COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Support For Business
Throughout this pandemic, UK businesses have faced some of the most challenging times they have ever experienced.
Whether it’s been helping clients to manage difficulties or seize upon opportunities, we’ve been in it together with them, providing advice and support throughout.
But don’t just take our word for it, see our clients state our case.
Below you will find guidance to help manage your business and employees during this pandemic. We will continue to provide updates when new developments arise.
As information on COVID-19 is evolving, gov.uk should be the first port of call for the most up to date guidance.
Covid protections for commercial tenants: does 25 March signal the end?
The restrictions on forfeiture of a business tenancy for non-payment of rent are due to come to an end on 25 March 2022.
- After 25 March 2022, landlords will once again be able to forfeit commercial leases for non-payment of certain rent.
- For those possession claims that had already been issued prior to the pandemic, but paused as a result of the moratorium, landlords will soon be able to take steps toward repossession.
- Landlords trying to reach an agreement with defaulting tenants could soon be at risk of waiving the right to forfeit, as the temporary provisions which deem landlords not to have waived this right are due to end.
- The minimum period of unpaid rent for a landlord to exercise Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (“CRAR”) is set to return to 7 days for unprotected rents (from the 544 days it is currently).
Living with Covid Plan: What Does it Mean for Your Business?
Employment Law Update - COVID Special
Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme returns
The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme was originally introduced in 2020 to help employers cope with COVID related staff absences. It allowed small and medium size businesses to claim back up to two weeks’ SSP for staff who were absent due to Coronavirus.
On 21 December 2021, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the scheme would be reintroduced with immediate effect to allow eligible businesses to apply for a rebate of Coronavirus related SSP. It is hoped that the reintroduction of the scheme will help to alleviate the pressure of high levels of absence caused by the Omicron variant. Eligible businesses can now begin to claim their rebate.
Who can apply and what can they claim?
How employers should prepare in light of the new Covid-19 measures and the surge of Omicron
The new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, has seen a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases and, as a result, the government have issued some new guidance, namely the following:
- From Friday 10th December, face masks will be mandatory for most indoor public venues.
- From Monday 13th December, people should work from home “if they can”.
- From Wednesday 15th December, people will be required to provide an NHS Covid-19 Pass to evidence their vaccination status or a recent negative lateral flow test in order to gain entry to various social settings.
Was the redundancy decision taken too soon or should furlough have been considered or existing furlough arrangements extended for longer?
These are questions that various employers have wrestled with and indeed may still be considering given that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will end on 30 September 2021.
So far there appear to be only two cases which have considered the inter-relationship of furlough and a decision to dismiss for redundancy in the context of whether such a redundancy decision was unfair.
A warning to employers - the flip side to home working
In the aftermath of the pandemic many workplaces are looking to adopt a more flexible approach to working. Working from home has become more common over the last 18 months and we are seeing more and more queries about flexible or hybrid working.
COVID compliance – significant vs serious risk
The roadmap is now in place and hospitality businesses are preparing for phased reopenings in April, May and June. Businesses across a wide range of industries continue to cross their fingers that the data will keep supporting the roadmap so that they can reopen to customers in line with the roadmap. In the meantime, there is plenty of work going on behind closed doors to make sure they are ready.
Does a tenant have to pay rent when the government orders it to close due to Covid? a decision…
The recent judgment handed down in the case of Commerz Real Investmentgesellschaft mbH v TFS Stores Limited on the 16 April is the first reported court judgment on whether tenants are still obliged to pay rent under their leases during pandemic-related closure.
In this case, the tenant, a fragrance retailer, had not paid any rent since April 2020. The tenant attempted to rely on the following defences against the landlord’s claim to recover the arrears:-
- It alleged that the landlord had failed to comply with the Government Code of Practice for Commercial Property Relationships during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
- It claimed that the Landlord was exploiting a “loophole” in the Government restrictions on both forfeiture and other enforcement action (such as CRAR) placed on landlords during Covid. This argument appears to have been based on the idea that, because the Government had put in place some specific restrictions on arrears enforcement, the “intention” behind this should be applied to allow the courts to apply restrictions to other means of recovery (i.e. court action).
- It alleged there should be an implied term in the lease suspending the rent in the event of a notifiable disease, and that the landlord had an obligation to insure against loss of rent due to forced closures or denial of access.
Back to the office? What we know about the rules (or think we know) -V- the reality
From 29 March restrictions started easing, however many restrictions still remain in place and will do so for some weeks. There are many different rules and exceptions for various sectors, this summary focuses purely on the office environment.
On 22 February 2021 the government published its “Roadmap out of lockdown”. This is a 4-step approach to the removal of the restrictions under which we have all been working for months. The 4 key dates are:
- Step 1 – 8 March,
- Step 2 – not before 12 April,
- Step 3 – not before 17 May, and
- Step 4 – not before 21 June.
The roadmap dilemma: employment law for step four
Boris Johnson has set out the roadmap to ease lockdown measures and it seems the whole nation is pinning their hopes on Monday June 21st. From this date, if the first three steps have gone to schedule and the data continues to prove their effectiveness, all legal limits on social contact will be removed and the remaining elements of the hospitality sector be allowed to open. Pubs are already bracing themselves and the internet memes have started.
Furlough extension for the new lockdown – what you need to know - 2 November 2020
With a new national lock-down for England starting on Thursday, the Chancellor has extended the furlough scheme for a further month. But what do we need to know about it and how is it different?
First off, the cost for employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared to the current scheme, which ended on 31 October i.e. it is far more generous – back to the level it was in March, and like in March employees can go on furlough for the first time – they do not need to have been furloughed before.
Enhanced Jobs Support Scheme - 22 October 2020
Today the government has announced enhanced support to open businesses under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).
This follows an outcry from businesses under tier 2 restrictions stating they would be financially better off if they were in tier 3 and forced to close.
Local Lockdown Job Support Scheme - 12 October 2020
Help for businesses forced to close during ‘local lockdowns’ has been announced – what will it involve?
In an announcement posted to his Twitter page on Friday, the Chancellor has announced new help for businesses in England that are legally required to close during a local lockdown. Businesses who are not legally required to close are not eligible, although they may be eligible for support under the main Jobs Support Scheme.
The Jobs Support Scheme
The Chancellor has announced a package of measures that will continue to protect jobs and help businesses through the uncertain months ahead as we continue to tackle the spread of the virus.
The package includes a new Jobs Support Scheme to protect millions of returning workers, extending the Self Employment Income Support Scheme and 15% VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism sectors, and help for businesses in repaying government-backed loans.
The new Job Support Scheme will be introduced from 1 November to protect viable jobs in businesses who are facing lower demand over the winter months due to coronavirus (what this means in practice will no doubt evolve in due course).
Under the scheme, which will run for six months and help keep employees attached to the workforce, the government will contribute towards the wages of employees who are working fewer than normal hours due to decreased demand.
Are you Covid-secure? How to ensure your business can welcome staff back to the workplace safely
With the government now actively encouraging people to return to the workplace, employers are being asked to reassure staff it is safe for them to do so by highlighting the steps taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As part of this campaign, businesses are being encouraged to assist the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by ensuring their premises are COVID-secure. In addition, the HSE has also committed to conducting spot inspections to ensure they have appropriate hygiene measures in place and are COVID-secure. Any businesses found to be non-compliant will be at risk of enforcement action.
So how can you ensure your business is able to welcome staff back to the workplace safely?
Are you COVID-secure? Preparing for HSE inspections
As businesses continue to welcome employees back to work, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced that it will be conducting spot inspections to ensure they have appropriate hygiene measures in place and are COVID-secure.
The announcement from the HSE means businesses are at risk of enforcement action if an inspector finds evidence of a non-compliance, hazard, or serious risk.
New Rules on Statutory Demands and Winding Up Petitions
As part of the Government’s attempts to support businesses that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, new rules have been introduced to restrict the formal action which businesses can take to recover debts owed.
The changes introduced apply to all creditors and all debtor companies.
Terminating Agreements with Insolvent Businesses - The New Rules
The new rules announced by the Government as part of the plan to support UK businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic may prevent businesses from terminating agreements with insolvent businesses.
The Corporate Insolvency and Governance bill, which is expected to become law this month, extends the existing rules that prohibit the termination of utility, communications and IT supplies on an event of insolvency to all suppliers.
Furlough Scheme Changes
Furlough Scheme Changes mean employers should review their use of the scheme BEFORE 10 June 2020.
On Friday 29th May the Chancellor set out more details on how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will continue.
There are three key changes, but what does that mean?
Issues arising from Coronavirus in Construction
We thought we would share a number of the key themes and issues which the Coronavirus has thrown up and which we expect to continue to see. These include:
- Implications of Guidance on return to work
- When to re-open sites
- Restricted access to site
- Supply chain delays for goods and materials
- Bespoke break clauses
- Deferred possession of a site
- Attempts to vary contracts
- A newly found understanding of the term “force majeure”
- Contracts yet to be entered into
- Increasing use of Performance Bonds
Update to Directors Duties
The Government is proposing a relaxation of the rules surrounding wrongful trading as part of its package of measures to give companies that were viable before the COVID-19 outbreak a better chance of emerging intact following the immediate crisis.
Health and safety considerations when re-opening your business
It is a case of when, not if, the Covid-19 restrictions will be relaxed. The relaxation will likely be gradual but when that happens you will want to be prepared to meet your obligations under health and safety legislation.
Most businesses are familiar with their general duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees. This general duty also extends to “non-employees” such as contractors, agents and customers.
Planning for Life After Furlough
Many businesses acted quickly to furlough staff and reduce hours and pay for those remaining in work. The Government’s guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme keeps being updated and has left many unanswered questions. Due to the urgency of the situation, businesses couldn’t wait for the answers.
This means many businesses may end up with employees receiving payments that may not be recovered from HMRC, as well as facing Tribunal claims for unlawful deductions from wages or breach of contract.
If your property is vacant due to COVID-19, are you ready for trespassers?
Reforms have been introduced rapidly to protect businesses against the impact of Covid-19. Some of the changes have had unforeseen consequences, seriously limiting the ability of landowners to remove travellers from their property.
Remote working: keeping your IT infrastructure and data safe
As part of managing the coronavirus situation, many organisations will have their staff working from home. But with the social distancing comes IT security challenges.
Many businesses will not have supported so many employees working remotely, and employees themselves may be unaware of best practices. By implementing appropriate controls and barriers you can reduce your risk.
Importance of maintaining safety and environmental standards
Under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions)(England) Regulations 2020 no one may leave their home without a reasonable excuse during the emergency period. However, a reasonable excuse includes travel for the purposes of work, where it is not possible for that person to work from home.
Businesses and organisations who can legally continue to operate need to be able to do so without further disruption.
As the police can issue fixed penalty notices and even prosecute repeat offenders for leaving their home without a reasonable excuse, you should consider issuing your essential staff with a letter confirming this to be the case along with the basis upon which your business can lawfully continue to operate.
The Government’s first review of the restrictions will take place on or before 16th April 2020.
Government restrictions and frustration/force majeure
With most retailers now closed, with exemptions for “essential” stores (including: food outlets, pharmacies, banks, hardware stores and off licences), what then is the effect when a landlord may now be restricted in granting access to a tenant, and a tenant is unable to use leased premises?
Legislating against forfeiture for non-payment of rent
The Government has introduced an extendable 3 month suspension of any ability to re-possess or “forfeit” leases for non-payment of rent. Rent is defined broadly and would capture service charge and insurance payments. In the first instance, this applies until 30 June 2020.
The Act also applies to existing litigation. In these circumstances, a tenant is prevented from having to give up possession of premises for non-payment of rent before 30 June 2020.
3-month extension given for companies filing their accounts
The government has released a notice informing companies that, from 25 March 2020, they will be able to apply for a 3-month extension for filing their accounts. This is to help businesses dealing with the impact caused by COVID-19.
Update: COVID-19 and the March Quarter Date – 19 March
The government has announced a temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme as part of a package of measures to help small businesses. This, together with the Financial Assistance Scheme run by the Redundancy Payments Service, may assist businesses and the cashflow impact of redundancies. A trade body has also called for the government to introduce measures to make it easier for employers to make staff temporarily redundant by funding this through universal credit.
Employee payment and attendance entitlements
This flowchart demonstrates the various options regarding entitlements to sick pay, contractual sick pay and normal pay for those unable to attend work, worried about attending work and/or self-isolating.
Update: Including Budget announcements - 11 March
As the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to dominate world news, the government is revising its advice and guidance on a daily basis. This, coupled with the Budget being delivered on 11 March 2020, has led to some key changes occurring which employers will need to be aware of in the following areas:
- Statutory sick pay
- Closing the workplace
- If someone becomes ill in the workplace
- Support for business announced in the budget