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Group activity during COVID-19 restrictions: FAQs

THIS PAGE WAS LAST UPDATED ON 16 JULY 2020

If you have any questions about continuing group activity in these challenging times, please contact us at [email protected].

  1. When can we resume face-to-face services and activities?
  2. How do we risk assess services which have moved online?
  3. How do we send personal data safely to Supporter Care?
  4. Can we still make group donations to Research/Stop MS?
  5. Is there an update on Spring Forums?
  6. How can I get important information to those without online access?
  7. What is Zoom? How can I use it to connect, and what does it cost?
  8. What is happening with benefits? Where can I get some advice?
  9. How is the situation affecting grants?
  10. How can our group start to assess grant applications?
  11. Can I still contact the online shop?
  12. How do we make group payments under the current restrictions?
  13. Can we register for online banking with Barclays.net?
  14. What happens about Safeguarding if services move online?
  15. Can you help me offer MS Support to others during social distancing?
  16. Can we still recruit volunteers at this time?
  17. How do I suspend a service?
  18. Will the group need to continue to pay for services if sessions are cancelled?
  19. How do I show a service as suspended on the Portal?
  20. What other ways can I continue to volunteer, that won’t bring me into contact with others?
  21. Are we covered for event cancellation?

When can we resume face-to-face services and activities?

Read our latest statement here.

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How do we risk assess services which have moved online?

UPDATE – JULY 2020: We’ve added new resources to help with these risk assessments. As well as the forms, there is a set of FAQs and also Disclaimer slides in various formats; JPEGs for editing directly into a workout, PDFs for printing and holding up in front of the camera, and text versions that can be added to emails or sign-up pages.

You can find these documents here.

We're grateful that so many groups have been able to continue services online during this period. But, where fitness activities are now being streamed online or provided on video, the SLAs we have with instructors for normal face-to-face classes cannot be used.

To allow groups to move these services online without delay, we have worked with our insurers to produce a risk assessment form.

If the class being provided online is Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or Seated Exercise, the instructor simply needs to complete the form and send it to the group.

If the class is something other than these, the instructor will need to send the completed form to the insurers, who will confirm whether this form of exercise can be added to the list. The instructor should then send the form and the insurer confirmation to the group.

Once the COVID-19 crisis is over, and the exercise class can resume in person, an SLA will be required as usual. Or, if you wish to continue offering the class online, we will be able to create an updated SLA at that point to cover fitness activities delivered online.

For more information, and a copy of the risk assessment form, please contact your LNO.

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How do we send personal data safely to Supporter Care?

If you are emailing personal or membership data to our Supporter Care Team, it is important to follow our data protection guidance to keep the information safe.

  • Attach the data in an encrypted (password protected) file.

  • Ideally, follow up by phone to let us know what the password is. If this is not possible, send the password in a separate email – but without putting ‘Password’ in the subject line.

  • Use your MS Society email account, if you have one, as this is more secure.

  • If you are copying the email to any personal email addresses, remember to put these in the ‘BCC’ field, so this information is not seen by the other recipients without the owners’ permission.

  • Please don’t just send us links to the information, as the security on our system will not let us open the links.

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Can we still make group donations to Research/Stop MS?

We are very grateful for the generous contributions made by our groups to support our Stop MS Appeal and fund research.

Although our research programmes are currently suspended, any donations we receive towards research (or received just before the lockdown) will be safely ring-fenced until the work begins again. So, funds can be sent to us by groups in the usual way.

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Is there an update on Spring Forums?

Our volunteer Spring Forums are still happening – but will now take place online, using Zoom. As we approach Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), they will be a chance to celebrate the fantastic achievements of our groups, including how they have risen to the challenges of providing support and continuing services during social distancing.

Most importantly, they will provide an opportunity for group volunteers from the same region to come together at this difficult time – to swap information, share successes, discuss common frustrations and benefit from peer support.

You can get details of the online forum for your area here, or from your LNO.

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How can I get important information to those without online access?

The online environment has been key to our ability to communicate important and helpful information during this crisis. But we are, of course, aware that not everybody has online access. We have compiled a factsheet of advice from the Government, plus some information on how to seek local support. This can be downloaded here, printed and posted to anybody who needs it.

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What is Zoom? How can I use it to connect, and what does it cost?

Zoom is an online tool, allowing you to collaborate with others via an audio- and/or video-conference. There is a free version and a paid version. Many of our volunteers are finding it a really useful way of holding group meetings and continuing certain services for members while face-to-face activities are suspended.

Read more here

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What is happening with benefits? Where can I get some advice?

You may be concerned about the continuity of your benefits during the lockdown, with the system stretched by many new people making claims. But the Government has acted by suspending reviews and reassessments for three months. This should ensure there is no interruption in payments to existing claimants during this difficult time.

You can find more details here, and the Disability Law Service has produced a document explaining how the emergency changes affect the different benefits.

You can get in touch with our MS Benefits Advisor via our Helpline on 0808 800 8000, or by emailing [email protected].

If you live in Bolton, Salford or Manchester, you can also access benefits advice via our IQL (Improving Quality of Life) service.

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How is the situation affecting grants?

Due to the ongoing coronavirus situation, the MS Society national grants programme has had to be paused. We will not be able to accept new applications, process applications already received or support local group applications. We understand this will be disappointing news, but a lot of difficult decisions are having to be made at the moment to try to protect the MS Society for the future. For both financial and practical reasons, it isn't possible to continue with with our national grants programme at the moment.

Groups are welcome to continue their own grant-giving activities if they are able to.

Read more here

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How can our group start to assess grant applications?

We appreciate there may be groups who haven’t previously assessed grant applications themselves. And, with the current suspension of the national grants service, who now want to do so.

The first thing you should do is discuss this with your LNO. You will need an independent sub-committee to deal with requests, and a Support Volunteer who has received grants training.

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Can I still contact the online shop?

The fulfilment house for our online shop are operating at a reduced capacity and have now closed their call centre.

You can still place orders online, which will be processed and despatched, and our Shop Team can make contact on your behalf if there are any issues.

Contact: Shop Team (Colin Grady or James Cooper)

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How do we make group payments under the current restrictions?

We are aware that the current restrictions put in place by our government may impact on your ability to make payment for group expenses, and on other bank-related matters. If you require assistance, or have any queries, please contact Finance Support. They are responding as quickly as they can, but will be grateful for your patience if they can’t get back to you immediately. If your question is urgent, please advise accordingly.

Contact: Finance Support - 0131 335 4078

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Can we register for online banking with Barclays.net?

Unfortunately, we're unable to register new groups for online banking, as Barclays are only able to send the cards and PIN numbers to MS National Centre, which of course is closed. We are exploring whether we can find an alternative arrangement.

In the meantime, please talk to Finance Support if you need help with making payments.

Contact: Finance Support - 0131 335 4078

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What happens about Safeguarding if services move online?

We are delighted to see many of our groups finding online solutions for providing local services and support during this difficult time of social distancing – using the connective power of social media or free online tools like Zoom. But if you are doing this, please remember that our safeguarding procedures still apply and should be followed. Keep in mind the need to see how people are and listen to what they say, to ensure they are safe.

You can also help protect your service users (especially those less familiar with the online world) from being vulnerable to exploitation. Make sure they know the importance of privacy settings, how to select the right people as ‘friends’ and how to recognise genuine links to access services.

Contact: Chris Evans, Safeguarding Manager

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Can you help me offer MS Support to others during social distancing?

MS Support is one of the key services that can still operate and support local people affected by MS. If your group offers this service we are keen to work with you to ensure this continues and that you are supported to be responsive through this difficult period, especially if you are experiencing a higher than normal number of enquiries.

Read more here

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Can we still recruit volunteers during this time?

We would like to support groups with recruiting new volunteers (or providing new opportunities to existing volunteers) for roles that can be delivered via digital channels or by phone, such as Support Volunteer or Communication Volunteer.

If you would like help with advertising and recruiting for these roles (or any other roles you think can work effectively in the current situation), or you are a volunteer who would like to take up new responsibilities, please get in touch.

Contact: Volunteering Team .

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How do I suspend a service?

We recommend you discuss the suspension of group services with your service providers. We have a variation clause in our template Service Level Agreement (SLA) which allows suspension of services if both parties are in agreement.

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Will the group need to continue to pay for services if sessions are cancelled?

You will need to discuss this with your service provider. Some larger providers may be willing to waive fees if sessions are suspended at short notice due to the outbreak. However, sole traders may be unable to accommodate cancellation at short notice and your group may need to pay for cancelled sessions.

For local concerns, please contact your Local Network Officer (LNO) or local MS Society staff member.

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How do I show a service as suspended on the Portal?

o A one-off event falling within the current ‘lock down’ period should be removed from your listings by changing its status to ‘Inactive’. Do this by unticking the ‘Active’ box at the bottom of the ‘Edit’ page.

o A regular service suspended for the time being should remain set as ‘Active’ but with ‘This service is currently suspended due to Government social distancing requirements’ added to the ‘Title’. (Don't add this wording to the 'Description', as this information only shows on the MS Society website once a viewer has clicked on the service for more details.)

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What other ways can I continue to volunteer, that won’t bring me into contact with others?

You may also wish to volunteer in other ways, that won’t bring you into contact with others. For example, you could help us to identify case studies – we want to gather stories of how volunteers have made a difference to the lives of people affected by MS.

We could do all this over the phone or via email, so if you know of a service user that we could talk to, or you’d be willing to share your story, please get in touch with the Volunteering Team.

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Are we covered for event cancellation?

Our insurers have confirmed the position on cover for event cancellation as below:

  • If an event is cancelled due to a venue being closed down because of a confirmed COVID-19 infection our policy will respond within the terms of its cover
  • If an event is cancelled by the MS Society without a confirmed COVID-19 infection at a venue, (to reduce risk to attendees for example), our policy would not respond 

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  1. See further information on our main website
  2. Back to Coronavirus guidance