Essential services for residents maintained
Our staff are working tirelessly to ensure essential services for residents continue to be provided during the Coronavirus pandemic.
We are continuing to monitor and act in response to government guidance aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.
We are ensuring the priority services we provide like refuse collections are affected as little as possible, with a particular focus on protecting the most vulnerable children and adults.
We were already working with the NHS to make preparations for contacting vulnerable employees ahead of the government's decision to write to 1.5 million people across England most at risk of Coronavirus advising them to stay at home for 12 weeks. We have also set up a joint health and social care hub and will be working to prioritise vulnerable residents.
And following the government's announcement of a range of measures to support people and businesses, we are now working to deliver the promised 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery firms in England.
Paul Darby, our head of finance and transactional services, said: "On behalf of the government we collect business rates from so many firms across the county and we have been waiting for guidance on how we can help them.
"Now we have this, we are getting hundreds of calls from businesses and our staff are working as hard as they can to ensure those in the identified sectors can benefit from the rates holiday as quickly as possible."
We are also awaiting further information from the government on how the promise of grants to help businesses will be delivered but are making preparations to take appropriate action once this is received.
Advice to residents on keeping themselves safe can be found at our public health information web page.
Businesses and self-employed people who are concerned about paying their tax can phone the new HMRC Time to Pay helpline on 0800 0159 559.
We are also continuing to help residents by promoting our welfare assistance scheme, including our council tax reduction scheme, the only one in the North East to offer reductions of up to 100 per cent.
We have already postponed debt recovery action for anyone in council tax or business rates arrears and are encouraging residents to get in touch if they need to review their payment arrangements, with a range of flexible plans offered.
Residents can find out about the support available to them in relation to welfare, finances, housing and the closure of schools by visiting http://www.durham.gov.uk/article/22971/Support-for-residents
Parents are advised that schools are continuing to provide free meals to those eligible pupils who are still attending. They are encouraged to contact individual schools if they have queries.
Home to school transport is continuing to be subsidised and restrictions on concessionary bus pass times have been lifted to enable older residents to access early morning slots at supermarkets.
We are continuing with refuse collections and our household waste recycling centres remain open, although sites have now imposed a limit of five people using them at any one time to comply with government guidance around social distancing.
Children's play areas across the county have closed with signs going up at each site to let people know.
Our Customer Access Points remain open, providing a range of help and information for residents, although people are asked to phone them on 03000 260 000 rather than visiting where possible. Details of these can be found at http://www.durham.gov.uk/customeraccesspoints
One Point hubs and Family Centres also remain open to provide advice, guidance and signposting on a one-to-one basis, although residents are similarly advised to phone them during opening hours on 03000 261 111 rather than visiting where possible. However all group-based family activities in community venues and family centres have been cancelled for the time being, including baby clinics, breastfeeding groups, early learning groups, parenting support programmes and sensory play sessions.
Gill O'Neill, deputy director of public health for County Durham, said: "As an authority we are paying very close attention to all the guidance being issued by the government.
"Staff in all areas of the council are reviewing how what they deliver for residents needs to change in light of this and doing everything they can to ensure that priority services, in particular those for the most vulnerable and refuse collections, are impacted as little as possible.
"We continue to advise everyone to continue to follow the guidance around staying safe, namely regular thorough hand-washing, and practicing self-isolation and social distancing where recommended."