ESF Information Memo 20/20 - COVID-19 verification

Date published: 11 June 2020

Last updated: 20 July 2020

This memo provides project promoters with updated guidance around COVID-19 pandemic.


As you are all aware, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency actions that were required at very short notice, DfE has been making monthly payments based on the average amounts paid for the nine month period April to December 2019. This process currently remains in place.

We are aware that core activities have been adapted using technology and are very much continuing. Some of the reports received have been very encouraging.

For the immediate future, in terms of operations, all relevant Public Health Authority and NI Executive guidance must be followed. That means that return to full operation in the short to medium term is very unlikely.

We are however aware that for some organisations, recruitment of both staff and participants have increased over the period. As a result, we are receiving an increasing number of queries from projects asking for reinstatement of payments based on actual claims.

In light of these requests and given the positive indications regarding some relaxation of lockdown restrictions we are looking at how this can be achieved.

As advised in ESF Memo 10/20 and the accompanying FAQs, projects were asked to keep detailed audit records for staff by way of payroll, attendance and/or status. Projects were also advised to keep records of any government support sought and received.

All of this information will be taken into account in calculating adjustments needed (both positive and negative). Cross-checks with other government funders and COVID-19 response grant administrators will also be conducted.

We would like to begin the process by asking all projects to document the types of evidence they have retained during the period. To capture this information, we have prepared a template, Appendix 1.

Staff that were deployed on direct ESF activity and, as advised, staff deployed on COVID-19 related work which was socially or economically focussed, can be included. In all cases, the activity and time claimed will need to be supported by appropriately robust records. Where activity is COVID-19 related this should be clearly distinguished from the core ESF activity through the use of timesheets. This type of evidence will also be required where a full time member of staff has been fully/partially redeployed on COVID-19 activity. Some examples illustrating this are detailed in the template attached as Appendix 1. 

Projects are also required to declare all organisational income over the COVID-19 period. Given the nature of the ESF support, the UK government furlough scheme is likely to be the most relevant. However, all income should be declared and can be assessed and discounted as appropriate. Each project should also confirm the match funding position for the period affected. Finally, details of any staff absences should be completed.

Following receipt and assessment of the completed templates, along with a small sample of audit trail evidence retained in respect of activities for that period, you will be provided with an updated (where appropriate) Annex 1 and draft claim form for March 2020. Claims and adjustments for subsequent months will then issue in due course. 

Please note that the absence details required in the attached Appendix 1 are for those absences from ESF projects which are not due to Covid-19 related socially or economically focussed activity.

Please also note that, given the exceptional circumstances we have all been dealing with, the requirements as laid out in this memo will likely be subject to further amendments as we progress and assess the specific impacts of COVID-19 on you all.

A list of FAQs has been prepared to assist you in the preparation of your return. This is provided as Appendix 2.

Please provide a response to by Friday 19 June.

If you have any queries please feel free to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Annie McGowan
Head of ESF Project Delivery Branch

Further update on in-kind match funding and recording of absence

This updated message only applies to projects that receive match-funding in the form of in-kind staffing.

You will all be aware that we have begun the process of verifying claims from March 2020 onwards, in parallel with the continuation of interim monthly payments.

As part of that process, projects have been sent an updated pro-forma to detail absences, both Covid and non-Covid related, and also for full-time and part-time staff.

The purpose of this note is to advise you that, when completing the absence details, you must also consider whether in-kind staff should be included.

Where a project has not been able to obtain the services of in-kind staff due to circumstances related to Covid-19, and is therefore finding it difficult to meet its match funding target, this should be recorded on the absence pro-forma. Projects should be specific with respect to the reason why in-kind staffing services have not been possible.

On receipt of the absence details, my Claims Team will consider the details provided and, where we are assured that the circumstances are beyond the control of the project and solely related to circumstances dictated by the current pandemic, such in-kind provision will be treated as having been supplied to the project, thus eliminating the possibility of a negative impact on a project’s match-funding target.

When verifying such absences, my claims team may request further evidence. This will depend on the particular circumstance of each individual absence.

If you have submitted your March 2020 absence request and now believe that it requires updating, please contact your Claims Inspector for further advice.


Annie McGowan

Appendix 2


Q1 What period does this memo relate to?

A The time period in question is 1 March 2020 to 31 May 2020.

Q2 Do you need the details of all staff furloughed even if they don’t work on an ESF project?

A We will need the names and dates and amounts paid for ESF staff who have been furloughed. For non-ESF staff we just need to know the high level amount of income being received. As you will be aware, part of the unit cost (40 per cent) is to cover overheads, including indirect staff costs.

Q3 We are a large national charity – do you need to know income at a national level or will a Northern Ireland level be ok?

A To be able to claim for the COVID-19 costs from the national budget, we would need a high level summary of any additional Northern Ireland income received during the period. As above, we need to ensure that there has been no additional income covering overhead/indirect costs already covered by our funding.

Q4 Do you just need to know about income related to our ESF project?

A No. We need to consider any additional income received by the NI part of your organisation during the period. This will help provide assurances that there is no double financing of any of the costs covered by our payments. As you are aware, the unit cost paid covers the direct cost of the individuals working directly on the ESF project and a 40 per cent uplift that covers all indirect costs relevant to the project. Without a full picture, we will not be able to satisfy our auditors.

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