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Coronavirus update - 1 April 2020

Apr 1, 2020 |

NFSP

The following is the latest update from the NFSP on the coronavirus situation as of 4pm 1 April 2020.

 

Headline information (updated 1 April)

The NFSP is extremely pleased that Post Office Ltd (PO) will be underpinning independent subpostmasters’ remuneration – offering a guaranteed level of income in your April and May 2020 remuneration. The NFSP requested such support in early March and has been in regular conversation with PO and government on the issue since then.

PO are releasing comprehensive guidance on how your remuneration for April and May will be calculated. Please check the usual channels (One Post Office and email from Amanda Jones) for this information.

We have put together the following FAQs on the remuneration support – which we hope will cover any initial queries you might have:

 

Q - What if I just close up shop?

 For the avoidance of doubt: your remuneration for April and May will still be ‘topped-up’ if you are currently closed or (in future) close your post office over this period.

The NFSP advises you to keep your post office open unless it becomes necessary for you to close due to health and safety concerns and/or a lack of resource.

Subpostmasters are unique in the community role we play. We have been classed as providing ‘essential services’ by the government and we should aim to continue to serve our communities during this difficult period.

In our conversations with government, the NFSP consistently underlines the vital community role our members play. If, as a result of the financial support PO are providing, post offices around the country start closing up for a period of weeks/months – this will damage our collective reputation and could have negative consequences in future.

We have spoken to PO about the issue and their feedback was as follows:

We have decided to include all branches in the guarantee, even if they have closed or reduced their hours, because we recognise that some postmasters have had to make that choice due to circumstances beyond their control. We trust postmasters to make the right decision for the health of them, their staff and their customers whilst wanting to maintain service as much as possible.”

 

 Q - What about June and onwards? 

A great deal of work has been done, including many interactions between the NFSP, PO and government, leading to the support that you will receive in April and May.

Plans for June and onwards are not yet in place and the NFSP will continue to work with PO on these going forwards.

It is worth flagging that (as per the Q above ‘What if I just close up shop?’) should a high proportion of offices (temporarily) close as a result of this announced support, the NFSP anticipates that the availability and scope of any potential support for June and beyond would be adversely affected.

 

Q - Certain transaction rates were due to increase as a result of the review of subpostmaster remuneration – is that still happening?

The NFSP had great success in achieving increases to subpostmasters’ remuneration last year; around £20m worth of increases were to be implemented in the new financial year 2020/21.

Under PO’s original plans the first month in which these increases would land in your remuneration was scheduled to be May 2020. The NFSP successfully challenged this and as a result, the increases will land in your April remuneration.

This means that in addition to the guaranteed income PO will provide in your April remuneration, you will also receive an additional payment to reflect the increase in remuneration rates that the NFSP achieved for you. This will appear as an additional line in your April remuneration advice slip. PO will also provide an explanatory insert alongside your April remuneration advice slip.

The increases the NFSP achieved for you will be built into your May 2020 remuneration (i.e. there won’t be a separate payment line in your remuneration advice slip).

 

Q - Does this impact on my entitlement to other government support measures for businesses and the self-employed?

We do not believe that the support PO have made available to subpostmasters affects your entitlement to other government support. We have also checked this with government.

 

Support from the NFSP (updated 1 April)

We are here to help you through this difficult period, and we encourage you to get in touch with us.

We are holding virtual regional meetings so members can catch up with members and NFSP representatives together in an online setting.

Upcoming meetings are:

  • TONIGHT - London Region 8pm-9pm
  • Thursday 2 April - Northern Ireland 6pm-7pm

Contact your Regional Secretary or Regional Non-Executive Director for more information.

If you are not already, you should join your local branch and/or regional NFSP WhatsApp groups. These are a good place to get the latest info and advice on the current coronavirus situation (and to keep in touch with the NFSP and other members in your area). Speak to your Branch or Regional Secretary about joining – or email us at communications@nfsp.org.uk

We have a team taking calls during business hours on a range of issues. NFSP members shouldn’t hesitate to get in touch on 01273 452324.

By calling us, all NFSP members can receive professional advice on key issues relating to:

  • Staffing and your responsibilities as an employer - including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (option 1 if you call us).
  • Financial, landlord, rental and other property-related issues (option 2 if you call us).

We are providing daily updates to members, branch and regional representatives and staff.

We have produced a summary of the various financial support measures the government are introducing for businesses in response to the coronavirus. The summary can be accessed via the NFSP website HERE

 

What else should you be aware of? (updated 1 April)

We are speaking with Post Office Ltd (PO) on a daily basis and monitoring Royal Mail’s activities closely to ensure information is shared appropriately for the benefit of the network.

There are several specific issues you should be aware of:

  • Health and safety. This is overwhelmingly what most of you are concerned about and the NFSP believes that this is the most important consideration for subpostmasters. PO have informed us that they have ordered c. 8,000 perspex screens for branches with open-plan counters. Delivery of these screens is expected to start as soon as possible and we will provide more information as soon as we can. PO are also attempting to provide all branches with protective gloves and hand sanitiser as soon as possible – again, more information to follow soon.The NFSP believes that outreach service operators should be provided with gloves and sanitiser as a priority, due to the nature of (some) outreach locations and the proximity to customers involved. Current guidelines indicate that there are no additional risks attached to the handling of mail items – even commercial items and international mail items. Otherwise, you should follow best practice in terms of personal hygiene e.g. regular handwashing and using hand sanitiser – as well as sterilising your counter and pin pads at regular intervals. (See below for info about how anti-bacterial wipes may not be sufficient in killing the coronavirus). Ensuring customers adhere to social distancing principles (for their and your safety) is also very important. PO have produced resources to help instruct customers – see One Post Office – and there are some good examples of how other subpostmasters and retailers are influencing customer behaviour HERE and HERE

 

  • Conversations with customers about their shopping behaviour. Many of you are frustrated that customers appear to be out and about conducting non-essential business during this ‘lockdown’ period. This is a tricky situation – post offices are classed as ‘essential services’, as are convenience / food stores. Other retail offers – e.g. cards and stationery – without a convenience / food element are not classed as essential and, without an adjoined post office, would be required to close during the ‘lockdown’.The NFSP has previously advised members that they should use their discretion about keeping their non-essential retail element open to customers. It is our view that you should make the decision about continuing to offer these products/services based on your own personal and business circumstances – see our urgent update from 24 March HERE. It is not the NFSP’s role, nor is it subpostmasters’ role, to police the activities of customers, but if you wish to advise customers that they should not be seeking to only access non-essential services (i.e. they must also purchase essential products/services) then we will support you in doing so. We have raised this issue with PO and we are looking to develop clear guidance and materials to help support members in this type of situation.

 

  • Support for the self-employed. Last week, the Chancellor announced support measures for self-employed people to help protect earnings during the coronavirus crisis. The NFSP is examining what the announced measures will mean for subpostmasters with the intention of providing a tailored summary for NFSP members. However, this is proving to be a complex task as there are many variables and different circumstances to consider – as well as areas where further detail may be required on top of the information government has provided so far. We will update you as soon as we are able to provide a substantive summary tailored to subpostmasters. A general summary of the measures announced yesterday is available HERE

 

  • Essential services / critical workers. Post offices are listed in the government’s guidelines as ‘essential services’ and can remain open during the current ‘lockdown’, and Subpostmasters and their post office staff have been be classified as ‘critical workers’. 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 our urgent update from Tuesday 24 March HERE which addresses two key questions: 1) Is the rest of your business (besides the post office) an ‘essential service’? 2) What is the most appropriate way of managing staff and resources at this time?

 

  • Anti-bacterial wipes. We understand that many subpostmasters are using anti-bacterial wipes to disinfect surfaces, keypads etc. Coronavirus is not a bacterium so you must use a disinfectant product that kills virusesg. Dettol or an alcohol-based product. Some anti-bac products may also be disinfectants, so check the label/small print to see if the products you are using kill viruses as well as bacteria.

 

  • Customers not adhering to self-isolation/social-distancing guidelines. Many subpostmasters are concerned about this issue and PO have produced posters for subpostmasters to use (available on One Post Office). The NFSP is reviewing these to see if further materials would be of use to our members. PO have also shared examples of what some subpostmasters are doing to ensure customers practise appropriate social distancing HERE

 

  • Subpostmasters in ‘at risk’ groups. We are still discussing with PO what subpostmasters who are pregnant, aged 70+ or who have an underlying health condition should do and what support will be available for them should they be forced to close their offices (see below for further information).

 

  • Cash in transit & REMs. We are monitoring whether REMs will be impacted and what contingency measures will be put into place. The current status is that cash in transit is operating ‘as normal’.

 

Your staff (updated 25 March)

If you employ staff in your business, then you should ensure they are aware of the instructions for self-isolation and familiarise yourself with the relevant guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (see the NFSP’s urgent update from 24 March – specifically question 2) What is the most appropriate way of managing staff and resources at this time?

If any of your staff exhibit a high temperature or a new continuous cough, then you should instruct them to leave work and self-isolate for 14 days.

Certain groups of people are considered to be more vulnerable – those who are pregnant, aged 70 or over, or have a pre-existing health condition. However, there are currently no instructions that these people should avoid coming into work – so you should use your discretion as an employer to advise your staff about staying healthy and safe.

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 NFSP HQ on 01273 452324 (option 1) to be put through.

 

Subpostmasters in ‘at risk’ groups (updated 23 March)

We have heard from several NFSP members who are in an ‘at risk’ group (those who are pregnant, aged 70+, or have an underlying health condition) and are unsure of how to act.

Current government instructions are for people in ‘at risk’ groups to stay at home and avoid unnecessary, close contact with other people for up to 12 weeks.

The NFSP is looking into this issue as a matter of urgency and we will share information about how subpostmasters who are ‘at risk’ should act and what support will be available to them if/when they are required to self-isolate.

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

 

Royal Mail (updated 20 March)

RE international mail. Royal Mail (RM) report that customers can expect some delays on a country by country basis (see HERE). Priority mail is still to be accepted and posted as normal.

Since Thursday 19 March 2020 onwards, RM will no longer guarantee delivery by 1pm the next working day. RM will still prioritise Special Delivery parcels and letters and will aim to deliver these by 1pm or before the end of day. The Special Delivery Guaranteed by 9am service remains unchanged; RM still guarantee to deliver by 9am.

P739 offices or any offering Local Collect are recommended not to hand the pen or form to customers and should instead themselves write the name of the person collecting the item together with the date and time.

Public Health England (PHE) advises there is no perceived increase in risk for handling post or freight from affected areas.

RM says deliveries to Iran and Kuwait are suspended and the whole of Italy is now in the yellow zone with accompanying precautionary measures in place. For the full list of international incidents please click: Royal Mail country incident bulletin.

 

Support for temporary subpostmasters (updated 19 March)

The NFSP has spoken to PO about support for temporary operators. PO have stated that they will aim to support temporary operators in the same way as other (non-temporary) subpostmasters in the support they provide.

Other support for subpostmasters in the event of closure (updated 18 March)

  • Employment Support Allowance (ESA): If you are adversely impacted by the current situation, as a self-employed individual, you are eligible to claim this allowance. For further details please see HERE

 

  • Insurance: Check the terms of your insurance to see what is covered and what restrictions apply in relation to ‘interruption of business’.

 

Continuing trading (updated 17 March)

Current guidance is for you to continue trading as normal unless you are required to self-isolate or you cannot remain open as your staff are unable to come into work due to coronavirus.

The government have just announced that self-isolation is required for anyone who develops any of the following symptoms:

  • A high temperature
  • A new continuous cough (coughing repeatedly)

People living alone should self-isolate for 7 days from when their symptoms started.

For people living with others – if any person within a household has symptoms of coronavirus, all household members must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.

 

NFSP Annual Conference (updated 17 March)

Due to the coronavirus, the NFSP Annual Conference has now been postponed and will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon from Sunday 25 October to Tuesday 27 October 2020.

 

Further information (updated 19 March)

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

 

 

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