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Rate Bills to Issue in May

The Department of Finance has today announced that rate bills for 2021-22 will begin issuing at the end of May.

Announcing the move, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “Rate bills are normally issued at the start of April.  Last year, as part of my package of rates measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on households and businesses, I delayed the issuing of rate bills until the beginning of June.

“Anyone who paid by Direct Debit will have paid their last instalment in March.  I have decided to delay the issuing of this year’s bills to June to give ratepayers a two-month break in payment instalments.  This will be welcome news for many ratepayers whose incomes are still being affected by effects of the pandemic.”

The Department confirmed that monthly Direct Debit and instalment payment plans will be automatically updated to reflect monthly payments from June 2021 to March 2022.  The deadline to qualify for the discount for early payment will be 9 July 2021.

For up to date information on the issue of rate bills, please visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/rates or www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/business-rates.

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New Safer Schools NI app Launched

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has launched a new app for schools to safeguard children and young people when online.

The Safer Schools NI app is a one-stop-shop digital library of age-appropriate safeguarding resources for teachers, parents/carers and children and young people.

The app, designed and created by online safeguarding experts, INEQE Safeguarding Group, also provides a digital safeguarding communication toolkit helping schools engage with their entire communities.

Launching the app at INEQE headquarters, Michelle McIlveen said: “I am pleased to launch the Safer Schools NI app today, which will help ensure online safety for young people.

“In today’s society our children and young people are spending more time using digital devices. As the lines between their lives offline and online become more blurred, it is important for all of us in education to make online safeguarding a priority.”

The Safer Schools NI app is customised for each school, meaning teachers and staff will find their own school news feed with the essential updates and information they need, as well as a calendar to keep track of important dates.

The Minister continued: “The digital world can be a great place to chat with friends, family, play games and learn. However, there are also risks and this app is designed to provide protection from potential harm. I want young people to learn how to protect themselves from those risks and know what to do if something goes wrong online.

“I encourage all schools, parents and carers to download and make use of this free app. Keeping our children safe and ensuring their mental health & wellbeing is looked after has never been more important.”

Users of Safer Schools NI also get access to the Teach and Home Learning Hubs where there’s a wealth of resources and lessons for teachers, parents and carers. There’s also training available on desktop devices through iAcademy, for school staff and for pupils.

Jim Gamble, Chief Executive of INEQE Safeguarding Group said: “The Safer Schools NI app is full of useful information to help educate, empower and protect school staff, parents and carers and pupils.

“School staff can access contemporary safeguarding information and a range of resources relating to safeguarding in the context of social media, including digital imagery, bullying, sexting and gaming. Parents and carers can access information on the popular social media platforms used by their children

“The pupils’ app is split into primary and post primary versions which provide access to age-appropriate information, advice and guidance on how to be safer online. Topics include image sharing, bullying, how to manage personal information and privacy considerations.

“As the founding CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, I know that balancing the opportunities and safeguarding challenges in the digital environment is never easy.  That is why this initiative is so important.   When building the app, we have taken account of best practice for teaching online safety in schools, the developing Online Harms Bill and critically have mapped the content to the Online Safety Strategy for Northern Ireland. 

“Download the app and no matter who you are you’ll be better equipped to play your part in making our children safer.”

The Safer Schools NI app is free to download at the App store and Google Play stores for teachers, parents/carers and children & young people. Schools can access the Schools Registration link and download the app link to the App and Google Play stores here: www.saferschoolsni.co.uk

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Co-Ownership Scheme Reaches 10,000th Household Milestone

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has congratulated Co-Ownership on supporting 10,000 households to continue on their home ownership journey.

Co-Ownership is a not-for-profit organisation that helps people get onto the property ladder who cannot do it by themselves.

Minister Hargey said: “This significant milestone in the provision of affordable housing here demonstrates the continued success of the Co-Ownership scheme. I am delighted that the allocation in 2020 of £158million of funding from my department, which is in place until 2024, will ensure that Co-Ownership can continue to provide an affordable route into home ownership for some of those who would otherwise be unable to purchase their own home.

“I have always been keen to highlight that housing is much more than simply a place to live. Home ownership can have significant benefits for people and families, both financially and in terms of their wider wellbeing. I do acknowledge that the continued rise in house prices, high rents in the private sector and the wider economic landscape have made it more difficult for people to get on the property ladder, particularly young people and first time buyers. Therefore I welcome that fact that Co-Ownership, as a highly valued delivery partner of over 43 years, continue to support these people by contributing significantly each year to supporting the first time buyers’ market here.”

Chief Executive of Co-Ownership, Mark Graham, said: “Co-Ownership is now supporting 10,000 households and having reached this significant milestone shows just how important we are to the local housing market. Since 1978 we have helped over 30,000 people. We look forward to supporting our 10,000 customers continue on their home ownership journey, and helping more people into home ownership over the coming months.

“Owning a home brings about a lot of positives to our own wellbeing and to the economy but there are many people that need support to attain a home of their own. The continued support Co-Ownership has received from the Department for Communities, particularly in recent times as we all continue to navigate the impact of the pandemic, is vital to the work that we do. This support shows us that the Minister understands that alternative routes to home ownership are not only needed but effective.”

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