I wrote to you yesterday to update you on engagement between NIPSA and DfC management regarding the limited re-opening of public offices. With the easing of restrictions, we have been engaged about re-opening offices but only where safe to do so.

However, due to an oversight by the Education Authority, DfC has come under serious pressure to re-open public offices to help those claimants who need assistance to complete application forms for Free School Meals and Uniform Grants by confirming benefit entitlement.

Originally we were looking at significant numbers potentially needing to attend the office to have forms stamped but we have worked with management to reduce who might need to attend the office to only those on Universal Credit as those on legacy benefits will now be passported with entitlement checked at a later date. And we have agreed that UC claimants will be encouraged not to attend by issuing communications through their journals to either print off the papers themselves or to request copies and have these posted out .

However, some claimants will wish to attend the office and given the obvious need, we have agreed that we cannot have them without recourse to these essential allowances, especially with schools starting early.

We have been working today to agree a safe system of work that will facilitate the customer journey from the front door to the welcome desk/screened interview room and back out of the office on a one in/one out basis. We have discussed issues such as PPE, screens, cleaning, etc and have received commitments from management to protect staff. Some matters remain outstanding but we expect these will be resolved soon.

Once these risk assessment papers are finalised, our safety reps will carry out risk assessments of the arrangements in each office and as quickly as possible, and we are organising for this now. These risk assessments may be carried out as soon as next week and this may allow for public offices to open on this limited basis, week commencing 20 July 2020. But this will only where risk assessments have been completed and it is safe to do so.

This situation has moved at pace today and we have made a lot of progress in ensuring members are not forced to do this work if they are anxious and to protected those that do volunteer. Members can be assured that we will not agree to public offices opening without completed risk assessments to ensure members are safe but hopefully you also accept that we also want to provide this service, but this service alone, to claimants wishing to claim free school meal allowance and the uniform grants.

I will write to you again when I have more information.

Dooley Harte
Assistant Secretary