Working at Home allowance
As previously reported we have raised the issue of an allowance being paid to members for the additional costs associated with working at home such as power, broadband and other utilities. HMRC rules say that the maximum that can be claimed tax free and without evidence is £6 per week (£4 per week for the previous tax year). This can be paid by the employer or individuals can submit a self-assessment tax return and claim tax relief. The Civil Service position currently is that the self- assessment process should be followed. We find this unacceptable as the money is coming from the same place and the process is cumbersome and complex. To make a claim for the current tax year involves waiting until April 2021 or later for reimbursement of costs being incurred now. We have put this to the employer and are waiting for a response. Our advice to members is not to take any action now but wait for further advice from us.
Extended ROTL / early release scheme
This was suspended on Friday following some people being released too early. This was described as “human error” and all involved returned to prison when contacted. Work has been done on the administration of the scheme and ROTLs are expected to resume imminently. It is clear that the rate of release on this scheme has been much slower than anticipated and we will continue to monitor this.
PPE and workplace safety
Our demands about non-AP workplaces have been agreed by HMPPS and NPS Silver Commands (Divisional Directors) have been reminded that if there are non-AP workplaces (or parts of workplaces) where social distancing cannot be achieved they must not be used. Where social distancing in a workplace relies on certain conditions (such as a max number of staff) these conditions must be met at all times. For APs there may be some duties which mean social distancing cannot be maintained and PPE must be used. There is an audit specifically looking at AP building to check if capacity needs to be reduced or other measures taken to maintain social distancing. There has been another revised version of the guidance on PPE and hygiene to incorporate our demand that PPE is not limited in APs based on having a resident with symptoms as many can have and transmit the virus without symptoms. CLICK HERE FOR GUIDANCE
SPOs in prisons
The OMiC EDM has been misinterpreted in some areas. The SPOs working in some prisons were wrongly being told they had to be on site at all times. It has been clarified this is incorrect, the fundamental principle applies to all – if work can be done at home it should be. The EDM does however say that SPOs will remain allocated to the OMiC work rather than being redeployed to the community.
Guidance is due to be issued on parole reports to prioritise those where a hearing is likely in the shorter term. This follows our representations that members are being put under enormous and unnecessary pressure to prepare parole reports in cases where a hearing is not imminent and where proper preparation cannot be done at this time. Our position is that given the circumstances the arbitrary deadlines have no meaning and reports should only be prepared when there is a hearing likely to happen in coming weeks.
As we explained in an earlier communication we have been pressing CAFCASS to issue National Guidance when Family Court Advisors may potentially be unable to make safe recommendations in the absence of face to face contact particularly in high risk cases. We acknowledge that CAFCASS has and continues to issue guidance, training and examples about using technology in a creative way to undertake our work but it is our view that this will only take us so far. We have expressed concern that Family Court Advisors do not feel compelled to make recommendations that may potentially be unsafe and that adjournments may be necessary until restrictions are lifted.
CAFCASS' response was as follows:
The need for recommendations to be safe remains an important issue for us at all times, independent of the circumstances that colleagues face.
If staff are concerned about the recommendations that they make to court then please reiterate to them that, in line with usual practice, they should discuss with their manager or practice supervisor. If after such a discussion there is a need for the case to be adjourned because the recommendation or proposal could be unsafe then this is something that they can raise with the court. The court can then make a decision on the advice given to them.
As our focus has to remain on the safety of children & young people in all circumstances and this hasn’t changed then it’s not proposed that there is a need to provide additional national guidance.
We felt in any event that it was necessary to issue this helpful advice to our members and we hope that this offers some reassurance.
MEETING WITH NEW SHADOW MINISTER FOR PROBATION AND PRISONS
Soon after last week’s meeting with Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, came an opportunity for the General Secretary and National Chair to spend an hour of lively video time with Lyn Brown MP for West Ham who has been appointed as the Shadow Minister for Probation and Prisons.
Lyn previously held the working brief for the Labour Party on the Police and Fire Services, and it did not take long to understand that Lyn is no stranger to directing uncomfortable questions and has a reputation for speaking truth to power! Lyn will be working closely with Napo and our Parliamentary Consultants over the coming months and welcomes the opportunity to meet with as many members from the NPS and CRC as possible as she sets about a testing fact finding mission. We are sure that many members will be pleased to assist Lyn wherever possible and we look forward to productive working relationship with the new Shadow Minister.
The Shadow Secretary has since recorded a message to the ‘hidden heroes’ of the C-19 pandemic – paying tribute to “those working in our prisons, in our IRCs, those working with those in Youth Custody and in Probation settings.” The message in full can be found on the Napo website