NIHE Members below a message from the Housing Executive Chief Executive.
With the continuing spread of COVID–19 we are facing an unprecedented situation. There is no doubt that there is an extremely difficult time ahead for all of us – both at work and at home. With that in mind, I know I can rely on all of you when I ask that we all work together to help us get through this.
I want to reassure you all that we are doing absolutely everything we can to protect our staff and our customers.
A Staff News was issued on Monday afternoon which provided an update on the latest situation at that time. But, as you know, the situation is moving incredibly quickly at present.
Prime Minister’s Statement
Shortly after the Staff News was sent, the Prime Minister spoke on national TV and introduced significant new measures, including:
- Anyone with a fever or persistent cough should stay at home for seven days if they live alone or 14 days if they live with others. Anyone who lives with someone displaying coronavirus symptoms should also stay at home for 14 days.
- Everyone should stop non-essential contact with others. This is particularly important for people over 70, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.
- People should work from home where they can.
- People should stop all unnecessary travel.
- By the weekend, those with the most serious health conditions should be largely shielded from social contact for 12 weeks.
Statement from the Minister for Communities
On Monday evening, our Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, released a statement regarding social security services. In this statement the Minister confirmed that she was suspending face-to-face assessments for all benefits for a period of three months.
The Minister also confirmed that each of the 35 local Jobs and Benefit Offices will remain open and staff will be at their desks. These measures have been put in place to ensure people do not make unnecessary visits, unless they have been instructed to do so, or in an emergency situation.
I can advise you that the Housing Executive will be taking similar steps. This will ensure we are able to continue providing an appropriate range of services to our customers, many of whom are vulnerable and rely on the valuable work we do. These will include:
Public Reception Areas
All public reception areas in our local offices will be closed with immediate effect until further notice.
While we will be introducing home working arrangements (wherever possible) some staff will continue to work from our offices. These staff will not be carrying out home visits until further notice.
The majority of our services will be delivered via email or telephone. Our phone lines will remain open as normal for telephone queries.
Over the coming days our repair service will be moving to an emergency service only until further notice. We will therefore only be carrying out repair works where there is a risk to life or property.
When reporting a repair, staff will be asking if customers are self-isolating, and, if so, our contractor will be advised. Our contractors will have to carry out a risk assessment before attending to the property. Our repairs number is 03448 920 901.
Homeless Services/Applying for a House
Our services will be disrupted as a result of the measures we have to take. Staff will be unable to carry out home visits. However, we will continue to provide advice and assistance by telephone. Customers should be advised to contact the general enquiries number (03448 920 900)
Housing Benefit payments will continue as normal. Anyone who wishes to make a new claim or advise of a change of circumstances should be told to telephone the Housing Benefit number (03448 920 902).
Customers facing financial difficulties as a result of the on-going emergency should be advised to telephone their local patch manager for further advice.
Home Working/Social Distancing
We will be introducing home working arrangements wherever possible across the organisation. For those staff who are required to continue to work from our offices, we will be looking at measures to improve social distancing.
Staff who will be working from home are expected to maintain normal working hours and to keep in regular contact with their line manager.
It is essential that all staff familiarise themselves with the guidance on social distancing. In particular, any colleague who is considered vulnerable, as defined by PHA, should be aware of the latest guidance on social distancing
We will try and make arrangements to allow any colleagues that are considered vulnerable to work from home during this period – if they are well and able to do so.
General Advice and Guidance
It is essential that all staff frequently check the Public Health Agency (PHA) website which continues to provide regular updates on the changing situation around COVID-19 - https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus
The current PHA/NHS advice (which is subject to change) is that:
- Anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.
- If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
If you are required to self-isolate, in line with PHA guidance, you should report this to your Line Manager immediately. This will then be recorded on TMS as Special Leave –COVID -19. Line Managers should in turn update the relevant HR Business Partner. Staff should continue to report any absence in line with the Absence Management Policy.
The PHA has also provided health and well-being advice for those who are required to self-isolate: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus#advice-for-home-isolation
In addition, Inspire Workplaces provide welfare and assistance to employees of the Housing Executive. The service provided by Inspire workplaces is completely confidential and the Housing Executive will not be advised that an employee has made use of the service.
You can visit the Inspire workplaces website or for free, confidential and immediate support call: 0800 389 5362
There is no doubt that the days, weeks, and even months, ahead will be testing for all of us. We will be doing everything we can to protect staff while continuing to deliver the services that make us such an important part of the social fabric of Northern Ireland.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for your support, hard work, patience and understanding. And, of course, that you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy.
…wash your hands often with warm water and soap, avoid touching your face and to:
Like seasonal flu, the same public health advice applies for COVID-19 (Coronavirus): if you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose, throw it away carefully after use, and wash your hands.
Line Managers should ensure that this update is brought to the attention of all staff who do not have access to email.
PDF version available below.