatic right to a DHP. They are awarded at the discretion of the Council and are generally are awarded for short periods of time.

If you have lost your job or your income has reduced, please also see ‘Help with Income’ above, as this contains advice regarding financial support available.

If you need help with your Council Tax as well please see ‘Help with Council Tax’ above.

Private tenants and housing association tenants

It is important that you keep in touch with your landlord and let them know if you are going to miss a payment or not pay the full amount of your rent.

If you are currently claiming:

  • Housing Benefit or
  • Universal Credit with housing costs towards rental liability.

and you need more help with housing costs you can ask the Council for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). DHPs are not benefits. No one has an automatic right to a DHP They are awarded at the discretion of the Council and are generally are awarded for short periods of time. You can do this by contacting the Council on 0300 304 8000.

If you have lost your job or your income has reduced, please also see ‘Help with Income’ above, as this contains advice regarding financial support available.

In order to protect renters affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) the Government have put together a package of support which include:

  • Emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place
  • No new possession proceedings through applications to the court to start during the crisis.

Please note however that rent will continue to be due and any arrears that you build up can be pursued by your landlord once these emergency provisions are lifted.

Full details about Government support available for landlords and renters reflecting the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found on the Gov.uk website.

If you need help with your Council Tax as well, please see ‘Help with Council Tax’ above.

Many people will be concerned as to whether those who are homeless and rough sleepers are being supported during these challenging times. The Council is working closely with partners, the voluntary sector and others to offer self-contained accommodation to rough sleepers and many people currently living in homeless hostels so that they are able to self-isolate. This work has progressed rapidly and we have a number of accommodation providers who we are working with to provide solutions shortly and we are grateful for their support.

If you are homeless - call the Freephone number 0808 164 5186

Homefinder service

SWT have taken the decision to currently suspend the advertising and letting of new properties on Homefinder Somerset. We have taken this decision in order to respect the current government advice regarding self-isolation and social distancing. We are currently focusing efforts on providing emergency accommodation required at this current time. We apologise for any disappointment or delays with the letting of new properties, the scheme still remains open for the administration of applications and providing advice.

Accommodation providers – can you help?

Despite the above steps, the Council continues to need access to suitable self-contained accommodation and we are appealing to B&B and other accommodation establishments including holiday accommodations as well as Private rented accommodation which could be used to temporarily or permanently re-house some of our Customers. If you can help please contact us on 0300 304 8000

Are you worried about domestic abuse?

If you are experiencing domestic abuse contact the Somerset Domestic Abuse Support helpline: 0800 694 9999 or email Somerset Integrated Domestic Abuse Service General Enquiries: heretohelp@livewest.co.uk Opening Hours - 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm Saturday/Sunday.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please always call the Police on 999.

Canonsgrove – temporary Covid-19 accommodation

The Government recognises rough sleepers as particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus and we are doing all we can to provide suitable accommodation that will enable them to keep safe during this outbreak.

Canonsgrove FAQ's

We are taking measures to safeguard the public and ensure our most vulnerable residents are supported while continuing to provide critical services.

Customers can help us through this unprecedented time by using our online services and not communicating via paper post as far as possible

This is particularly important for the planning service where we would encourage you to use the Planning Portal to submit applications or email planning@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk for advice.

Maintaining the momentum in planning is considered an essential service that we will continue to provide.

Our Officers will often be able to carry out site visits without needing to directly access properties. Should such access be required they will call ahead and ask without needing to enter any homes or meet with you.

Officers will not be attending non-essential meetings and wherever possible will be undertaking phone conversations and conference calls rather than face to face meetings.

We will be holding virtual committee meetings from Monday 27 April 2020, until further notice. These temporary arrangements have been put in place following Government legislation and guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Councillors and Officers will dial into the meetings and they will be live streamed so that members of the public can watch from home. The schedule of Committee meetings can be found on the Council meetings webpage.

Normal Committee Notification Letters will be issued seven days before any committee date with full details.

Please find guidance on our speaking at a planning meetings page with regard to speaking at virtual Planning Committee.

Pre Application Advice Service – we are continuing to accept Pre Application Advice Applications, site visits are being undertaken where appropriate with social distancing rules, face to face meetings are being avoided and phone and conference calls are being undertaken.

If you have any enquiry with regard to this information please email planning@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk or telephone 01823 219147

Construction sites

See our construction sites during covid-19 page for latest information.

Covid-19

It is important to stress that this is a public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the health of everyone currently in Somerset is paramount, be those travelling communities or those living in settled communities. The challenges of COVID-19 have a greater impact on people from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, particularly around the ability to follow government guidance around travel, access to clean water, social distancing and self-isolation.

Ministerial advice (MHCLG)

The Minister for Communities (Stephen Greenhalgh) has asked all local authorities to help protect the traveller community during the Covid pandemic. This includes a request to consider establishing temporary transit (stopping) facilities. The Government has also relaxed planning legislation to enable local authorities to rapidly establish such (Covid related) facilities.

Multi-agency

There is a multi-agency group coordinating the Somerset Covid response to the gypsy and traveller community (Somerset Transient and Nomadic People Cell). This comprises of Avon and Somerset Police, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue, the Community Council for Somerset, NHS Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset County Council, Somerset West and Taunton Council, and South Somerset District Council.

Choice of site

The facility has to be on public land. A number of options must be considered including impact on neighbours, condition of site, conflict with existing uses on site, the need for extensive preparatory works. Being a Covid response, close access to facilities is important. Temporary stopping facilities have been established across Somerset.

Duration

This is a temporary ‘Covid-19’ measure. The sites will close at the end of October 2020, to coincide with the end of the travelling season. We are not expecting continuous occupation of the sites.

Illegal encampments

The facilities provide a place to which the multi-agency partnership can relocate any illegal encampments on public land that are causing highway problems or concerns to local communities (providing there are no other occupiers of the site). Illegal encampments that are not causing undue concern may be tolerated temporarily. In such circumstances, the partnership will consider the provision of water sanitation and waste collection.

Site management

Access to the temporary facilities will be controlled. Permission will be required to enter the sites. Regular patrols will be undertaken and will provide a rapid response to any concerns. Facilities will be provided such as water and sanitation. Household refuse will be collected daily. Trade waste will be discussed with the traveller community and arrangement made for clearance.

Cost

Council’s will prioritise the use of additional COVID grant funding provided by Government to cover these costs.

Permanent Sites for Travellers

There are currently no permanent public transit sites (short term occupancy) for those passing through our area in Somerset West and Taunton. Work is required to find a permanent solution. This is a matter that all partners are actively exploring.

SWT has proactively tried to identify suitable sites in Taunton and the wider authority area, but has not been successful to date.

Key to the allocation and delivery of sites is the identification of suitable land. This is principally in the gift of the landowner, although National and Local Planning Policy also requires us to consider constraints such as flooding, impact on landscape and highways as well as considering health and wellbeing by ensuring that sites are located in areas with good access to services and facilities - just as we would for settled housing.

SWT is currently reviewing its Local Plan and has asked, as part of the Issues & Options consultation, how the council can look to identify sites to meet its need Local Plan 2040. The Council will also consider any sites promoted to us through the Local Plan process for allocation in the Local Plan.

Planning and Travellers Sites

Sites can be brought forward privately, though the planning application process. SWT has a criteria based policy to assess any planning applications for traveller sites. More information can be found in the adopted Core Strategy. As part of the Local Plan review the Council will be asking whether this policy is suitable and if not how it should be amended to assist in bringing sites forward and the planning application decision making process.

SWT would always be interested to hear from private landowners who may have suitable land.

Invoice payments

The Council would like to be supportive as we can through this challenging time, and we ensuring we are following guidance from the government as the situation continues to develop.

We appreciate that business cash flows may be impacted at this time. In response, we will endeavour to ensure all invoices for supplies of goods and services to the Council will be paid within 14 days rather than our standard 30 day terms.

Self-isolating

It is absolutely crucial that you do not continue to work and instead, stay at home for a minimum of 7 days, if you experience either of the following:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)

If someone you live with someone who experiences those symptoms, you must stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms.

General advice can be found on the Coronavirus COVID-19 List of Guidance here.

We understand that many of you will struggle to make ends meet during this challenging time. However, our entire community must work together to combat the spread of the virus and you must not work if you need to self-isolate. If we discover that you have deliberately not self-isolated when you should, we will instigate disciplinary action against you and seek to revoke your licence.

Reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus or becoming infected


Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, you have a responsibility to keep safe yourself and anyone who may come into contact with your business.

The guidance from the Government is "frequently clean and disinfect objects and
surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products".

The Government guidance for employers and businesses can be read in full here.

There is also guidance for the transport sector around what to do if you think
someone you are carrying is infected.

Ideally, every vehicle should be disinfected after every hiring, but this is clearly not practically possible. However, it is possible to ensure that some form of cleaning of obvious areas takes place e.g. door handles, seat belts and buckles
and any other obvious hard surface that may have been touched by a passenger.

This would include areas that may have been infected following a passenger coughing or sneezing such as physical divisions between the front and rear of the vehicle, the rear of front seats and so on.

At this time, we should all be diligent with our hygiene and cleanliness, particularly because the symptoms of coronavirus are not always visible until days after a person becomes infected. Here are some things we would recommend, where possible:

When customers contact you to make a booking, check they are not

  • Displaying the symptoms previously mentioned;
  • Encourage customers to pay by card;
  • Ask customers to sit in the back of the vehicle;
  • Ask customers if they are able to load their own luggage/belongings, if they are able. If they can’t, wipe the any handles before and after loading them into your vehicle.

Refusing to carry a person who is displaying symptoms of Coronavirus


A taxi driver can only refuse to carry a passenger if they have a ‘reasonable
excuse’, as per section 53 of the Town police Clauses Act 1847.

We consider it reasonable for you to refuse to carry a passenger (or passengers)
if they are displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. If you need to do this, please
be polite, explain your reasons for doing so and do your best to help that person
find an alternative way of getting home.

The Council would like to be as supportive as we can through this challenging time and we are ensuring we follow guidance from the government as this situation continues to develop.  As a landlord, our main priority is to protect the wellbeing of our tenants and this means reducing the risk of spreading the virus.  Therefore we have immediately put in place measures to limit non-essential face to face contact and where-ever possible we will engage with you by phone, text, email or in writing instead in order to operate our usual services.

Update 20 May

We have sent letters to all our council housing tenants listing support and guidance available to them during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Update 29 April 2020

Grounds maintenance information for council housing tenants:

We are closely following government and Public Health England’s guidance, putting appropriate operational processes in place so we can continue to deliver a reasonable standard of grounds maintenance and uphold safe, well-maintained and attractive environments for all our customers. We have instructed all employees to avoid any physical contact and to maintain the stated distance of 2.0 metres apart from customers and the wider general public.

We are working outdoors in small teams and operationally, these teams are kept separate from one another.

We are currently undertaking limited grounds maintenance in our ‘open spaces and parks’. We are giving priority to play areas and pavilions where we are also undertaking health and safety compliance checks.

On our council housing estates we have reprioritised our programme of works as follows:

  1. The large areas of grass;
  2. Communal flat block areas, including washing line areas;
  3. Sheltered housing sites; and grounds maintenance information and advice for customers
  4. All other areas

Please don’t hesitate to contact the Council if you have an urgent concern about your grounds maintenance.

Update 6 April 2020

A single phone number is also now available for anyone in Somerset who needs Coronavirus-related support from their councils.

The Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline number, 0300 790 6275, will make it easier for people access any local authority help they may need, including emotional support, in the current crisis.

It links together the district and county council contact centres and will be operating seven days a week, 8am to 6pm, making it the one number you need to remember for Coronavirus-related enquiries.

See Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline launched for further information.

Council housing tenants at Somerset West and Taunton Council

  • Vulnerable tenant welfare calls - Lots of calls made last week and continuing this week.
  • Paying your rent - Normal service continues.
  • Repairs - Priority being given to emergency repairs
  • Face to face meetings - Contact by telephone instead
  • Neighbourhood inspections - Delayed and to be rescheduled
  • Fire safety communal flat block inspections - Normal service continues
  • Allocations and lettings – Priority given to housing the homeless and those currently living in temporary accommodation

Update 3 April 2020

Guidance for landlords and tenants on provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020, and further advice for landlords and tenants about their rights and responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants

Coronavirus Act 2020 and renting

Update: 19 March 2020

We are moving to an emergency only repairs service until further notice, in line with the government’s advice on avoiding non-essential contact to help contain the spread of Coronavirus.

We will still attend in an emergency situation. Examples of this could include loss of water supply, loss of electricity, a gas leak, annual gas check, blocked toilet facilities on your only WC, or a collapsed or dangerous ceiling. Please refer to your tenant’s handbook for a full list of emergency jobs.

To report an emergency, please call the usual number 0300 304 8000

If tenant has confirmed case of Coronavirus or is showing symptoms, we may instigate a work around from outside the property to keep you safe, and then attend once you are outside the 14 day self-isolation period.

If we do have to enter the property in an emergency situation, we will ask you to go into another room whilst we make the repair. We will wash our hands before entering, and wipe down any surface before we leave.

We will continue to carry out jobs outside such as fencing, guttering and roofing.

Repairs and Maintenance

The Coronavirus could mean we have some workers absent from work due to sickness which will put added pressure on the Council. The Council is looking at how best it can continue to provide services over the coming weeks and months in the likelihood of a reduced workforce. This might mean we have to give priority to emergency repairs, for example: major electrical faults, no heating or no hot water. We will continue to ensure all other repairs are completed within a reasonable time but some repairs that are less urgent may have to wait a bit longer than usual. We will continue to undertake our normal safety checks such as gas servicing. Please see our housing repairs web page for further information.

If we are visiting to undertake a repair, or for any other reason, we will contact you prior to the visit to assess whether any member of the household has coronavirus symptoms or have needed to self-isolate, so we can respond accordingly.

Elderly and other vulnerable tenants effected by Coronavirus (COVID-19)

We will be undertaking welfare checks by phone to our older and more vulnerable tenants, particularly those living alone.   During these calls we will look to ensure that you are getting the help and support you need.  However if you are elderly and alone and need support from us, then please contact us on 0300 304 8000.

The Council also commissions Mind to provide support to our tenants.  Mindline is their emotional support helpline and can be called on 01823 276892.  Please let them know you are a tenant of the council, if you need to call them.

Support with Rent Payments

It is important that all tenants continue to pay their rent on time, if you’re already in receipt of benefits these will continue and if your Universal Credit includes an amount for your housing costs it’s important that you use this to continue to pay your rent as normal.

If though you have been affected by Coronavirus or self-isolation and this has impacted on your income, you may need to contact us for further support.

We do not want anyone to lose their tenancy as a result of the virus. If you are having problems paying your rent either because you can’t pay by your usual method or you’re having financial difficulties, please call us on 0300 304 8000.

We have a team of Case Managers who can offer telephone support and help with financial and benefit matters.

If you are already getting Housing Benefit and Council Tax support and your income has changed you will need to inform the Housing Benefit team of these changes by calling 0300 304 8000.

Claiming for universal credit

“Don’t delay in making your claim for universal credit”. You can apply for Universal Credit online, or if you are unable to so online you can call on 0800 328 5644.

You would normally be asked to attend an appointment at the Job Centre, but we’ve been advised that the Job Centres are now closed. All Universal Credit communications should be done online or by phone.

Please don’t worry, your claim will be processed, for everyone making a new claim for Universal Credit, advances are available and these can be claimed online or by phone.

For the latest information on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) please visit the Gov.uk website.

You can then follow the above link for Employment and financial support

Which gives you information on the following

  • Check if you can get statutory sick pay (SSP)
  • Check if you're eligible for Universal Credit
  • Check if you're eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Employers can apply for staff to get up to 80% pay if they can’t work
  • Financial help if you’re self-employed
  • Get an isolation note to give to your employer
  • Your rights if your hours are cut or you’re laid off
  • What to do if you cannot pay your tax bill on time

It is very easy for tenants to pay their rent without having to leave the house. We encourage all tenants to set up a Direct Debit, which is the simplest way to pay and this can be done by asking us to set this up by calling on 0300 304 8000.

Tenants are also able to pay online via our website or through our automated payment line on 0300 304 8000.

Useful Links

Use of Meeting Halls

To reduce the risk of spreading the virus we need to stop the use of meeting halls with immediate effect and therefore until further notice, these should now no longer be used by tenants or any other parties.

What if a member of my family contracts the Corona virus?

If you or any member of your household suspect you have the virus, you will all need to self-isolate for 14 days, seek information online or contact 111 to give you further advice.

We would advise all tenants to follow the latest advice and guidance from government.  The NHS website has excellent advice on what to do in these circumstances and so does Public Health England: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

How we will keep you up-to-date with further changes

We will continue to update our website which will include a specific page on the Coronavirus for our tenants.  www.somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk

We urge all tenants to monitor this for any further changes.  We will also provide updates through our social media channels www.Twitter.com/SWTCouncil and www.facebook.com/SWTCouncil

The government has brought forward a package of measures to protect renters affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). For those privately renting (and those in social housing accommodation), this means they will not be forced out of their home. There is specific guidance on this as well as more general advice on landlords and tenants rights and responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak. All current guidance on this can be found on the Gov.uk website.

There is also specific advice on gas safety from the Health and Safety Executive which sets out how the landlord must take all reasonable steps to comply with their duties.

There is also general advice on how to protect yourself and others from Covid-19.

Where visits are necessary, there is also useful advice on visits to properties to make repairs in addition to the general advice above to landlords and tenants.

Where access by a landlord is needed to a property for serious and urgent issues then it’s recommended that a tenant allows the landlord or their contractor access to remedy these urgent health and safety issues. There must be strict adherence to current government guidance to enable this to happen safely. We will offer advice to the landlord and tenant where there are concerns over such visits taking place.

In light of the current government guidance on COVID-19 and rented properties, we are making changes to the way we carry out our normal services to ensure standards in private rented properties. We will be prioritising reactive work and, in particular, cases where there is a serious and imminent risk to a tenant.

Private Rented Complaints

On complaints about conditions in private rented properties, the normal advice follows that a tenant must first report the problem to their landlord in writing, give them a reasonable time to fix it and chase this up if no action is taken. If it’s not fixed, then report this to us by filling out a general enquiry form. To enable us to assess the risk, we will then contact the tenant and ask for photographic or video evidence.

Given current coronavirus guidance we will only be considering carrying out essential visits where there is a serious and imminent risk, it is completely necessary and there is no other way in which to resolve the matter. Before undertaking a visit, a suitable risk assessment will be carried out as we must balance ensuring landlords fulfil their legal obligations against the risk of infection or spread of the virus. Where a visit is unavoidable then social distancing and current government advice will be applied.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Licensing

We will continue to accept and process applications for a HMO licence, including assessing HMO applications to ensure they contains all the information and documents required and are considered valid. As current government guidance recommends suspending inspections of licensable properties, the inspection of your HMO as part of the licensing process will be delayed and you will contacted as soon as guidance changes and we are able to resume inspections once again.

Where a HMO already has a licence, we will also not be carrying out licensing compliance visits until government guidance changes.

Housing Immigration Inspections

We are currently unable to provide housing immigration inspections in relation applications for immigration as this is a discretionary service, the inspections are non-urgent and we are currently prioritising serious complaints from tenants.

Domestic abuse

Despite local data suggesting that so far, there is no increase in the rates of domestic abuse in Somerset since crisis measures began, evidence from other countries further ahead of the curve than the UK, suggests that we should prepare for an increase, as persistent isolation and other life pressures take their toll on family life.

Landlord guidance for dealing with domestic abuse in your premises.

Please also refer your tenants to the local Somerset Domestic Abuse Support helpline: 0800 69 49 999.

Monday 11 May: recycling sites reopen, garden waste collections restart

Eleven recycling sites will reopen on Monday 11 May for essential visits only – in line with updated government guidance – and garden waste collections (Somerset Waste Partnership website for guidance) will resume from the same day.

To ensure social distancing, protect public and staff and limit numbers, there will be a range of temporary restrictions; queues and delays are likely.

Government guidance states visits should only take place if waste cannot be stored safely at home without risking harm or ill-health, or harm to public health and amenity. If not an essential journey, please wait until sites are back to usual.

Recycling sites open from 11 May:

  • Bridgwater
  • Chard
  • Dulverton
  • Frome
  • Highbridge
  • Street
  • Taunton
  • Wellington
  • Wells
  • Williton
  • Yeovil

The other five sites are due to reopen from Tuesday 26 May.

Garden waste collections restart Monday 11 May

Collection of garden waste restarts from Monday 11 May. Subscriptions for 2020-21 will run until mid-May 2021.

Many subscribers’ collection day and dates have changed. It’s important that people reread the letter that came with their bin sticker or check this via My Collection Day.

Collections will only be made from 2020-21 subscribers using bins with lids closed and the correct year sticker, or in paid-for garden waste bags.

Not collected: garden waste not in official bins or sacks, non-subscribers, bins with the wrong or no sticker, bins with excess weight (if necessary, remove some material for next collection).

Please follow @somersetwaste on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates.