The seriousness of the threat of coronavirus applies to everybody’s health and safety but this is a particularly worrying time for disabled people and those who care for them. The government has been introducing and regularly updating guidance to in order to try and safeguard people and the NHS from the potential impacts of the virus.
This article will summarise the key points of current guidance for disabled and vulnerable people, as well as those who care for them, and link to their sources. Whether your young person is now at home because their school is closed, they are independent with their own job or they live in a residential setting, we can help.
In addition, we have linked some of our own articles for you to read. From bloggers to legal experts, we will be sharing stories and helping to connect communities during this unsettling and uncertain time.
What's in this section?
National lockdown: Stay at Home
Summary: what you can and cannot do during the national lockdown
You must stay at home. The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.
You should follow this guidance immediately. The law will be updated to reflect these new rules.
You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:
- shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person
- go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
- exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
- meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
- seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
- attend education or childcare – for those eligible
Colleges, primary and secondary schools will remain open only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term. Early Years settings remain open.
Higher Education provision will remain online until mid February for all except future critical worker courses.
If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local in the village, town, or part of the city where you live. You may leave your local area for a legally permitted reason, such as for work.
If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. You should not attend work.
You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with or are not in a support bubble with (if you are legally permitted to form one).
You may exercise on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.
You should not meet other people you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, unless for a permitted reason.
Stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household.
If you break the rules
The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).
You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.
Going to work
To help contain the virus, everyone who can work effectively from home must do so. Where people cannot do so – including, but not limited to, people who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing – they should continue to travel to their workplace. This is essential to keeping the country operating and supporting sectors and employers.
Public sector employees working in essential services, including childcare or education, should continue to go into work.
Where it is necessary to work in other people’s homes – for example, for nannies, cleaners or tradespeople – you can do so.
Travel to work
It is the law that you must wear a face-covering when travelling in England on a:
- bus or coach
- train or tram
- ferry or hovercraft or another vessel
- cable car
If you do not wear a face-covering you will be breaking the law and could be fined £200 for a first offence.
Ensure you maintain social distancing, wherever possible, including at busy entrances, exits, under canopies, bus stops, platforms or outside of stations.
Car sharing is also not currently recommended for those from different households, or for those outside of support bubbles.
Working in others homes
There is now specific guidance for those carrying out work in other peoples homes, such as:
- repair services
- meter readers
Guidance on protecting those more vulnerable to COVID-19
Does easing restrictions apply to 70 year olds and over?
The advice for those aged 70 and over continues to be that they should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household.
If they do go out, they should be careful to maintain distance from others. They and everyone should continue to comply with any general social distancing restrictions.
Those aged 70 and over can be absolutely fit and healthy and it’s not the case that everybody over 70 has an underlying disease, however, we also know that as you get older, there is a higher risk of coronavirus infection resulting in more serious disease. Complications and deaths are more common in the elderly, even those without pre-existing conditions.
Current Guidance for the clinically vulnerable
- The clinically vulnerable may, if they wish, meet in a group of up to six people outdoors, including people from different households, while maintaining strict social distancing
- no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household
- may form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. All those in a support bubble will be able to spend time together inside each other’s homes, including overnight, without needing to socially distance
NHS COVID-19 app – download it today
Protect your loved ones. Download the app.
The new NHS COVID-19 app, now available to download for free in England and Wales, is the fastest way to see if you’re at risk from coronavirus. The faster you know, the quicker you can alert and protect your loved ones and community.
The app has a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. It uses proven technology from Apple and Google, designed to protect the user’s privacy.
Test and Trace
In order to avoid confusion, this guidance has been taken directly from the test and trace guidance on GOV.UK
Playing your part:
- if you develop symptoms, you must continue to follow the rules to self-isolate with other members of your household and get a test to find out if you have coronavirus
- if you test positive for coronavirus, you must share information promptly about your recent contacts through the NHS Test and Trace service to help us alert other people who may need to self-isolate
- if you have had close recent contact with someone who has coronavirus, you must self-isolate if the NHS Test and Trace service advises you to do so
- if you are returning from travel abroad it is important to check whether you need to self-isolate
How NHS test and trace service works:
There are two main scenarios on which the test and trace operates, either:
- You have symptoms
- You are contacted because you’ve been in contact with someone who has symptoms
Contact tracers will:
- call you from 0300 013 5000
- send you text messages from ‘NHS’
- ask you to sign into the NHS test and trace contact-tracing website
- ask for your full name and date of birth to confirm your identity, and postcode to offer support while self-isolating
- ask about the coronavirus symptoms you have been experiencing
- ask you to provide the name, telephone number and/or email address of anyone you have had close contact with in the 2 days prior to your symptoms starting
- ask you if you have family members or other household members living with you. In line with the medical advice they must remain in self-isolation for the rest of the 14-day period from when your symptoms began
- ask if you have had any close contact with anyone other than members of your household. We are interested in in the 48 hours before you developed symptoms and the time since you developed symptoms. Close contact means:
- having face-to-face contact with someone (less than 1 metre away)
- spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
- travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even on a short journey) or close to them on a plane
- if you work in – or have recently visited – a setting with other people (for example, a GP surgery, a school or a workplace)
We will ask you to provide, where possible, the names and contact details (for example, email address, telephone number) for the people you have had close contact with. As with your own details, these will be held in strict confidence and will be kept and used only in line with data protection laws.
Scenario 1 – If you have symptoms of coronavirus
- isolate: as soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, medical advice is clear: you must self-isolate for at least 7 days. Anyone else in your household must self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms
- test: order a test immediately at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access
- results: if your test is positive, you must complete the remainder of your 7-day self-isolation. Anyone in your household must also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to self-isolate
- share contacts: if you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS test and trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you with instructions of how to share details of people with whom you have had close, recent contact and places you have visited. It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that we can give appropriate advice to those who need it. You will be told to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by one of our contract tracers.
Scenario 2 – if you are contacted by the NHS test and trace service because you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus
- alert: you will be alerted by the NHS test and trace service if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The alert will usually come by text, email or phone call. You should then log on to the NHS test and trace website, which is normally the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you must do. Under-18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue to
- isolate: you will be told to begin self-isolation for 14 days from your last contact with the person who has tested positive. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell because, if you have been infected, you could become infectious to others at any point up to 14 days. Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you if you do not have symptoms, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with you at home.
- test if needed: if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household must self-isolate immediately at home for 14 days and you must book a test at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access. If your test is positive, you must continue to stay at home for at least 7 days and we will get in touch to ask about your contacts since they must self-isolate. If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14-day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet – this is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
Tests for Coronavirus are now available, below we have the latest available information on who is currently eligible for a test, and how to get one.
Who is eligible
- patients with suspected symptoms of COVID-19
- essential workers including NHS and social care workers with symptoms
- people over 65 with symptoms
- people with symptoms whose work cannot be done from home (including construction workers, shop workers, emergency plumbers and delivery drivers)
- anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who lives with any of the groups identified above
- social care workers and residents in care homes (with or without symptoms) to investigate outbreaks
- NHS workers and patients without symptoms, in line with NHS England guidance
Arranging a test
You can select a regional test site drive-through appointment or home test kit, the guide for using the self-referral portal is available here.
Home testing availability is initially limited, but involves a swab of the nose and back of the throat.
The NHS is aiming to return results of tests within 48 hours, or 72 hours for a home test.
Employers can also refer their essential workers who are self isolating for testing, the portal allows employers to securely upload full lists of names and contact details for self isolating workers.
In order to obtain a login, employers of essential workers should email email@example.com with:
- organisation name
- nature of the organisation’s business
- names (where possible) and email addresses of the 2 users who will upload essential worker contact details
Isolation – staying safe and well
Looking after your health and wellbeing during these times of lockdown and self-isolation is essential, so we’ve put together some tips which may be useful.
Accessing food and supplies if youre clinically vulnerable
If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable you should have received a letter from the NHS asking you to self isolate, the letter should also tell you how to register for deliveries of food parcels to your home.
If you have not yet registered for support, you can either:
- register online
- call 0800 028 8327
You need your NHS number to hand when you register. This will be at the top of the letter you have received letting you know you are clinically extremely vulnerable or on any prescriptions.
Looking after your mental health
If you feel like you need emotional support and cannot contact a friend or family member, there are a number of helplines available:
- Samaritans can provide emotional support – call FREE on 116 123
- Mind can support those with mental health problems and advise where to get help – 0300 123 3393
Childcare and children’s activities
There are several ways that parents and carers can continue to access childcare during the national restrictions:
- Early years settings and childminders remain open, and you can continue to use these settings as normal
- You can access other childcare activities (including wraparound care) where reasonably necessary to enable parents to work, seek work, attend education or training, or for the purposes of respite care for carers
- Nannies will be able to continue to provide services, including in the home
- Parents are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is 13 or under
- Some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble, which allows single adult households to join another household
Advice for informal carers
Many of the people reading this will be caring for their vulnerable children or young adults. The NHS has written to everyone considered to be at risk of severe illness if they catch the coronavirus. You may have received the letter yourself, either as someone in this ‘high risk’ group or as the named carer of the young person you care for.
If a person you care for has received this letter, the instructions state that they must stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, except you as their carer and healthcare workers continuing to provide essential medical care.
Carers UK has advice on creating a contingency plan if carers become ill with coronavirus and cannot provide care in the same way they usually do.
Benefits and financial advice
People receiving benefits do not have to attend Jobcentre appointments for at least 3 months, starting from Thursday 19th March 2020. Special arrangements will be in place for people in receipt of benefits who cannot attend reassessments or Jobcentre appointments because they have to stay at home or have contracted coronavirus. They include:
- disabled and sick claimants who cannot attend a reassessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit will continue to receive their payments while their assessment is rearranged
- people who need to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note
- when claimants tell us in good time that they are staying at home or that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will not be sanctioned – we will review their conditionality requirements in their claimant commitment, to ensure they are reasonable
- claimants who are staying at home as a result of coronavirus will have their mandatory work search and work availability requirements removed to account for a period of sickness
For people who need to make a new claim for support:
- those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending the Jobcentre
- the 7 day waiting period for ESA for new claimants will not apply if they are suffering from coronavirus or are required to stay at home – so it will be payable from day one
Read more about disability benefits and coronavirus at GOV.UK
Education and EHCPs
Fast-tracked legislation has been passed to manage the outbreak of the coronavirus and this has impacted education and EHCPs. The Coronavirus Bill allows Local Authorities (LAs) to use their reasonable endeavours to ensure that provision and support in Section F continues to be available to meet education, health and care needs and to prioritise their efforts to support those with the most complex needs.
The Bill is attempting to offer flexibility to LAs in respect of Special Educational Provision (detailed in Section F of the EHCP) and to enable an LA not to deliver some or all of the provision contained in an EHCP if it is not reasonable to do so at this time.
Obviously, the risk of temporarily downgrading the duties of the LA means that parents and young people could find it difficult to take action against the LA to enforce provision required to meet their child’s needs in the interim and the correct way forward will need to be considered on a case by case basis.
Rukhsana Koser, Solicitor Education Lawyers at Langley Wellington LLP Solicitors offers some guidance on this confusing and rapidly changing situation here.
Guidance on isolation for residential education and care settings
The government has issued guidance to support children and young people in:
- Children’s homes
- Residential special schools and colleges
- Other further education (FE) providers with residential accommodation
Here, you will also find advice on managing isolation for individuals and groups in the event that a child, young person or staff member shows symptoms of coronavirus or is confirmed as having it.
Helping your children understand
Many children are worried about the Coronavirus and explaining such an unusual situation is not always easy, especially if your child has additional needs. Here are some resources that you can use to help communicate what is going on to the children you support:
- Social stories. A social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and help children understand and process them. For something like the coronavirus, social stories can be invaluable in breaking down how something on such a global scale can affect your child’s day-to-day life and why things have suddenly changed for them. This is an example of one from Autism Bedfordshire.
- The Children’s Commissioner has put together a guide for children explaining the coronavirus and how it is impacting people’s lives. It includes a video about good hand washing and a worry buster where children can write about anything they feel anxious about. Download the Children’s Guide to Coronavirus.
- Everybody’s favourite Dr Ranj has just launched his podcast called A Kids Guide to Coronavirus where he answers questions sent in by kids about what’s going on at the moment. You can listen at GlobalPlayer.com
- Our monthly columnist Carly Jones MBE also wrote for us recently, sharing her tips for communication, if you have autistic children and you are all adjusting to being isolated together, with no external support. She offers tips such as staying creative, having no speaking days and not limiting the iPad. Read Autism, communication and the coronavirus here.
How will school be different?
Many schools are creating plans that include: keeping classroom doors and windows open to encourage airflow and introducing one-way systems around school buildings.
Here are seven other things that could look different:
- No more than 15 children per classroom – kept separate from others
- Pupils asked to stay 2m (6ft 6in) apart where possible – but this will be difficult with younger children
- More regular hand washing – for at least 20 seconds
- Staggered break and lunchtimes, different arrival and departure arrangements
- Less sharing of equipment such as books and toys, with fewer items taken home
- Parents should not gather at school gates or in the playground
- Carers should only enter school buildings by appointment
If any pupils or staff – or anyone they live with – develop coronavirus symptoms, they will be asked to stay away from school.
Students old enough to will be encouraged to travel separately and avoid public transport when possible.
Do I have to send my child to school?
Homeschooling may be already be the norm for many parents of children with disabilities and/or additional needs, however, some of you may find yourselves thrown in the metaphorical deep end. Luckily, there are resources available:
It’s important not to put too much pressure on yourselves. Whilst educational activities are beneficial, in these unusual times, it is probably more important to be there for your children and to help them through it emotionally. Concentrate on spending quality time together and doing fun things, but remember you may both need space. Be kind to yourself!
We will be putting together some helpful resources and tips for keeping your children occupied very soon so look out for it but in the meantime, you may find our monthly columnist’s article How Home Education Helped Us helpful.
Current government guidance states that people should only be travelling to and from work where their work absolutely cannot be done from home. This means that disabled people may suddenly find themselves suddenly working from home without the assistive technology they use in the office to help them with their job. Employers need to be aware that the following adjustments may need to be made:
- Equipment for people with a visual impairment
- Adapted office furniture such as chairs and desks
The Business Disability Forum Advice Service can offer more information about what disabled people are entitled to if they are forced to work from home.
Cue cards can help during video conferences or chats, which can sometimes be busy and stressful. Print the sheets out onto A4 paper, cut them out and them up to the camera if you need to use them.
Equality and making a complaint
Fry Law provides practical help on how to complain effectively when you think that you have been given ‘less favourable treatment’ by a service provider simply because you are disabled. It has been urgently updated for the COVID-19 pandemic and now includes additional template letters to assist people with trying to obtain priority bookings at supermarkets.
For parents of disabled children who need shopping delivered to their home, we have heard cases where they have been refused an online priority slot because they themselves are not disabled. This is obviously unfair and unacceptable and in response to this, Fry Law are urging parents to pursue their complaint. You can download the template letter here.
Our latest news and blog articles related to Coronavirus
The summaries of guidance and articles listed here are not a full and complete recitation of the original policies and guidance as provided by the government, health authorities and associated organisations. These summaries have been prepared in an effort to highlight key elements of these documents and articles, and bring them together in a single accessible location, NOT to replace them in any way shape or form. Every effort has been made to avoid mischaracterizations and to present these policies and guidance in an unbiased manner. Any failure to do so is unintentional. The full versions of every document mentioned can be viewed in their entirety through the relevant links.