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Service changes and local advice

These are unprecedented times and making sure we continue to deliver our critical services for our residents is our top priority, while making sure we incorporate all government guidance to help protect our visitors and staff. As such, there are some changes to council services and buildings.

This page will provide details of any service changes and local information as and when it is available.

Please stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.


Last updated 27 March 2020

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading

Everyone must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

You can only leave the house for one of the following reasons:

  • shopping for basic necessities – for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • any medical need – or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • travelling to and from work – but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

These four reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

Tower Hamlets Council is supporting the nation's efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus, while running our most critical services that our residents rely on, including some of the most vulnerable. 


Schools

On 18 March, the government announced that most schools in the UK will close on Friday 20 March until further notice. Some will remain open for vulnerable children and children of key workers. Further advice is available on our schools page

Parking

Our parking enforcement teams are working across Tower Hamlets to ensure that our streets are safe and free from obstructions and that highways are kept clear for use by the emergency services.

We know that many frontline NHS staff and other key workers are now commuting by car and may need to rely less on public transport in the weeks ahead. We are issuing special permits to designated key workers. We also continue to work with businesses to identify and allocate further dedicated parking for key workers. Residents are asked to be considerate and make every effort to avoid parking in the streets closest to hospitals and GP practices to keep spaces free for essential staff.

To support these key workers to continue providing vital public services, we need to keep our streets clear of obstructions. As a result, we will be continuing to enforce parking restrictions but focusing our enforcement on the streets closest to hospitals and GP practices to keep spaces free for essential staff.

Nobody should be leaving their home unless it is absolutely essential. We understand however that some key workers will need to use their cars and then park when they return home. To make this easier we are relaxing parking restrictions in residential areas. If you are a resident, you will now be able to park in resident bays, permit holder only, shared use bays, business bays and pay and display’bays in the controlled parking mini-zone that you live in, without a permit. If you receive a ticket, you can appeal this with proof of address, and we will cancel the fine.

We are also temporarily removing the restrictions at the Wapping bus gate.

These changes will be reviewed after three weeks in line with other national advice about staying at home unless absolutely necessary, or if operationally required.

Residents should be in no doubt that this is not a green light for inconsiderate or dangerous driver behaviour. Our enforcement teams will intervene quickly to enforce against and remove vehicles as necessary where such incidents occur.

Housing options

The housing options counter service at Albert Jacob House in Bethnal Green will be closed until further notice. Residents who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless, should call 0207 364 7474 where a member of the housing team will be able to assess their case and advise on their housing options. 

Any other enquiries should be directed to homelessness@towerhamlets.gov.uk

Reuse and recycling centre

The reuse and recycling centre in Yabsley Street will be closed until further notice. 

Household waste and recycling collections will continue as normal across Tower Hamlets, but we would ask residents to think carefully about how they might reduce the amount of waste and recycling they are producing during this time. 

Arts and events

We are supporting the nation's efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus, while running our most critical services that our residents rely on, including some of the most vulnerable. As a result, there have been a number of changes to our services in recent weeks.

To date, the following council events have been cancelled:

  • Brady Club exhibition and events due to take place from 1 April at the Brady Arts and Community Centre.
  • St George’s Day tea dance scheduled to take place on 23 April at the Art Pavilion, Mile End Park.
  • Boishakhi Mela, scheduled to take place on Sunday 28 June at Weavers Fields.

In addition, the following venues are closed until further notice:

  • The Brady Arts and Community Centre, Hanbury Street, Whitechapel
  • The Kobi Nazrul Centre, Hanbury Street, Whitechapel

Many other events in Tower Hamlets have now been cancelled, and many venues are temporarily closed. Please check with the event organiser or venue directly for up to date information.

We’ll look forward to reopening when the time is right, and welcoming you back to future events. For now, the message is clear: stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.

Markets

Following discussions with organisers and operators, a number of markets in Tower Hamlets will close until further notice. We are also limiting the number of stalls at remaining markets. These measures are important to ensure traders and customers can follow social distancing guidance.

Brick Lane, Columbia Road, Petticoat Lane, Roman Road Sclater Street and Victoria Park markets will be closed until further notice.

Bethnal Green, Chrisp Street, Roman Road Square, Watney Market and Whitechapel markets will be limited to sales of non-prepared food and household items only.

Support for market traders

To support markets and traders during these difficult times, the council is waving all pitch fees for both permanent and casual market traders from Monday 23 March until Thursday 30 April. During this time priority points will also be frozen.

We will continue to review the situation to extend or provide further support where needed. For more information please email our markets team. This advice will be updated as the advice changes.

Idea Stores and libraries

All of our Idea Stores are now closed until further notice, in line with the government’s latest advice.

We’ll look forward to reopening when the time is right, but for now, online membership is free and we have a wide range of materials available for you. From e-magazines, e-comics and audio books, we’re upping our offer every day. Check it out: www.ideastore.co.uk

We are also continuing to explore other ways that we can reach out and support our residents who need us most. 

Our Bethnal Green Library, Cubitt Town Library and Local History Library & Archives are also closed until further notice.

Please visit the Idea Store website for the latest information.

Please stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.

Youth hubs

Following the government's announcement on Friday 20 March 2020, that places where people gather should close, our youth hubs will be closed until further notice.

Register Office

These are unprecedented times and making sure we continue to deliver our critical services for our residents is our top priority, while making sure we incorporate all government guidance to help protect our visitors and staff.

Service changes at our Register Office include:

  • We are now operating as appointment only, and will not be accepting any walk in appointments. 
  • We are only accepting death registration appointments until further notice. We have suspended all online bookings; please contact us at register.office@towerhamlets.gov.uk if you need to book an appointment.
  • We are currently unable to process copy certificates - please order through the www.gov.uk/general-register-office

Please note this may be subject to change. Please contact us with any urgent enquiries by emailing register.office@towerhamlets.gov.uk. We are dealing with a high volume of emails and while we will do our best to respond as soon as we can, please bear with us at this time.

Citizenship ceremonies

All future scheduled citizenship ceremonies have been cancelled in line with the government’s guidance. If you were due to attend, will contact you with a new date when we can. You can contact our registrars team at nationalityandcitizenship@towerhamlets.gov.uk (including your name and phone number) with any queries.

Read more and view the FAQs on our Register Office page.

Shopping for groceries

There has been an increase in people bulk buying in shops. This is unnecessary and can prevent others from having access to things they really need. Please do think before you shop and only buy what you and your family needs so that you leave enough for others.

We are echoing the government's plea on 21 March 2020 that people should be responsible with their grocery shopping and think of others. There's more than enough food to go around, so please only shop for what you need. Stockpiling is preventing access to food for those who need it, including NHS staff. Supermarkets are implementing various measures to help, and our local, independent shops are also playing a key role at this time.

However, it has been reported that some smaller local shops across London have begun price hiking essential items. This is unacceptable. If you notice any businesses profiteering, please report them to the Competition and Markets Authority or contact our trading standards team at trading.standards@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

Update on trading standards (including restaurants, pubs, cafes) 

On 20 March 2020 the government announced that all cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants should close to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

We appreciate that this is a difficult time for all such premises but our first priority has to be to protect the public and therefore all such businesses in Tower Hamlets are required to follow this direction.

Support is being given to businesses in relation to the payment of wages and grants to small businesses to continue to keep staff employed. The schemes are to be administered by HMRC.

Useful contacts

If you wish to offer take-out services, please contact our environmental health and trading standards service for advice by email at food.safety@towerhamlets.gov.uk or licensing@towerhamlets.gov.uk  

If you see a restaurant or cafe open to the public, email food.safety@towerhamlets.gov.uk

To report venues trading as normal, email licensing@towerhamlets.gov.uk      

Coronavirus and fraud

Please watch out for scams 

The National Crime Agency (NCA) is urging the public to be aware that criminals are using the coronavirus pandemic to scam the public.

Criminals are experts at impersonating, they spend hours researching you for their scams, hoping you’ll let your guard down for just a moment.

  • Do not give out private information (such as bank details or passwords), reply to text messages, download attachments or click on any links in emails if you’re not sure they’re genuine.

The NCA reports current scams include online shopping (for protective face masks, hand sanitiser and other products) where goods never arrive and fake COVID-19 testing kits being offered for sale.

Criminals are also using government branding to try to trick people, including impersonating HMRC to make false offers of financial support through unexpected emails, phone calls and text messages.

Some websites, emails or phone numbers can look like they’re part of an official government service - but they can be fake. If you're unsure, please do not respond.

The advice is that you:

  • Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
  • Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
  • Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it.

Please read the NCA advice to make sure you don’t become a victim. You can also read more about avoiding and reporting scams on the government's website

Safety

When it comes to community safety, please be assured we are in regular contact with the Borough Commander of the Metropolitan Police Service Borough Command Unit for Tower Hamlets and Hackney and his senior team to ensure we're working together with keeping our community safe front of mind at all times.

Housing benefit

Protecting and supporting vulnerable residents who are affected or experience hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is one of our top priorities. We are working with the government on this and working through plans on what this will look like.

 We will of course continue our usual housing benefit administration. We are also making changes to our processes to help residents who may have to self isolate, particularly where we need information and evidence from them in support of their claims. 

While housing benefit is a Department for Work and Pensions benefit administered by local authorities, we are also aware that residents may experience sudden reductions in their income and that this may be the case for the weeks ahead. In these circumstances, we will adjust the housing benefit entitlement to help our residents pay their rent.

Business rates

In response to coronavirus, the government has announced that it would increase the retail discount from 50 per cent to 100 per cent and extend it to include the leisure and hospitality sectors.

This includes public houses and means that the pubs discount scheme will no longer be needed as a separate discount. The discount will apply to occupied retail, leisure and hospitality properties in the year 2020/21 and there will be no rateable value limit.

The government has also announced that for the year 2020/21, nurseries and childcare providers will receive 100 per cent relief from business rates if occupied by providers on Ofsted’s Early Years Register and wholly or mainly used for the provision of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

We have identified all properties that we think will benefit from these measures and will start issuing new bills on the evening of Monday 23 March 2020. If you do not receive a bill showing the new discounts by Friday 3 April 2020 and think that you should have received one, please get in touch with us at businessrates@towerhamlets.gov.uk

In addition to the discounts mentioned above, the government has also announced grant funded schemes for business support grants and for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. We are awaiting final guidance and details of eligibility, and will provide full details once available.

If you have any queries, please get in touch with us at businessrates@towerhamlets.gov.uk or on 0207 364 5010.

Protection for tenants 

The government has announced a package of measures to protect renters and landlords affected by coronavirus. This includes a ban on evictions and additional protection for renters. Read more on the government's website

We working with housing associations to make sure who fall into difficulty are supported to remain in their homes.

Support from energy suppliers

Working with the government, energy suppliers are in the process of putting in place new measures to help customers who need support around prepayment meters, or for people who are in vulnerable circumstances and may be unable to pay their bills.

You can find a summary of how prepayment suppliers are helping customers, along with helpful contact information on the MoneySavingExpert website. This page will be continually updated as more information becomes available.

Council tax

We have a council tax reduction scheme, which offers support to residents. The scheme is means tested and the council offers a 100 per cent discount on council tax for residents on the lowest incomes.

What to do if you’re income suddenly stops or reduces:

If you currently receive housing benefit and/or local council tax reduction 

If you do not currently receive housing benefit and/or local council tax reduction 

  1. Check whether you are entitled to universal credit on the government's website, and if so make an online claim.
  2. You should also claim council tax reduction from the council using this link. 
  3. If you are not eligible for universal credit you can claim both housing benefit and council tax reduction from the council using a single application form.

WorkPath and Young WorkPath

Our WorkPath and Young WorkPath offices are now closed to the public until further notice.

Our teams will continue to support residents and will provide careers information, advice and guidance over the phone. In addition, please note:

WorkPath

  • At present, WorkPath is postponing classroom training, and group recruitment campaigns and open days. 
  • Clients will still be able to register, but we ask that you call or email in the first instance.
  • If you have training or any other meeting scheduled then please contact your advisor for an update before visiting.  Alternatively contact us at workpath@towerhamlets.gov.uk or on 020 364 3727.

Young WorkPath

  • Young WorkPath Careers Advisers will not be going into schools and colleges. Our colleagues in partner organisations can still contact their school/college Careers Adviser by email or phone.
  • For young people, parents or carers wishing to book a telephone appointment, please contact us at youngworkpath@towerhamlets.gov.uk or on 0800 3581 2410 (free phone) or 0207 364 1401.

Mayoral and London Assembly elections postponed

The government has announced that the Mayoral and London Assembly elections which were due to take place on 7 May will be postponed for a year to May 2021 due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

You can find more information on the London Elects website.

Transport for London (TfL) - do not travel

To support critical workers TfL is running a reduced service. Some stations across the network are now closed.

Everyone is urged not to use public transport for anything other than essential journeys. Keep informed by checking TfL's coronavirus web page

Due to the rapidly changing Covid-19 situation, there has been an immediate impact on some of our services.
The council has put in place contingency plans and where a service is affected, we are establishing alternative ways of continuing to provide our service.

Planning and building control

Due to the rapidly changing Covid-19 situation, there has been an immediate impact on some of our services. The council has put in place contingency plans and where a service is affected, we are establishing alternative ways of continuing to provide our service.

Please see the Planning and Building Control COVID-19 service update page in order to check how a service may be affected.

More to come...