Coronavirus related Legislation:
Briefing for churches in Wales

On March 17 Welsh Government laid and the next day brought into force the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Wales) Regulations 2020 under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. This gives powers to Welsh Ministers and Public Health consultants to require individuals who are suspected of carrying coronavirus, or who arrive from outside Wales, to undergo testing and/or self-isolation or to detain them, or impose any other restrictions on them. To refuse is a criminal offence and anyone refusing can be arrested. Those subject to these restrictions can appeal to a magistrates’ court.

On March 19 the UK Government, acting on behalf of all four governments in the UK, laid the Coronavirus Bill before the UK Parliament. It passed all stages in the House of Commons on March 23 and the Lords on March 24 and 25, gaining Royal Assent that evening as the Coronavirus Act 2020. The National Assembly for Wales passed a Legislative Consent Motion on March 24. The Senedd cannot amend the Bill itself and will have no formal role in the six-monthly renewal, but it will need to agree to secondary legislation relating to devolved areas made under the Bill.

Because of the nature of the emergency, different parts of the Act may be started, suspended or re-applied depending on the progress of the epidemic. Therefore, not all the measures will necessarily be in force at the same time. In June 2020, the process of relaxing restrictions began by moving to the RED phase. Details are in the section below.

Relaxing restrictions from June 22 2020

On April 24, Welsh Government published an outline of how it will take decisions regarding relaxing restrictions. Equalities considerations are a core part of the decision-making process (page 7 in the document).
On May 15, Welsh Government published a more detailed plan, Unlocking our economy and society: continuing the conversation. This foresees the following arrangements for places of worship during the three stages of relaxation between lockdown and removing restrictions:
RED: Opening of places of worship for private prayer under physical distancing.
AMBER: Limit services and size of congregations linked to ability to ensure physical distancing.
GREEN: All places open with full range of services, alongside physical distancing.

On June 19, Welsh Government announced a series of measures to relax the coronavirus restrictions in Wales gradually over the following three weeks. Welsh Government’s overview of the changes can be read here – https://gov.wales/coronavirus-regulations-changes-monday-22-june
You can see the full Regulations, showing the changes which came into effect on June 22, here: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-06/the-health-protection-coronavirus-restrictions-wales-regulations-2020-as-amended-with-changes-illustrated-20-june-2020.pdf 
Government guidance can be found here: – https://gov.wales/guidance-reopening-places-worship-coronavirus
The changes affecting places of worship are as follows:

  1. From Monday June 22 places of worship are permitted to open for private prayer by individuals (or members of the same household) which does not form part of communal worship. Social distancing must be maintained and there must be no gatherings. Re-opening is dependent upon undertaking a risk assessment and making appropriate hygiene and cleaning arrangements.
  2. Also from June 22, registered child care providers for children aged 0-12 have been able to re-open or expand the numbers of children in their care beyond those of key workers. The full guidance can be read here: https://gov.wales/protective-measures-childcare-settings-keep-childcare-safe. However, where the childcare concerned is located in a place of worship or community centre, a request needs to be received from the local authority for the facility to re-open. This should be arranged through the childcare provider concerned, and any supplementary guidance issued by the local authority must be followed prior to re-opening.
  3. The previously permitted uses for places of worship continue. These include funerals with limited congregations; the provision of “essential voluntary services” such as foodbanks and services for the homeless, and – at the request of a local authority or Welsh Ministers – public services such as blood donor sessions; and for a worship leader to use the building to broadcast or record a service.
  4. The holding of weddings and civil partnerships is permitted with a limited congregation. We understand that registrars are now accepting notice of marriage, and the Church in Wales is also doing so. Detailed guidance is being prepared by Welsh Government and will be linked here as soon as it is available.

No place of worship is required to take advantage of any of these provisions – that is a matter for each denominational authority or local managers to decide, according to denominational procedures.

It may be of help to places of worship who are considering reopening shortly to see these guidelines prepared by our member churchesthe Church in Wales, the Presbyterian Church of Wales and the United Reformed Church – but noting that the legal order of each denomination and faith group varies, so these guidelines would need to be adapted accordingly. The United Reformed Church has also produced a personal risk assessment tool for individuals concerned about their safety in a place of worship.
We list below other official guidance which may be useful to those who wish to arrange the re-opening of places of worship. Not all guidance will be relevant to all buildings or situations.

Working safely during coronavirus:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/5-steps-to-working-safely

Working safely in offices and similar environments:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/offices-and-contact-centres

Health & Safety Executive Risk assessment guidance:
https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/working-safely/risk-assessment.htm#

COVID workforce risk assessment tool. There are plans to create versions that could be used in other settings, however, this will give you a good starting point
https://gov.wales/covid-19-workforce-risk-assessment-tool

Cleaning guidance for non-health care settings after a case of Covid-19 is found:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings
Full cleaning guidance in other circumstances is still awaited. However, the following guidance covers the general principles and is applicable to places of worship which have opened for private prayer:
It is very important that you [enter indoor spaces where those from other households may be present] only if you are well, have no symptoms and you follow guidance on social distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene and reduce to an absolute minimum the surfaces you touch. We are not advising the use of a face covering. The general principle is that you should not touch anything which members of another household have touched. Doorknobs, bells and light switches are all potential sources of infection. Touching surfaces should be avoided wherever possible, and anything you do need to touch should be cleaned thoroughly afterwards. Shared facilities (such as toilets) should not be used if at all possible and should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use if their use is unavoidable.
https://gov.wales/guidance-staying-local-and-gatherings-coronavirus

Statutory guidance on taking all reasonable measures to maintain physical distancing in the workplace:
https://gov.wales/taking-all-reasonable-measures-maintain-physical-distancing-workplace
https://gov.wales/taking-all-reasonable-measures-maintain-physical-distancing-workplace-supplementary-guidance#section-40343

Churches who wish to re-open their charity shops should read the Welsh Government guidance for the retail sector, but may well find useful also the Charity Retail Association’s tailored guidance for the charity retail sector (UK wide).

Moving house at this time (which would include clerics and religious workers needing to move) – https://gov.wales/moving-home-during-coronavirus-pandemic

Checking for legionella when a building is reopened – https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/legionella-risks-during-coronavirus-outbreak.htm

Test, trace, protect:information and Q&A about Test, Trace, Protect

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg174.pdf

Face coverings: Face coverings – frequently asked questions.

Making a 3 layer face covering.

Travelling: https://gov.wales/travelling-safely-coronavirus-guidance-public

Self isolation and staying at home:
https://gov.wales/self-isolation-stay-home-guidance-households-possible-coronavirus

Proetctive measures to be taken in childcare settings:
https://gov.wales/protective-measures-childcare-settings-keep-childcare-safe

A digest of all the current guidance and Frequently Asked Questions can be found here:
https://gov.wales/coronavirus-regulations-guidance

Below you can find a summary of the principal provisions of the Coronavirus Act and the subsequent secondary legislation which applies in Wales. This summary focuses on those areas likely to be of direct interest to churches. It makes no claim to completeness and should not be relied upon for legal purposes.

Health and social care, including volunteering
  1. Enabling health and social care workers who have left the registers in the past 2-3 years voluntarily to re-register, and to ensure that their pension rights are not affected by this. In Wales, this also involves allowing them to resume work before they renew their DBS clearance (however, relaxation of DBS requirements for other volunteers is not included in this bill) and also allows GPs to undertake additional duties beyond their usual remit.
  2. Introducing Emergency Volunteering Leave for 4 weeks in the first 16 weeks, and then for a further 4 weeks in each subsequent 16 week period. This will entitle people to take unpaid leave from their current employment to volunteer in an approved scheme to help with the coronavirus crisis. They will be offered expenses and some recompense (but not their full pay) for each period of volunteering. Details of the schemes and finance will be made under secondary legislation. Volunteering opportunities in Wales can be found on the Volunteering Wales website.
  3. Providing state-backed indemnity cover for all those who offer help in health and social care under 1 and 2 above and are not already covered by such a scheme.
  4. Allowing local authorities to reduce the amount of social care they offer to people below the levels required by the individual’s care plan made under the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014, provided the reduction does not infringe the individual’s human rights; and to suspend the regular updating of individual care plans. This is one of the most controversial aspects of the Act, with Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson referring to it in the House of Lords as “a Health and Social Care obliteration Bill”. In the light of such comments, it is important that the UK Government has published an Ethical Framework for Adult Social Care during this period.
  5. Welsh Government has established a COVID-19 Moral and Ethical Guidance Group. The group includes representatives from Cytûn and other faith groups, and health care chaplaincies. On April 12 the Group published Coronavirus: ethical values and principles for healthcare delivery framework. In the light of this the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Nursing Officer for Wales wrote to Health Boards on April 17 about making decisions regarding offering or not offering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (that is, what are commonly referred to as ‘DNR orders’).

Death and bereavement
  • Allowing the registration of deaths and still-births to be made remotely rather than in person, and by an undertaker rather than a near relative of the deceased. The requirement for a second doctor’s signature prior to cremation may be suspended, as may the requirement for the doctor who certifies to have seen the patient in person during the 14 days prior to death.
  • Suspending the requirement to hold an inquest with a jury when someone dies of coronavirus.
  • Extensive powers to control the transportation, storage or disposal of dead bodies or other human remains where the usual procedures are reaching capacity. Vaughan Gething AM, Health & Social Care Minister in Wales, speaking at the National Assembly Health and Social Care Committee on March 19, confirmed that this could involve suspending funerals and/or individual disposal altogether. To fail to comply would be a criminal offence. The legislative provisions can be found in Schedule 27 of the Bill. Welsh Government published on April 24 detailed guidance regarding the use of these powers, following consultation with faith communities and others through the Funerals Sub-group of the COVID-19 Moral and Ethical Advisory Group. Section 5 of the guidance contains guidance on how local authorities should in such circumstances ensure that the wishes of the departed, their families and faith communities should be respected as much as possible.
    Note that these requirements would come into effect only in an extreme emergency, when a large number of deaths threatened to overwhelm usual arrangements. Until such an emergency exists, the existing guidelines remain in force (or, in the case of a funeral service to be held in England, the UK Government guidelines for England, which include helpful advice regarding very vulnerable people who might wish to attend a funeral.

National security
  • Changing the system for authorising use of the Investigatory Powers Act by the security services.

Food supply
  • Obliging all those involved in the food supply chain to provide information to the governments when required in order to enable them to plan for continuous provision of food.

Education

Giving powers to ministers to oblige nurseries, schools (including private schools), Further Education colleges and Higher Education institutions (including halls of residence) to stay open or to close or to alter the services they provide. These powers had already been invoked prior to the passage of the legislation. As of March 23, schools and nurseries are open full-time only to certain vulnerable children and to the children of workers who are critical to the COVID-19 response, although in the period June 29 – July 17 all pupils will have the opportunity to attend on a few occasions. “Religious staff” have been included in this list of critical workers, however it is important to note the qualification to that inclusion (as of all other categories): “Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be and only where there is no safe alternative should provision be made in schools or other settings.” Local authorities are also arranging provision for children in receipt of free school meals.
On April 20, Welsh Government published Stay Safe, Stay Learning about the operation of the education system in the current time, applying to all schools including schools of a religious character.
Welsh Government has disapplied the requirements of the basic curriculum (including Religious Education) until at least the end of the summer term, but the requirement to provide collective worship has not been disapplied.

Tax and benefits
  1. Removing the 4 day waiting period for statutory sick pay (SSP) and reimbursing to employers the costs of paying SSP to those who have been, or are, self-isolating because of coronavirus.
  2. Allowing the UK Government to reduce (but not increase) National Insurance contribution rates during the 2020-21 tax year by regulation.

Closing ports

Allowing the UK Government to suspend Border Force operations at ports if there are insufficient staff, and therefore obliging those ports to close.

Infection control including use of places of worship and conduct of funerals and weddings
  1. Restating the powers already contained in the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Wales) Regulations 2020 and extending them to additional public health officers (not just public health consultants) and to immigration officers. The powers for Wales are contained in Schedule 20 Part 4 of the Bill.
  2. Providing powers for UK and Welsh Ministers to prevent or restrict events or gatherings and to close or restrict the use of premises. The powers for Wales are contained in Schedule 21 Part 4 of the Bill. They cover all kinds of events, gatherings and premises without exception, including places of worship and religious gatherings. The Bill allows UK and Welsh Ministers to pay compensation, but it does not oblige them to do so.
  3. The regulations stipulate that the only worship services permitted in a place of worship are funeral services for a safe number of people, and wedding or civil partnership ceremonies (see below). In both cases, this is subject to 2 metres of social distancing one from another (except for members of the same household). The person (or authority) in charge of the place of worship will specify the maximum number of attendees, who must then be invited (by name) to attend. Only invitees, the funeral director and the worship leader may be present at a funeral. Similar restrictions apply to the use of crematoria and graveyards for funeral services. Welsh Government guidance on funerals can be found by following this link. Ministers and funeral celebrants would also be well advised to read the guidance issued by Welsh Government to local authorities, which contains useful advice on inviting people to attend funerals:https://gov.wales/guidance-local-authorities-funerals-covid-19
    Ministers and funeral celebrants working near the Wales/England border who access crematoria or cemeteries in England need to be aware that it is the regulations for England that apply when they cross the border.
  4. As marriage law is not devolved, it is not yet possible to arrange to register a marriage or civil partnership except through a Special Licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, or a Common Licence (issued by a Surrogate appointed to act on behalf of a local Diocesan Bishop). This means that only the Church in Wales (and the Church of England) may hold such services at present. There are discussions ongoing between Welsh Government and the General Register Office regarding extending the possibility of conducting weddings (and, where relevant, civil partnerships) in such circumstances to other places of worship. Attendance at any weddings is open only to invitees and the participants.
  5. A “minister of religion or worship leader” on his/her own may record or livestream a service from a place of worship with no congregation.
  6. Essential voluntary services“, such as foodbanks, provision for the homeless and blood donation sessions are permitted in places of worship. Cytun has been assured by Welsh Government that churches may arrange for contractors to carry out essential maintenance tasks in places of worship also. Churches who need to do so should remember that, from April 7, failure to take all reasonable steps to ensure that social distancing of 2 metres between all individuals (other than members of the same household) in such a setting – and any other workplace – is an offence in Wales.
  7. On April 24, Welsh Government guidelines regarding the closure of buildings and locations were updated by including a sentence has been added clarifying that it is not a legal requirement to close graveyards and gardens of remembrance, provided that those who attend are able to maintain 2 metres distance from one another.
  8. Local authorities or Welsh Government may also require the use of a place of worship for any purpose they consider necessary during the pandemic.
    These restrictions may be enforced by the police, the local authority and the Government, who may use reasonable force to enter the premises if necessary.

Courts and tribunals
  1. Allowing courts and tribunals to conduct more hearings remotely, especially where participants may be carrying coronavirus or are appealing against an order made under this legislation. In most cases, the public would be able to watch these proceedings online so that the administration of justice remained transparent.
  2. Allowing the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales to operate with single-member or two-member panels rather than a three person panel, and enabling it to decide cases based on written evidence alone. On April 21, Welsh Government published detailed guidance on using powers under the Mental Health Act 1983 to release patients in the current circumstances.

Elections
  1. Allowing UK ministers to postpone the Police & Crime Commissioner Elections due on 7 May 2020 (which they have already done to 6 May 2021, which means they will now coincide with the next elections to the Senedd).
  2. Allowing Welsh Ministers to postpone any local by-elections to not later than 6 May 2021.
  3. Allowing the Llywydd to postpone any by-elections to constituency seats in the National Assembly to no later than 6 May 2021 .

Residential and business tenancies
  1. Extending the notice period which a landlord must give to a residential tenant to at least three months. Welsh Government has said that it may extend this period by secondary legislation to six months, which is still under consideration. This will affect all churches which let residential property, including clergy housing which they had been expecting to repossess to house a new minister. It will also affect ministers living in a manse, parsonage, etc. who is on the verge of retirement, who will no longer be able to give swift notice to a tenant in their retirement property. Full details are contained in Schedule 29 of the Act. [There is already a bill before the National Assembly to make this change permanent in Wales, and Cytûn is seeking a meeting with Welsh Government to explain the concerns of churches about such a permanent change].
    In addition, a moratorium has been introduced on courts in England and Wales considering any cases for eviction of residential tenants. On 5 June 2020, the UK Government announced that the moratorium had been extended to August 23 2020, with the intention of introducing some different measure after that date.

Churches are urged to act creatively to respond to this situation, for example by using other empty property they own to accommodate clergy, even if it is not within the correct pastoral area or it does not meet the usual standards; permitting ministers who retire to continue to reside in the manse/parsonage (in fact, churches will have to give such permission for at least six months by law); ask to use residential property owned by ministers or church members which would normally be used as holiday homes or let out.

2. Preventing landlords of business properties from evicting a tenant for failure to pay rent due to the emergency, until at least 30 June 2020. This period can be extended by secondary legislation. This will affect all churches who let out property on business tenancies or who rent such premises for their activities.

Finance
  • The Bill gives unlimited authority to UK ministers to incur expenditure with regard to coronavirus measures and the Contingencies Fund Act 2020 allows the capital of the UK Government’s contingencies fund to be raised from 2% to as high as 50% of annual expenditure. The Bill does not apply this directly to devolved administrations, who do not have the same borrowing powers as the UK Government, so Welsh Government remains dependant on funding being passed on by the UK Government.

Safeguarding (DBS checks)

The UK Government has announced some flexibility in the arrangements for identity checking for the DBS system. However, at present the remainder of the DBS system remains in place and should continue to be operated by churches.

Social Security changes, business support and Job Retention Scheme
  • A package of improved social security measures and compensation for businesses was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on March 20.
  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS, widely known as the furlough scheme) opened for applications on April 20. Following some confusion, the UK Government has confirmed that those who have the employment status of ‘office holder’ can be included in the ‘furlough scheme’ (Job Retention Scheme), provided that they were being paid through a payroll which is part of the PAYE scheme by 19 March 2020. The office holder category includes many (although not all) ordained ministers. Follow the link above and scroll down to the (brief) section on ‘office holders’.
    From 1 July 2020, employers can bring back to work employees that have previously been furloughed for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim CJRS grant for their normal hours not worked. When claiming the CJRS grant for furloughed hours employers will need to report and claim for a minimum period of a week.
    The scheme will close to new entrants from 30 June. From this point onwards, employers will only be able to furlough employees that they have furloughed for a full 3 week period prior to 30 June. This means that the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June, in order for the current 3 week furlough period to be completed by 30 June. Employers will have until 31 July to make any claims in respect of the period to 30 June. Further guidance on flexible furloughing and how employers should calculate claims will be published on 12 June.
  • The Baptist Union of Great Britain has published a very useful information sheet about CJRS. It should be noted that this guidance reflects the Baptist church order; the information will need to be adapted for other church orders. Employment law is a complex and specialized area, and denominations may well wish to seek specialist advice on this scheme prior to implementing it.
  • Changes to the Universal Credit scheme have been introduced.
  • A Coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme was announced on March 26.

Additional support for charities
  • Charities are able to access the business support and Job Retention Schemes announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (see “business support” in the section above).
  • Welsh Government has announced two schemes to help charities which opened to applications on April 14
    1. Voluntary services emergency fund (for charities dealing directly with the COVID-19 epidemic and its social effects) – https://wcva.cymru/funding/volunteering-wales-grants-scheme/. This fund is open to all “constituted groups” within the third sector, so should be accessible to all churches and faith groups, provided they meet the other eligibility criteria.
    2. Third sector resilience fund for Wales (for charities adversely affected by the emergency) – https://wcva.cymru/funding/social-investment-cymru/third-sector-resilience-fund-for-wales/. This fund is restricted to incorporated charities whose turnover is above the VAT threshold, as 25% of the funding is provided as a loan. This prevents many faith groups (and others), with different governance structures, from accessing the fund.

Gethin Rhys
updated 07.07.2020