Easing of lockdown restrictions – what does it mean for my family?

From today, 12 April 2021, lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland will begin to slowly ease and all pupils will return to face-to-face learning in schools. This full return to school also sees new safety measures being introduced such as all school staff and pupils in years 12, 13 and 14 being offered to take twice weekly lateral flow device tests and all post-primary pupils being required to wear face coverings in classrooms unless they have an exemption.

However, school managed breakfast clubs, after school activities and education visits currently remain paused and the Department of Education has said decisions on these form ongoing discussions with the Department of Health.

Childcare settings, including those based in primary schools and childminders continue to operate throughout this period.

Informal childcare is also permitted to continue. Informal childcare is valuable, trusted care provided by grandparents and close family. It is not to be confused with unregistered childcare, which is provided by those who are not formally registered but who charge a fee for their services, and is not legal.

Other lifting of restrictions in Northern Ireland from 12 April also includes:

  • Stay-at-home order has changed to “stay local”
  • Those who have been shielding and who cannot work from home are permitted to return to their workplace provided appropriate public safety measures are in place
  • Ten people from two households can meet up in a private garden
  • Non-essential shops can resume click-and-collect and outdoor retail can reopen.

Updated advice for those who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV)

The latest changes mean that individuals who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) and have been shielding can attend the workplace. Those who are not attending work will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay or Employment and Support Allowance solely on the basis of being CEV. Individuals may still be eligible for furlough until the end of September, as being CEV is explicitly included as a reason in the furlough guidance. However, this is not an entitlement, and an employer does not have to agree to furlough you. We would, however, strongly encourage any employer who can to support their staff in this way.

What if my child is unwell with Covid-19 or is self-isolating?

Employees who are unable to work as a result of having a child at home who is unwell with the symptoms of Covid-19 or self-isolating may be eligible to receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The Government’s guidance states that you are eligible for SSP if you are self-isolating because you, or someone you live with, has symptoms or has tested positive for Covid-19, provided you self-isolate for at least four days.

If an employee is self-isolating because of contact with someone who has Covid-19, having been notified by the Public Health Agency through their test and trace system, they are entitled to claim SSP for every day they were self-isolating, but must have self-isolated for at least four days to be eligible.

Anyone who is self-isolating because of Covid-19 and is unable to work will be able to get an ‘isolation note’ online from NHS 111 if off work for seven days or more. They do not have to go to a doctor or the hospital.

We appreciate that this guidance is complex and it is a challenging time also for employers, many of whom are already facing difficulties due to the economic impact of Covid-19. We would encourage employers to take a flexible approach, where possible, and to support their employees where they can. Adopting family friendly policies in the workplace can boost staff loyalty, increase staff retention and may improve productivity in the longer term from having a happier, more contented workforce.

We are here to help

We are aware that, in light of Covid-19, guidance and entitlements are changing regularly and this means it can be complex working out what it means for your family – but we are here to help. Our Family Benefits Advice Service is here to help all parents identify what support they are entitled to. We are also here to help parents understand their rights and entitlements in terms of requesting flexible or family friendly working arrangements – just give the team a call on 028 9267 8200 or email hello@employersforchildcare.org for free, impartial and confidential advice.