The Leader of Swindon Borough Council has today (26 March) outlined a series of local measures designed to help residents during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Councillor David Renard has announced a package of support to benefit both local residents and businesses most affected by the current public emergency.
The 11 measures range from providing council tax and emergency financial help for residents facing hardship from coronavirus through to relaxing parking restrictions.
Millions of pounds in lifeline funding will also be given to small and medium-sized businesses by the Council as part of the large package of support announced by the Government last week.
Top of the list to help households is the Government’s £500m hardship fund, which will provide council tax relief to vulnerable households as it is anticipated there will be an increase in both claims and payments to those already being supported.
Swindon has been allocated £1.3m and the Council can use this funding to help people who are not already claiming support, and need to do so, to make a claim online.
The support offered by the Council also includes a new volunteering scheme. Compassionate Swindon is a partnership with Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre, which will pair volunteers with those people who have no one to help them. This could involve speaking to someone over the phone to offer some companionship or collecting shopping for those who are staying at home.
Key workers and volunteers helping vulnerable members of the community will be allowed to park in areas with parking restrictions and car parks will be opened up for use by residents with parking permits.
Businesses who are unable to pay their rent will not be evicted and some not-for-profit and commercial operators will be able to take a three-month rent holiday following new guidance from the Government. Council housing tenants affected by coronavirus who have fallen behind on their rent will also be given extra support.
All library books will be automatically renewed until the Borough’s libraries are reopened and any memberships due to expire before the end of June will be automatically renewed for six months.
There is help too for Hackney and Private Hire drivers with the Council set to extend drivers’ licences for six months with no charge.
Couples who have had to postpone their weddings at the Register Office will be given first refusal on booking their rearranged wedding. They will also have their charges waived for re-announcing their Notice of Marriage.
The package of measures includes support already announced by the Council over the past few days including business rate relief for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality industry, as well as extending the use of free bus passes for older and disabled people.
Announcing the package of support, Cllr Renard said: “The coronavirus crisis is affecting all our lives and we will face tremendous challenges in the weeks and months ahead.
“We are working closely with our health partners, business groups and the voluntary sector to minimise the impact on our local communities in what is a fast-moving situation which is changing on a daily basis.
“I want to reassure those who live and work in Swindon that we are here to help you. Whether you own a business that has been hit hard by the events of the last few weeks or a resident who has no support network around you, help is at hand.
“The package of measures we are putting in place today is designed to ease some of the pressure and worry that some people may be facing in these uncertain times. We’ll be adapting these local measures in line with further national guidance and support announced by the Government.
“We know they will not solve everyone’s problems, but it is important that as a Council we do as much as we can to help the residents we are here to serve.
“We have an amazing community here in Swindon and we all need to support each other.”
Residents and businesses can find out more information about the package of support measures by visiting www.swindon.gov.uk/coronavirus
Here's the full list of measures...
Support for residents
1. Compassionate Swindon: volunteer support for those who most need it
- More than 500 Swindon residents have signed-up for volunteering opportunities, including speaking to someone over the phone to offer some companionship or collecting shopping for those who are staying at home
2. Council tax relief to vulnerable people and households to help those affected most by coronavirus
- Council tax bills of working age people receiving Local Council Tax Support will be reduced for 2020/21
3. Emergency financial assistance for residents most affected by coronavirus
- The Council’s Emergency Assistance fund will support residents that have been severely affected by coronavirus causing them hardship
4. Supporting Council housing tenants
- Tenants affected by coronavirus are encouraged to contact the Council to discuss their circumstances:
- Support is available for those who fall behind on rent payments and the Council will not pursue tenants for rent arrears.
- Evictions will be avoided as long as tenants follow the advice and support from the Council’s housing officers
5. More parking options for key workers and residents making essential journeys
- Council parking tickets won’t be issued to those who are not usually allowed to use on-street residential, shared use, permit parking bays and limited waiting bays
- Parking tickets will only be issued to cars parked dangerously, on yellow lines and in disabled bays when not permitted
- Car parks will be opened up for residents with parking permits to use
6. Helping residents access library services online
- All books will be automatically renewed until libraries are reopened
- All library memberships due to expire before the end of June will be automatically renewed for six months
- eBook, eAudiobook and eMagazine will be available for residents
7. Extending bus pass use for older and disabled people
- These residents can use their bus passes before 9.30am
8. Priority re-booking and waiving fees for marriages postponed due to coronavirus
- Priority re-booking for weddings postponed at the Civic Offices
- Charges waived for Notice appointments for postponed marriages
Support for businesses
9. Supplying vital financial support to businesses
- 100% business rate relief will be available for all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses for 2020-21
- A £10,000 grant to small businesses with a rateable value of less than £15,000
- A £25,000 grant to all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value between £15,000-£50,999
10. Supporting non-for profit and commercial tenants in council properties
- Extra protection so businesses unable to pay their rent because of coronavirus don't have to worry about being evicted
- 3-month rent deferral to commercial and not-for-profit tenants
11. Support for Swindon’s taxi drivers
- Extended Hackney and Private Hire driver licences with no charge for six months.
- Alternatively, drivers may wish to apply for a one-year licence at £70 instead of the usual three-year licences (£210).