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Coronavirus update - 17 April 2020

Apr 17, 2020 |

NFSP

The following is the latest update from the NFSP on the coronavirus situation as of 4pm 17 April 2020.

 

Headline information (updated 17 April)

 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)

There are two key points to note about CJRS (the government’s furlough scheme that you may be using to retain your staff and maintain their pay).

Firstly, the Chancellor announced today that CJRS will be extended by a month and will remain open until the end of June. The scheme will be reviewed again in future and may be extended further.

Secondly, the online portal for employers to claim back 80% of furloughed employee wages from government opens on Monday 20 April, with the first payments to be made on or by 30 April.

The NFSP will be organising an online session for NFSP members with our partner HR:4UK to provide you with specific information on the CJRS claims portal aimed at making the process easier for you to navigate. We will provide details of when this session will take place and how you can join in as soon as we are able to.

 

‘Payout Now’ and ‘Fast PACE’

PO has made these two products available to all UK banks, building societies and credit unions in order to help make cash available to anyone self-isolating due to the coronavirus.

We recommend that you familiarise yourself with the detail provided on these products on One online and in this week’s Branch Focus.

 

Branch Hub

PO has brought forward the launch of Branch Hub and the NFSP recommends that you register for this service – HERE

PO have informed the NFSP that Branch Hub should save you time spent waiting on the phone, and all your IT issues are logged and stored in one place.

Through Branch Hub, you will be able to change your branch opening hours (if you need to due to the coronavirus), view PO’s list of FAQs, report IT issues and track their progress, and chat online to IT support.

In future, you will be able to order stock, coin and cash via Branch Hub.

 

Support from the NFSP (updated 17 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 you can catch up with other members and NFSP representatives together in an online setting.

Contact your Regional Secretary or Regional Non-Executive Director for more information – including when you next regional meeting is taking place

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 17 April)

We are speaking with Post Office Ltd (PO) on a regular 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:

  • Remuneration support from Post Office Ltd. After much discussion between the NFSP, Post Office Ltd (PO) and government, we are very pleased that PO will be underpinning independent subpostmasters’ remuneration – offering a guaranteed level of income in your April and May 2020 remuneration. PO have released guidance on how your remuneration for April and May will be calculated HERE

 

  • NFSP member FAQs. We have compiled FAQs based on the main questions and issues raised by NFSP members during recent online regional meetings. You can view these HERE

 

  • Compliance test extension. As many subpostmasters and post office staff may be unavailable at times due to the coronavirus crisis, PO have extended the deadline for Broadband and Homephone compliance testing until 7 July 2020. We expect PO will provide further detail on this issue in due course.

 

  • Updating Post Office Branch Finder. Several subpostmasters have reported delays when seeking to update their opening hours on Branch Finder. The NFSP understands that it will be quicker to contact your Area Manager for this purpose, rather than going via NBSC. Branch Hub can also be used for this purpose.

 

  • Requesting PO staff to provide cover for customer-facing staff who are ill or self-isolating. PO are offering ‘central Post Office people’ who, subject to availability, may be able to come to your branch to help with serving or hosting customers to cover for staff who are off ill or self-isolating. PO have put together an online form for you to request such support: HERE

 

  • If you or your staff wish to wear a face mask, you should seek to acquire FFP2 or N95 respirators to offer the required level of protection. Any benefit from wearing these masks will be lost if you do not take the following steps:
    • Change the mask every 2-3 hours
    • Dispose of the mask effectively i.e. in an appropriate bin (preferably with a lid)
    • Wash your hands after disposing of the mask (and ensure your hands are clean when putting on a new mask)

 

  • Health and safety. 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. The government has 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.

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’.

 

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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