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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice and Information

Here you will find the latest advice from Gov.uk and the NHS.

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.

COVID cases remain high across our communities, and we are urging everyone to keep taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

To help keep yourself, and others, safe the latest public health advice is to:

Follow hands, face, space, fresh air guidance

If you have symptoms of COVID or winter illness, test positive for COVID or have a temperature, stay at home for 5 days if you can.

After the 5 days please still try to avoid spending time with people who may be vulnerable to the virus. If you can, please be responsible and don’t go to work if you are ill.

Avoid as much contact with other people as possible if you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19.

If you have to leave home, please wear a face covering and avoid spending time in crowed places or meeting vulnerable people.

Get vaccinated: vaccines are still one of the best defences, they can reduce the risk of serious illness and help stop the spread of the virus.

We still have some restrictions in place to encourage social distancing and we recommend the wearing of masks although this will no longer be mandatory in line with the lifting of national restrictions.

Many of our team members work remotely so if an appropriate officer is not available in person we will can make appointment for you. We have installed computer touchscreens in our hubs to facilitate virtual meetings.

We would also continue to encourage customers to use our online services or try to resolve issues over the phone where possible - the customer services team are continuing to answer calls between 8am – 5:30pm on 0300 304 8000.

If you have a homeless emergency please call the free phone number 0808 164 5186.

Customers can continue to help us by not communicating via paper post as far as possible as we are not processing incoming mail until further notice.

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.

The Avon and Somerset Police enquiries desk in the Deane House Hub is also open. No appointment will be necessary.

Coronavirus Support Helpline closes

In line with the lifting of Government restrictions the Coronavirus Support Helpline is now closed having taken over 18,000 calls from Somerset residents who needed help during the pandemic.

Launched in April 2020, the single phone number helpline made it easier for people in Somerset to access local authority support.

It linked together the District and County Council Contact Centres, operating seven days a week, 8am to 6pm, including bank holidays.

Anyone in need of Coronavirus-related support should contact their local authority from now on:

Mindline Somerset

Emotional support and mental health helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 01823 276 892

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 (eg 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 (eg 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.

Latest links for advice, support and guidance.

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)

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

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

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, eg sports grounds, gyms, museums
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation
  • for providing services to visiting members of the public, eg 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.

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.

The national ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ covid business support grant schemes have now closed for applications and payment.

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.

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.

Community Chest Fund

The Community Chest Fund has been launched to support groups who are helping us to recover from the effects of COVID19.

Community Chest grants will support people working right at the beating heart of their community. It is important to us to provide vital financial aid to sustainable initiatives and support the continued efforts of local spirit.

Community groups in the Somerset West and Taunton area who are making a positive local impact can apply for Community Chest grants of up to £7,500.

More information can be found on the Community Chest Fund page.

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.

Vaccination buddies

Have you met people who have questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine that you haven’t had the time or knowledge to answer? We may be able to help.

In partnership with Public Health at Somerset County Council, Spark Somerset has trained a team of volunteer Vaccination Buddies who can offer 1-2-1 telephone support to people who are worried or unsure about having the vaccine. The Buddies come from all walks of life and have the right skills to support people to make informed decisions about having the Covid-19 vaccination.

Individuals can be referred (or self-refer) to the scheme and a fully trained Vaccination Buddy will then contact them by phone to discuss their concerns and offer information and reassurance.

Please complete this online form to make a referral.

Covid-19 vaccinations in Somerset

The NHS are prioritising vaccinating people who experts have agreed, will benefit from it the most and they are systematically working through all eligible groups according to the national priorities.

For more information about vaccinations in Somerset see the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group website.

 

From 7 May 2021, meetings can no longer be held virtually.

Council meetings will take place in the Chamber at Deane House following the Government COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Information on speaking at public meetings is available on the pages below.

The meetings will still 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.

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 and 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.

What a pub or restaurant should do when a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 is reported see our pub and restaurant business flyer.

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 (eg 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

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, 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

Somerset County Council have information about getting a test and test locations in Somerset on their website.

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 on Universal Credit or a low income and you are liable for Council Tax, you may get Council Tax Support.

Use our online calculator to work out how much you could get. If you are eligible use our online claim form to apply and upload any evidence we need to work out your claim.

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 financial support.

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.

Information on setting up Canonsgrove 8-4-20

SWT has been awarded Government funding to continue providing interim accommodation at Canonsgrove for rough sleepers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

FAQs on managing Canonsgrove Sept 2020

Information regarding our housing related services and general housing advice during the coronavirus pandemic can be found on our Covid-19 housing advice page.

Meeting Halls must be booked in advance and the number of people allowed in halls at any one time has been reduced. To book a meeting hall please call 0300 304 8000 and ask for Ops Support. 

  • If you are using this space, as a tenant, member of SWT staff, a provider of a service, or as a member of the public, we encourage you to please be Covid-19 aware, and ensure the following, for your personal safety and the safety of others;
  • Please do not use the meeting hall if you have Covid-19, symptoms of the virus, or have been advised to self-isolate whilst you await Covid-19 test results
  • Please continue to use a face mask, if you are eligible to, or choose to
  • Please be respectful of other’s choice to wear a face mask, even if this is not your choice
  • Please use the anti-bacterial hand gel provided
  • Please ensure that you thoroughly wash your hands after using the bathroom and/or making drinks or preparing food etc.
  • Please use the anti-bacterial wipes provided to clean down areas you are using, before and after use (tables, chairs, kitchen surfaces etc.)
  • Please open windows within the building to enable there to be a flow of air throughout, and ensure these are closed, when locking up the building after use
  • Please socially distance where possible

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.

Information to help support businesses and traders as they begin to reopen following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions can be found on our reopening your business safely page.

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.

See the Somerset Waste Partnership website for the latest updates.

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