Northern Ireland | COVID19 (Coronavirus) Updates and Links to Official Supports and Information

Information for artists in Northern Ireland

VAI along with so many other people and organisations are making and reviewing decisions based on current government guidelines and will keep you updated on our website News section and with emails to our members. As we continue to look at the practical nature of working remotely, we have now in place a range of systems that are allowing us to continue most of our work.

We have outlined the official supports available during the crisis below.

UK Government Coronavirus Portal

The main rules is to stay at home

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

Do not meet others, even friends or family. You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

You should only leave the house for very limited purposes:

  • 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, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home

Read more about what you can and cannot do


You may travel for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home. If you cannot work from home then you can still travel to work. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.

Critical workers are those who can still take their children to school or childcare. This critical worker definition does not affect whether or not you can travel to work – if you are not a critical worker, you may still travel to work provided you cannot work from home.

Anyone who has symptoms or is in a household where someone has symptoms should not go to work and should self-isolate.

Support from Visual Artists Ireland

VAI is in full compliance and all staff are now working remotely. The phonelines for our Dublin and Belfast offices are redirected to a central number 01 6729488, where Shelly will be able to take calls, and if another member of staff is required, they will get back to you either by phone, by email, or schedule an online Help Desk using ZOOM or Skype.

VAI advocacy, help desk, and support services are all still in place. You can now access these online as well as through the usual channels of email and telephone.

Our in-person Lifelong Learning events are currently postponed, but we are offering events online. These include a weekly Visual Artists Café event to keep in touch with fellow artists, hear about events, and hear from a variety of members of the visual arts sector. We are also delivering a number of Webinars on topics from our Lifelong Learning programme. For the duration of the imposed isolation, we are offering these free for our members. We are digging into some reserves to do this, and will be looking at the rest of the year’s planning and delivery to ensure that we minimise the impact on the work that will take place over the rest of the year.  Some tough decisions are being made, but these are all clearly focused on one thing… bringing support to visual artists. We want to thank each and every one for the continued support that allows us to make this happen.

All online events are free to VAI Members with a small fee for non members. See a full list of upcoming Online Events including Helps Desks and Webinars on Writing About Your Work, Digital Marketing, How to Apply for Funding and more: BOOK HERE

We are re-iterating the advice given during this crisis to depend on official sources for your information. Both Arts Councils are providing regular updates and their phone lines are still active should you have any questions or require clarifications from their teams.

The Government websites also have the most up to date information, but here is a brief summary of supports available to Artists and Organisations.

Official Supports Available during the COVID-19 Crisis

  1. Income Support Schemes
  2. Sector-specific information and advice
  3. Mobility/travel-related information
  4. Primary References and Go to places for information

1. Income Support Schemes

Financial support if you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Tell your employer that you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). They should tell you if you’re covered by their sick leave policy.

After the first 7 days of absence, they may also ask you for an isolation note to show you cannot work because of coronavirus. You can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online.

If you cannot get sick pay from your employer, you might be able to get Statutory Sick Pay from day one of your illness.

The law is currently changing so that if you’ve been ill from coronavirus (COVID-19) at any time since 13 March 2020 and you’re eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, you will get a backdated payment.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

Self-employed individuals or members of partnerships can claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for 3 months.

To be eligible for the scheme you must meet all the criteria below:

  • Be self-employed or a member of a partnership.
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19.
  • File a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed or a member of a trading partnership. Those who have not yet filed for 2018-19 will have an additional 4 weeks from this announcement to do so.
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID 19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021.
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000 and more than half of your total income comes from self-employment. This can be with reference to at least one of the following conditions:
    • Your trading profits and total income in 2018/19.
    • Your average trading profits and total income across up to the three years between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.
How to apply

You cannot apply for this scheme yet, so you should not contact HMRC.

HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to apply online.

HMRC will then pay the grant directly to eligible claimants’ bank account. Grants are expected to start to be paid out by the beginning of June 2020.

HMRC is publishing guidance on the scheme, which will be made available online.

More information on Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

Universal Credit

There is comprehensive information available on the Understanding Universal Credit website.

Existing claimants

If you’re already claiming Universal Credit and think you may have been affected by coronavirus, please contact your work coach as soon as possible. You should do this using your online journal

New applications

If you are considering claiming Universal Credit and are self isolating or have been diagnosed with Covid-19 you can claim Universal Credit online

If you need help to make your claim there is telephone support available via the Universal Credit Service Centre

If you currently receive Working Tax Credits please read the information on before making a claim to Universal Credit

Depending on your situation, you might be able to get additional financial support from the Department for Communities during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

You do not need to attend any medical assessments during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, even if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19

Before you apply

Information for applicants in Northern Ireland:

Check if you are eligible:

Getting ready to apply:

How to apply

You should apply for Universal Credit online. You do not need to call DWP to arrange an appointment and you shouldn’t attend the jobcentre. We will know that you have applied and will contact you if we need any more information from you to process any payment you are due. We will put a note into your online account and follow up with a phone call – this may appear as a private number. Please check your online account and look out for calls from us.

Advance payments

If you do not have enough money to live on while you wait for your first Universal Credit payment you can ask for an advance payment.

Extra Financial Support

Financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis or need support including Discretionary Support, Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment, and Short-term Benefit Advances. Find out about the options available and if you may be eligible.

Discretionary Support is quick, short-term financial support. It is paid either as an interest-free loan or grant into your bank account.

If you are awarded a loan, you must be able to pay it back within a specified time. You do not have to repay a grant.

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

A new emergency funding scheme for individual artists was announced on Monday 27th April. Artists can apply for a maximum of £5,000. It is a rolling programme open until further notice and decisions are expected within two weeks.

There are two primary objectives of the programme

  • to support proposals for the research, design and future presentation of specific showcases, performance(s) and/or other forms of public presentation aimed at groups and communities otherwise facing barriers to the arts on a range of platforms
  • to engage the arts sector in employment by providing individual artists, creative practitioners and performers with financial support to create work and make a vital contribution to the well-being of communities.

There is an expectation that funding from the Scheme will lead in the future to some form of meaningful public engagement and/or other forms of public access opportunity, in large or small scale.

The programme prioritises applications that:

  • Engage with groups, participants and audiences otherwise without easy access to or participation in the arts
  • Benefit individual artists, creative practitioners and performers who are currently in difficulties due to work restrictions imposed by COVID-19 protocols
  • Propose new or newly-imagined projects as interventions of high artistic quality
  • Are planned to reach significant audiences through ‘live’, ‘as live’ or recorded digital performance, publication, broadcast, reading, recording, and/or other audience channels
  • Provide for an extended life and/or extended public reach and impact for the work or project that has been created.

You can apply online at:

Other Income Opportunities

VAI continues to receive notices of Jobs and Opportunities that are open to individual artists. This includes open calls for exhibitions, residencies and funding opportunities We will update these on our website as a matter of urgency, and will continue to publish them via the eBulletin and Social Media.

Go to Jobs & Opportunities.

Advice NI

We always recommend Advice NI for advice that is not specific to our sector and in particular any advice needed on benefits or welfare. You can reach them on  their website

2. Sector-specific information and advice

Individual Artists

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

The Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland posted a video message on the 3rd April to the arts sector. Roisin McDonough said she wanted to let people know that she and her staff are doing their utmost to bring as much support as possible, as quickly as possible to those who need it most.

She stated she was very aware of how much individual artists and creative practitioners in particular, were hurting in these uncertain times. Her reading of initial returns from the Arts Council’s recent online survey asking how artists are dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, made ‘a bleak picture’.

Support for Northern Ireland’s hard-pressed artists and creative practitioners is absolutely essential and the Arts Council is working on a quick response to their needs. The Artists’ Emergency Programme will be a flexible and ‘light touch’ scheme with an emphasis on making a speedy and flexible response to the hardship many are under; the programme should open by mid-April. The Council is also planning to reprofile existing budgets which will augment the work of those same artists in the months ahead.

Flexibility and liquidity are key to the whole sector at the moment; flexibility in how funding is deployed and used this year, and the use of upfront payments and support for the sector as they manage cash flow.

Finally, Ms McDonough reiterated the work that her staff were undertaking alongside the Department for Communities to ensure the Minister’s recent announcement of £1m of aid would make a difference to the wider cultural sector in Northern Ireland as soon as possible, including those working with museums, libraries and languages.

For further information on these support measures please continue to visit the Arts Council’s website where updates will be regularly posted.

Culture Ireland

Culture Ireland will honour the grants awarded for events impacted by restrictions owing to COVID-19 subject to conditions and is committed in principle to supporting rescheduled events.…covid-19-update

Creative Europe

Consequences for Creative Europe programme and related activities listed on their website. To respond to these uncertainties, together with EACEA (Executive Agency) Creative Europe are applying the maximum flexibility they can in the implementation of the programme, within the limits of the applicable legal framework. Creative Europe are also in close contact with the national Creative Europe desks regarding the situation.


As we do not focus on organisations, this should not be seen as a complete.

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

“The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) today (10 April 2020) announced annual funding of £12.9 million for 97 key arts organisations from its exchequer and National Lottery resources. This year, with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent quarantine, the Council has promised an upfront payment of 50% of the total grant value offered, to help stabilise the region’s key arts organisations.”

NI Business Info

A free service offered by Invest Northern Ireland, is the official online channel for business advice and guidance in Northern Ireland.

Charities Commission NI

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is forcing many charities to change how they usually operate. The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is working to share and provide guidance to assist charities where possible as they navigate their way through this unprecedented health emergency.

Federation of Small Businesses NI

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed.

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce & Industry

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce & Industry is committed to continuing to support businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic. This hub provides up-to-date information on business support schemes available from the government, advice and guidance on internal HR issues, such as sick pay, and the work NI Chamber is doing with government to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses make it through this crisis. This time will be particularly challenging for business, but NI Chamber is dedicated to supporting our members.

NICVA – Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action

Supporting the Voluntary and Community Sector through the COVID-19 pandemic –


3. Mobility/travel related information

Do not travel abroad unless it’s essential

The FCO advised British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. This applies for an indefinite period due to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice.

To change or cancel your travel plans, follow these steps:

  • contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers
  • get in touch with your insurance provider

The FCO was already advising against all but essential travel or all travel to some areas or countries due to risks that do not relate to COVID-19. This advice remains in place. Check FCO travel advice pages for the latest information.

If your travel is essential, see our guidance on international travel.

International freight transport is an essential activity in the context of travel advice. Read the Department for Transport guidance for the freight transport industry.


If you are currently abroad.

All British tourists and short-stay travellers currently abroad should return to the UK where commercial flight options are still available.

If you’re travelling abroad, you should:

4. Primary References and Go to places for information

UK Government Portal –

Northern Ireland Portal –


HSC Public Health Agency (NI) –

Universal Credit (Department of work and pensions) –

Arts Council of Northern Ireland –

Northern Ireland Business Support (including self employment) –

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