A series of financial measures to help residents and businesses impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak has been announced by Durham County Council.
The authority is to postpone debt recovery action for anyone in council tax or business rates arrears, as part of the support it is offering people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further resources have also been ploughed into its welfare assistance scheme to support people in difficulty.
Residents are being encouraged to seek financial assistance through the authority’s council tax reduction scheme, the only such scheme in the North East to offer reductions of up to 100 per cent.
Residents are also being urged to get in touch if they need to rearrange their council tax payments for the coming year, with the authority offering a range of flexible payment plans, including the ability to spread the cost of council tax evenly over 12 months or starting payments from June instead of April.
Any residents who are struggling or worried about their council tax position can find out about the support available by visiting the authority’s website at www.durham.gov.uk/counciltax They can also contact the council’s customer services team for assistance by emailing [email protected]
The council has been closely monitoring the continuously emerging government guidance in relation to Coronavirus, and national announcements of a range of financial measures designed to support businesses and residents.
These measures include offering a three-month mortgage holiday for those in need, reimbursing small and medium-sized companies for the cost of statutory sick pay, supplying vouchers for children who currently receive free school meals when schools close, and continuing to fund free childcare entitlements for two, three and four-year-olds.
The government also announced £1 billion to support vulnerable people across the country, half of which will be ploughed into the welfare system and the rest in the creation
of a new hardship fund for local authorities; as well as £3.2m in emergency funding across the country to help rough sleepers isolate.
The council’s postponement of debt recovery action will apply until further notice.
Paul Darby, the council’s head of finance and transactional services, said: “We appreciate that this is a really difficult time for everyone but especially the most vulnerable members of our society and those who are struggling financially.
“That is why we have taken the decision to postpone debt recovery action in most cases that we deal with – and this will include anyone facing action in relation to council tax and business rates.
“We’d also like to thank residents who are able to continue paying council tax despite the difficult times we find ourselves in – their contribution is helping us maintain essential services.
“We are awaiting further detail of the various financial measures announced by the government, following which will be implementing them across the county as quickly we can to ensure the benefits are felt by our residents.”
The council has set up a webpage to provide advice for residents on the various means of support available to them during the outbreak, which covers welfare, finances, housing and the closure of schools. This can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/article/22971/Support-for-residents
The authority’s Customer Access Points are also open providing a range of help and information for residents, although residents are asked to phone them on 03000 260 000 rather than visiting where possible. Details of these can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/customeraccesspoints
The council’s One Point hubs and Family Centres remain open to provide advice, guidance and signposting on a one-to-one basis, although residents are advised to phone them during opening hours on 03000 261 111 rather than visiting where possible.
However in line with government guidance around social distancing, all group-based family activities in community venues and family centres have been cancelled for the time being. This includes baby clinics, breastfeeding groups, early learning groups, parenting support programmes and sensory play sessions.
Martyn Stenton, the council’s head of early help and inclusion and vulnerable children, said: “We understand this is a worrying time for everyone and we are doing all we can to provide services families while ensuring we protect the health and safety of our staff. We will strive to make sure that families can still access help, advice and guidance at this difficult time.”
More information, including opening hours of One Point hubs and Family Centres, is available at www.durham.gov.uk/article/22977/Family-centre-One-Point-cancellations
For more information about the council’s response to Coronavirus, visit www.durham.gov.uk/coronavirus