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Are there any other useful resources about apprenticeships during the coronavirus outbreak?

On 6 April 2020 the Government published further guidance to clarify the position with apprentices during the Covid-19 outbreak. The full guidance is available from here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-apprenticeship-programme-response/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-apprentices-employers-training-providers-end-point-assessment-organisations-and-external-quality-assurance-pro

The guidance includes details of the measures implemented by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in order to provide flexibility in delivering apprenticeships in current circumstances. This includes breaks in learnings, delayed end point assessments and alternative arrangements for end point assessments. These measures apply immediately and until further notice.

There are a number of FAQs within the Government guidance which deal with common queries. The guidance contains some technical provisions and we recommend that you take advice if you are furloughing or making apprentices redundant. If you have any additional queries on the practicalities of implementing the ESFA measures please get in touch.

Further guidance changes to apprenticeships due to coronavirus can be found here.

Related FAQs

I submitted my online visa application but couldn't book an appointment, what should I do?

Normally, once you have submitted the online visa application and paid the fee, you have to attend an appointment to enrol your biometrics and verify your passport within 45 days. This requirement has been relaxed due to the visa application centres being closed.

Now that application centres have mostly reopened, you must book and attend an appointment to complete the application process. However, the Home Office has recently introduced the IDV app which allows applicants who previously gave their fingerprints as part of a previous application since July 2015, to upload a photo electronically. There will then be no need to attend a Visa Application Centre to submit their biometrics. Applicants who are eligible to use this electronic option will be contacted by UKVI.

My business has a contract with a public sector body – what guidance has the Government issued about payment under contracts between public and private sector bodies?

The Cabinet Office has published a helpful Procurement Policy Note (“PPN”) on relief available to suppliers due to Covid-19 (available here). This can include making advance payments to suppliers, if necessary. The PPN sets out actions that public sector bodies should take (until at least 30 June 2020) to ensure continuity of service and to ensure that its suppliers can resume normal contract activity once able to.

The actions public sector bodies should be taking include:

  • Informing its suppliers (that they believe are at risk) that they will continue to be paid as normal until the end of June 2020 (even if service delivery is currently interrupted). Risk might include supply chains collapsing and/or significant financial implications for a supplier
  • If a contract involves a payment by results mechanism, basing payments on previous months (e.g. the average monthly payment over the previous 3 months), and
  • Ensuring that invoices submitted by suppliers are paid immediately to maintain cash flow in the supply chain and help to protect jobs.

If you are a supplier to a public sector body, you must act transparently and on an open-book basis, making cost data available to your public sector clients. You must also continue to pay your employees and subcontractors / suppliers. Suppliers to the public sector must not expect to make profits on any undelivered elements of a contract. The PPN makes clear that, should suppliers be found to be taking undue advantage, or failing to act transparently, a public sector body can take action to recover payments made to that supplier.

The PPN requires public sector bodies to urgently review their contract portfolios and take steps to support suppliers who they believe are “at risk”. However, no definition of “at risk” is given in the document.  We would suggest that if you are a supplier and you have yet to hear from a public sector client, you should seek to get in touch with them as soon as possible, particularly if you have concerns about your supply chain, staff retention and/or are experiencing financial difficulties currently. Given the requirement for transparency, you may be required to provide evidence, so it may be helpful to have any relevant documentation ready to send, if necessary, as this may help ensure a decision is made by the public sector client more promptly, particularly as the public sector body may have a number of contracts to consider.

 

What is the over-riding statutory duty for employers to ensure the health and safety of employees?

It is worth pointing out that, despite all the guidance, survey results and other advice about managing Covid-19 H&S risk in the workplace, the law has not been changed. None of the guidance is codified by regulation/legislation, which means that you are managing this risk in the context of existing H&S law.

In very simple terms, HASWA74 requires employers to take “all reasonably practicable steps” to ensure the health and safety of its employees (and anyone else affected by your business).

“Reasonably practicable” means to balance risk reduction against the time, money and effort required. If measures are grossly disproportionate, you wouldn’t be expected to take them, but there is a strong presumption in favour of taking any steps which will protect workers.

As part of managing the health and safety of your people, you must control the risks in your workplaces. To do this, look for what might cause harm to people while they work and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This related duty under MHSWR is to ensure you undertake a “suitable and sufficient assessment of risks.”

Other considerations – the mental health and wellbeing of BAME staff and others

Undeniably and understandably BAME staff, as well as those staff who are identified as being at a higher risk, are going to have high levels of stress and anxiety. For some, this may become of such severity that those staff should be considered to be disabled under the Equality Act 2010. The question as to whether someone is disabled is one that should be answered in conjunction with appropriate medical advice. But the question about how to support any staff suffering with stress and anxiety should not be left until that stage. Proactive steps need to be taken and expert advice obtained on what support measures should be put in place. We know that many NHS organisations are already giving the mental wellbeing of their staff the highest priority.

From our perspective, we would ask managers to be mindful that stress and anxiety is likely to feature in how an individual reacts to questions about the level of risk to their health and the impact on their duties. The conversations with some staff may not be easy to have and may be met with challenge.

For those staff who’s stress and anxiety is such that it would qualify as a disability, reasonable  adjustments will need to be considered to the processes that you are applying.

An additional point to consider – it might be worth writing to all staff, asking them to come forward if they have any health conditions that they think you ought to be aware of, assuring them that such information is being given in the strictest confidence. You want to make sure that you are taking the appropriate measures to ensure their health and safety.

What should payroll look out for if the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is used?
  • It is important to have a clear paper trail for any agreed reduction in salary, and hence any reduction in the amount of contributions. However, the contribution rates (as opposed to the amounts) should be the same as normal, and hence all processes and software should function as per normal and, amongst other things, remain compliant with auto-enrolment employer duties.
  • However, if the period of affected contributions does not overlap precisely with the period of reduced salary, for example because of different cut-off dates, there may well be instances of non-compliance with auto-enrolment employer duties at the beginning as well as at the end of the period covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
  • Accordingly, where an employer takes advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, good communication with the persons responsible for pensions administration and detailed record-keeping are essential to prevent non-compliances in the short-term and confusion in the long term.