STAFF at Durham County Council are working tirelessly to ensure essential services for residents continue to be provided during the coronavirus pandemic.

The authority is ensuring the priority services it provides like refuse collections are affected as little as possible, with a particular focus on protecting the most vulnerable children and adults.

The council was already working with the NHS to make preparations for contacting vulnerable employees ahead of the government’s decision to write to 1.5 million people across England most at risk of coronavirus advising them to stay at home for 12 weeks.

It has also set up a joint health and social care hub and will be working to prioritise vulnerable residents.

Following the government’s announcement of a range of measures to support people and businesses, the council is now working to deliver the promised 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery firms in England.

Paul Darby, the council’s head of finance and transactional services, said: “On behalf of the government we collect business rates from so many firms across the county and we have been waiting for guidance on how we can help them.

“Now we have this, we are getting hundreds of calls from businesses and our staff are working as hard as they can to ensure those in the identified sectors can benefit from the rates holiday as quickly as possible.”

The council is also awaiting further information from the government on how the promise of grants to help businesses will be delivered but is making preparations to take appropriate action once this is received.

Businesses and self-employed people who are concerned about paying their tax can phone the new HMRC Time to Pay helpline on 0800 0159 559.

The authority is  also continuing to help residents by promoting its welfare assistance scheme, including its council tax reduction scheme, the only one in the North East to offer reductions of up to 100 per cent.

They have already postponed debt recovery action for anyone in council tax or business rates arrears and is encouraging residents to get in touch if they need to review their payment arrangements, with a range of flexible plans offered.

Residents can find out about the support available to them in relation to welfare, finances, housing and the closure of schools by visiting

Parents are advised that schools are continuing to provide free meals to those eligible pupils who are still attending. They are encouraged to contact individual schools if they have queries.

Home to school transport is continuing to be subsidised and restrictions on concessionary bus pass times have been lifted to enable older residents to access early morning slots at supermarkets.

The council is continuing with refuse collections and its household waste recycling centres remain open, although sites have now imposed a limit of five people using them at any one time to comply with government guidance around social distancing.

Children’s play areas across the county have closed with signs going up at each site to let people know.

The authority’s Customer Access Points remain open, providing a range of help and information for residents, although people are asked to phone them on 03000 260 000 rather than visiting where possible.

Details of these can be found at

One Point hubs and Family Centres also remain open to provide advice, guidance and signposting on a one-to-one basis, although residents are similarly advised to phone them during opening hours on 03000 261 111 rather than visiting where possible.

However, all group-based family activities in community venues and family centres have been cancelled for the time being, including baby clinics, breastfeeding groups, early learning groups, parenting support programmes and sensory play sessions.

Gill O’Neill, deputy director of public health for County Durham, said: “As an authority we are paying very close attention to all the guidance being issued by the government.

“Staff in all areas of the council are reviewing how and what they deliver for residents needs to change in light of this and doing everything they can to ensure that priority services, in particular those for the most vulnerable and refuse collections, are impacted as little as possible.

“We continue to advise everyone to continue to follow the guidance around staying safe, namely regular thorough hand-washing, and practicing self-isolation and social distancing where recommended.”

Advice to residents on keeping themselves safe can be found at

Furthermore, as communities across County Durham rally together during these unprecedented times, Durham County Council is offering support and advice to residents.

The council recognises that the coronavirus outbreak is worrying for many people, particularly anyone over 70, those who have underlying health conditions and those who are vulnerable or self-isolating.

Volunteer groups are being set up rapidly to help those in need, however, they are being urged to do so safely and follow Government advice.

The simple steps recommended include social distancing, regularly washing your hands for a longer period of time, and taking suitable precautions if you need to exchange money for goods.

As well as the fantastic response of many volunteers, all residents are being urged to be good neighbours during these uncertain times and think about who is living next door.

That could be considering whether they might need extra support with their shopping, or keeping in touch through a simple phone call to prevent feelings of isolation.  

The council is also anticipating extra pressure on resources during this difficult period and would ask anyone who regularly donates to a charity or food bank to continue to do so.

Gordon Elliott, the council’s head of partnerships and community engagement, said: “If there can be any positives out of an emergency like this, it is the way our community can come together to support each other and show kindness. It’s really no surprise at all that we have seen so many volunteer groups set up so quickly across the county, but it is vital that they keep themselves safe while they help others.

“We also want to reassure those people who might need extra help and support that we will be keeping them up to date with what is open in their community, what services are available and what support there is through local groups in the coming weeks. We are working hard to update our database of established, but also new volunteer and support organisations, which will be an invaluable resource to all our residents.”

We will be supporting key voluntary services through Durham County Council’s 14 Area Action Partnerships (AAPs).

Each AAP’s Facebook site will also be used to highlight the support that is available locally. You can find a link to your own AAP at: