Updated Guidance on Support Groups, Volunteering, Shielding and Furlough

Everything is moving fast since the announcement of the lockdown that came into force on 5 January 2021, and community organisations may be struggling to keep up. This quick primer should bring you up to speed on the key facts.

This article was first published on 6 November 2020 (in relation to Huntingdonshire’s move to Tier 2) and updated on 7 January 2021. We will strive to update it as new information becomes available.

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The growing numbers of Covid-19 cases has lead to the reintroduction of a full national lockdown across England. The advice now is to stay at home and avoid meeting people you do not live with, except for specific purposes. Various businesses and venues are also closed.

People should work from home if at all possible. People who cannot work from home but are instructed to self-isolate, either because they have the virus or because they have come into contact with someone who has it, may be entitled to a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment.

Schools and universities are now closed until at least February half term, except for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. Early years settings and childminders of pre-school children can continue as normal.

Support Groups

One of the permitted reasons for meeting up in larger groups is for “support groups“.

Support groups that have to be delivered in person can continue with up to 15 participants where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support – but they must take place at a premises other than a private home.

As of 7 January 2021 we haven’t seen a detailed, official definition of what constitutes a support group.

Internet Access for Home-schoolers

As community groups support their local residents they may come across families struggling with their remote learning due to not having a broadband connection.

The DfE is working in partnership with mobile network operators to help schools support disadvantaged pupils in years 3 to 11 who rely on a mobile internet connection when their face-to-face education is disrupted by coronavirus.

Disadvantaged families may be able to benefit from free increases to their mobile data. The amount of data available to families will vary by provider. Data will be increased until the end of July 2021. The family must approach the child’s school as only schools, trusts and local authorities will be able to request these free mobile data increases for families during the spring and summer 2021 terms if they’re experiencing disruption to face-to-face education.

Not all mobile data providers are yet part of this. To find out which are and for more information click here.


Another of the “specific purposes” where people are permitted to leave their home is for “go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home” (link here)

Elsewhere on the Gov.uk website (here) it gives more information about volunteering:

There is no limit on how many other volunteers you can work with at a time. Volunteers can be from different households, and can meet indoors or outdoors. If you volunteer at a support group, there cannot be more than 15 people (aged 5 and older) in the group itself but there is no limit on the number of volunteers. For example, 5 volunteers could support up to 15 parents and children in a group session, to make a group of 20 in total. When meeting people from outside your household or support bubble, follow social distancing guidelines.

The guidance goes to say that people can travel to volunteer or while volunteering. However, the advice here is to stay local.

If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local – unless it is necessary to go further, for example to go to work. Stay local means stay in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.


Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people

During the first lockdown in March-July 2020, people who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) were instructed to shield. These are the people who are at the highest risk of become very unwell if they were to catch Covid-19 – the list of medical conditions can be found here. During March to July, shielding meant no contact with anyone outside of their own home, except for medical reasons.

This group is being instructed to shield once again from 5 January 2021. However, CEV people who live alone can continue to be part of a support bubble with another household.

Supermarkets continue to offer priority slots for online delivery services to people who are registered with the government as being CEV. If someone believes they are eligible but aren’t currently on the government’s list, they can register here.

The guidance for CEV people goes on to say, “You can still meet with your support bubble, but you cannot meet others you do not live with unless they are part of your support bubble. Outdoors, you can meet one person from another household for exercise. This is part of the wider national regulations that apply to everyone.” However, it’s a different story for CEV people and work: “You are strongly advised to work from home because the risk of exposure to the virus in your area may currently be higher. If you cannot work from home, then you should not attend work.” People in this situation may be eligible for furlough (see below).

Community support groups may wish to consider how they can encourage these people to stay safe while still maintaining some kind of social contact.

Extension of Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough)

On 30 October 2020, the day before the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS, also known as Furlough) was due to be replaced by the less generous Job Support Scheme, it was announced that CJRS would be extended through November for this latest lockdown period. On 5 November, there was a further announcement that CJRS would be extended to 30 April 2021.

The guidance is that employees can be placed on full-time or part-time furlough, with the government paying a grant to the employer to cover 80% of salaries for the hours not worked, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. Employers have the option to top up salaries.

[UPDATED 20 Nov 2020] Previously CJRS was only available to people who had already been placed on furlough before 1 July 2020. This restriction is now lifted, so staff can be placed on furlough for the first time from 1 November 2020. However there appears to be a rolling set of deadlines for submitting claims – click here for more information.

Note that a list of companies claiming under the scheme will be published on the government’s website in an effort to deter fraudulent payments – find out more here.