The government has announced which employment sectors qualify as keyworkers and can therefore continue to send their children to school or nursery if needed to ensure they can continue to work. Although social care workers are on this list, housing and repair operatives are not.
What does this mean for the delivery of what #ukhousing and its customers would absolutely see as, in the government’s words, ‘critical to the covid-19 response’?
Key frontline service
The first point to consider is that housing and repairs operatives are not excluded from the list. There is wriggle room. Although they are not specifically named, the guidance makes it clear that ‘charities and workers delivering key frontline services’ do qualify. In order to ensure access to schools or nurseries if needed, workers should discuss this with their employer in the first instance.
Specifically the guidance says people who believe their role is essential to tackling covid-19 should: ‘confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service’.
It is likely most housing associations, local authority landlords and arm’s-length management organisations will support workers who need to make this case in order to continue to do their jobs. What then?
Tough decisions for teachers
Unfortunately it seems the decision as to whether or not to accept a child to remain at school will fall to already hard-pressed school and nursery teaching staff. While the government could have been more specific in its list and therefore avoided this potentially rather arbitrary situation, it does at least have the benefit of allowing local flexibility.
What can housing providers to do help and support staff to continue to work?
Working from home
Many housing providers have already moved to home working for the vast majority of their people, following rapid trials over the past week. Contact centre workers and key finance and tenancy support staff are being set up to work remotely and ensure calls are answered and concerned customers helped. This has been and continues to be a huge effort by all teams – supported by IT – to move quickly and ensure minimal service disruption.
Flexible working hours are already available to many housing staff and this is being extended to others wherever possible. The emphasis is on getting the job done, with contact centre core hours being continued.
Sick pay and care responsibilities
If someone is ill with covid-19 or needs to care for a relative who has contracted the illness, housing providers are allowing staff the time they need. In some instances, they are committing to pay normal pay as opposed to statutory sick pay.
Essential home visits
Where a home visit is unavoidable – due to a gas repair or face-to-face care need – this is being done with clear guidelines in place to protect both the customer and the member of staff.
All of these measures and more are helping housing professionals, care workers, repairs operatives and others to continue to deliver essential housing services. In many instances, these steps will be sufficient to help housing staff do their jobs while also caring for their children. However, many housing staff will still require childcare support in order to work.
Housing providers have already taken significant steps to support their employees who are working families. This should go some way to ensuring schools are able to help those families who have no other option.
Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media