Harlow Council continues to provide services during coronavirus outbreak that residents and businesses need.

HARLOW Council continues to provide services during the national coronavirus outbreak that residents and businesses need.

This is thanks to the efforts of council staff and contractor staff. Council staff are either still coming into the workplace or are working from home. Some council staff have been redeployed to help run new services to support residents. A range of internal support services run by staff working from home are ensuring that vital frontline services continue to run effectively.

The council is now making plans for its recovery which will decide when and how some facilities, which are currently closed, may reopen safely. These plans will follow public health guidance and the government’s recovery plan which was announced on 11 May 2020.

Protecting the health and wellbeing of residents and staff will always be the council’s priority. The council will only reopen facilities when it is safe to do so and where safety measures to help stop the spread of the virus have been considered and put in place.

Service provision remains under constant review and could change due to the national and local situation and any further guidance issued by government. Further updates will be issued as and when services change.

A number of essential services continue to run at this time. A summary of current service provision is below. HTS (Property & Environment) Ltd has also issued an update on the services they provide for the council at https://www.htsgroupltd.co.uk/coronavirus-hts-property-environment-ltd-service-delivery-update-7/

Community and environment

• Bin collections – a high level of service continues to be provided by Veolia bin operatives with minimum disruption to residents. Fortnightly garden waste collections restarted from 4 May and bulky waste collections (heavy squad) are continuing

• Community Hub – this service run by the council and Rainbow Services will remain open for the foreseeable future. The hub helps the most vulnerable residents impacted by the outbreak access food and prescriptions and other advice services. Staff from around the council have been redeployed to run the hotline – 01279 927005 – seven days a week. The hub is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and 10am to 1pm Saturday and Sunday and on bank holidays.

• Community Safety – the team continue to carry out patrols around the town and monitoring restrictions working with the police and supporting the council’s response to the outbreak working with the Essex Resilience Forum.

• Environmental health – officers are enforcing government restrictions on businesses which can currently trade and also providing advice to businesses where necessary. The team are also responding to noise and other nuisance complaints.

• Grass cutting – the grass cutting programme has now been extended to cut other areas of the town alongside the national measures where households can exercise outdoors unlimited. It will take a while for the programme to catch up so some grass is going to be long whilst HTS work towards the resumption of a full service.

• Licensing – the issuing of taxi licences is continuing through the introduction of a new remote working system.

• Parking and car parks – enforcement activities in the town are carried out by the North Essex Parking Partnership. Parking patrols restarted on 7 May 2020 and focus on requests for enforcement received from residents. Updates from the partnership can be found at http://www1.parkingpartnership.org/north/coronavirus Car parks next to fields around the town have reopened as well as the town park car parks.

• Planning – planning officers continue to determine planning applications as normal and the council’s first virtual planning committee will take place at the end of May. The local plan main modifications consultation has been extended until 31 May 2020.

• Street cleaning – HTS continue to empty dog and litter bins and litter pick around the town as well as carry out street sweeping and the clearing of broken glass. Fly-tipping is still being cleared. HTS are working to catch up with outstanding street cleaning.

• Town park – remains open for all to enjoy and has been open during the outbreak. The car parks have reopened but playgrounds, the skate park and outdoor gym equipment will remain closed until further notice. The toilets are currently closed to stop the spread of the virus.

• Trees – trees posing a risk to persons or property will continue to be the priority for HTS.

Customer services

• Benefits, council tax and business support – staff continue to process benefit claims and deal with enquiries for council tax, the council tax support scheme and business rates. In addition government grants are being issued to businesses which meet government eligibility criteria. Services can be accessed both over the phone and online.

• Council website – the website – www.harlow.gov.uk – continues to be updated and includes a coronavirus web page which provides more information on the council’s response and the help and support which is available to residents and businesses.

• Civic Centre – although the centre remains closed to the public until further notice residents can still phone the council on 01279 446655 Monday to Friday from 9am to 4.45pm. Residents can also continue to contact the council via Twitter and Facebook and email. However due to the volume of enquiries each one will be prioritised so there may be a longer delay in receiving a response.

• Keeping you informed – the council’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram sites continue to be updated on the work of the council and how residents can access support. Regular updates are sent to the local media and the next edition of Harlow Times is due to be published ahead of the summer.

• Latton Bush Centre – the centre remains open to allow business tenants to access premises and continue to provide services.

• Paying bills – council bill payments should still be made and can be paid online any time at www.harlow.gov.uk or via the automated pay line on 01279 446600. Direct debits or standing orders can be setup. Rent can also be paid by a payment or post office card at a local payment point or post office. There is help and support available to residents who genuinely can’t pay bills at this time.

• Property & Facilities – the team are keeping the Civic Centre and Latton Bush Centre open and operating for staff, as well as coordinating the council’s response to the outbreak and continuing to work with and support commercial tenants, deliver improvement projects where social distancing allows and carry out the un-adopted (those not maintained by Essex County Council) highway inspections.

Housing:

• Housing options and advice – allocations and lettings of homes continue to be prioritised for homeless households and those in housing need including anyone who is sleeping rough. Out of hours service is still running. Allocations will start to be introduced on a phased basis and processes are being updated following the latest government guidance. A backlog of empty council properties are being addressed by HTS who have restarted works within these properties following new guidelines. Homes will be ready to be re-let when it is safe to do so. The council understands that some applicants may be anxious at this time about moving and it doesn’t want to put added pressure on people if they are not ready or able to do so. Allocations will gradually restart once the latest government guidance has been fully reviewed. The council will start with applicants that had been offered and accepted properties prior to the lockdown and those that had been offered properties but had not had an opportunity to view. The following phase will focus on direct offers to those applicants that require a settled housing solution due to harassment or they are currently in emergency accommodation and are unable to return to their homes. Following this the advertising of homes for bidding will restart, but the number of homes will be limited each week.

• Home Ownership – staff continue to support leaseholders with their housing issues and provide help and support to those who can’t pay leaseholder-related bills at this time. Support for leaseholders can be found at https://www.harlow.gov.uk/housing-and-garages/leaseholders/service-charge-and-ground-rent

• Repairs and maintenance – during the lockdown repairs have been responded to by HTS on an emergency and prioritised basis. Therefore there is a current backlog of standard repairs which will be completed as safely and as soon as practicable. The repairs centre remains open and the out of hours emergency service. Residents can contact the repairs centre on 01279 446666. HTS continue to carry out cleaning of communal areas in flat and tower blocks.

• Supported housing – housing officers remain in regularly contact with tenants. The Careline service continues to operate 24 hours a day to provide support of the most vulnerable residents.

• Support for council tenants – staff continue to assist tenants with tenancy issues and provide support, advice and help to those who can’t pay rent or other housing payments. This includes processing new universal credit claims which have increased during the outbreak. If you require help please contact your housing officer. Fire safety inspections have restarted and compliance works to homes are still being carried out to protect the safety of tenants.

• Planned maintenance works – The housing investment programme will restart over the coming weeks with priority given to health and safety work. Internal and external works are expected to increase over the coming weeks. Residents who are self-isolating or shielding should contact the council when they are notified of any internal works. The maintenance programme will be kept under review.

Local democracy:

• Council meetings – the annual council meeting takes place tonight (21 May 2020) and will be held virtually and streamed live on the council’s You Tube channel. The new cycle of committee meetings will follow and all be held virtually and streamed live until further notice. Residents can still participate in meetings and ask questions. Procedures for these meetings can be viewed at http://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=123&MId=1132&Ver=4

• Councillors – local councillors continue to support residents with enquiries and carry out casework. Councillors can be contacted by phone or email. Full contact information can be found at http://moderngov.harlow.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1 Some councillors also have social media accounts.

• Youth Council – currently not meeting but regular contact is being made with youth councillors to ensure their wellbeing.

Services closed until further notice for public safety include:

• Harlow Bus Station kiosk – the bus kiosk remains closed for the time being and social distancing measures remain in place within the waiting areas.

• Harlow Museum & Gardens – The gardens and buildings continue to be maintained.

• Harlow Playhouse – during its closure the staff have developed a digital programme through its Facebook page www.facebook.com/harlowplayhouse to keep residents entertained. Keep following social media and webpages for updates on services provided by Harlow Playhouse.

• Leah Manning Centre – staff continue to contact clients regularly to ensure their welfare and other support and drop off essential items.

• Outdoor sports facilities – council-owned public tennis courts, basketball courts, multi-use games areas and the skate park are currently closed and should not be used by the public. This is while we review what hygiene and social distancing measures are needed to help stop any spread of the virus.

• Pets’ Corner – staff continue to care for and make sure the animals are exercised on a daily basis.

• Playgrounds – all children’s playgrounds remain closed in line with government guidance.

• Sam’s Place – during the service’s closure regular contact is being made with children and families.

• Supported housing common rooms – these remain closed for gatherings and individual use. Residents still have access to communal laundry facilities via common rooms.

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