Urgent update

Mar 24, 2020 |

NFSP

Last night (Monday 23 March) the Prime Minister announced that the UK would be entering a phase of ‘lockdown’. People have been instructed to stay at home unless absolutely necessary and non-essential businesses instructed to close.

Post offices are listed in the government’s guidelines as ‘essential services’ and can remain open. See HERE

The NFSP understands that subpostmasters and their post office staff are now confirmed to be classified as ‘critical workers’ (also referred to as ‘key workers’). See HERE

However, because the vast majority of sub post offices are attached to a retail offer, there are layers of complexity relating to staying open and we advise all NFSP members to review and consider the following two points:

1) Is the rest of your business (besides the post office) an ‘essential service’?

In brief, while the post office element of your business is classed as an ‘essential service’, the rest of your business may not.

If your retail offer fits into one or more of the following categories then it is also classified as an ‘essential service’ and should remain open if possible:

  • Supermarkets and other food shops (i.e. convenience store)
  • Corner shops
  • Newsagents
  • Health shops
  • Pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Home and hardware shops
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Garages
  • Car rentals
  • Pet shops

The NFSP believes this will cover the vast majority of subpostmasters’ businesses, but there are numerous cases where it will not.

If your post office has an attached retail offer that does not fit into any of the ‘essential’ categories above, for example: if your retail only covers cards and gifts, or stationery (and none of the ‘essential’ categories as well) – then the NFSP believes you should decide whether or not you should keep this element of your business open. Please refer to point 2) below for additional information to help guide your decision.

If your post office is co-located in a library, pub, café, community centre or youth centre then the NFSP understands that you should not open and instead remain closed until further notice.

Outreach services are purely post office services and therefore are able to remain open. However, the NFSP has heard from a handful of outreach operators who are concerned that in order to provide outreach services they (or their staff) are travelling long distances and attending locations that are inappropriate in the current climate due to hygiene and/or the proximity to customers.

The NFSP believes that outreach operators should use their discretion to determine whether individual outreach services should continue – taking into account the following:

  • The health risks to you/staff.
  • The health risks to customers.
  • Whether the outreach setting is still open (e.g. libraries, community centres have been instructed to close by the government).
  • The relative importance of the individual outreach service and where customers will be required to travel to in order to access post office services (and what the implications would be in terms of the health risks associated with that travel).

All subpostmasters should refer to the information below under point 2) – including in relation to outreach services.

 

2) What is the most appropriate way of managing staff and resources at this time?

You may need to reduce your operating hours in the coming days/weeks for a range of reasons:

  • You are required to close outright as per government guidelines.
  • You wish to close the retail element of your business as per government guidelines.
  • You or other staff are required to self-isolate.
  • Customer demand drops due to the ‘lockdown’ situation.
  • You are concerned about health and safety.
  • Etc.

Your contract with Post Office Ltd will not be affected if you need to close or reduce your hours due to the coronavirus. You can report closures, or changes to your opening hours online by logging into One Post Office. See HERE

You must use your discretion at this time in order to balance what may be competing interests to a) keep earning yourself and help keep your staff earning; and b) maintain the health and safety of yourself, your family, your staff and their families.

The NFSP will provide you with relevant info to enable you to make effective decisions during this period.

If you have any questions about your staff or your responsibilities as an employer in light of the coronavirus, you can speak to an expert adviser at the NFSP’s partner organisation HR:4UK. Call the NFSP to be put through on 01273 452324.

In the first instance, you should take note of the schemes in place to enable you to limit the impact of reducing operations on your own finances and your staff’s finances.

The government is introducing the 'Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme'. This scheme will enable employers to access financial support to continue paying the wages of employees who are temporarily sent home because they are not required at work.

These staff are called 'furloughed' workers.

The NFSP recommends that you familiarise yourself with the terms of this scheme as it may be highly beneficial to you and your staff.

By way of a broad overview, the following is our understanding of the scheme at this early stage.

To access the scheme, you will need to designate relevant staff as ‘furloughed workers’. This involves making a written agreement with staff that includes:

  • The date furlough starts
  • When it will be reviewed
  • How you will keep in contact during furlough

A worker will remain employed while they are furloughed, but they must not work.

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs to employers, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month (the mechanism for reimbursement is currently being developed).

For further information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – see HERE

We strongly advise you to seek professional advice on how to implement the scheme (and any other changes to your staffing arrangements) before taking action. NFSP members can obtain such advice through our partner organisation HR:4UK who can also provide templated letters and agreements for you to use for furloughed workers.

Statutory Sick Pay will also be available for employees who cannot attend work due to the coronavirus; Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit may be available to those not eligible for SSP – see HERE for further detail.

The government has also announced significant measures to support the economy through the coronavirus crisis – including business rate relief and loans. The NFSP has outlined these in previous updates and will provide a comprehensive summary for members this week.

We will continue to update members as the situation develops.

Please inform members and post this on your WhatsApp groups as soon as possible.

 

For the latest info from the NFSP on the coronavirus – see:

 

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