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Does the court look at cryptocurrencies in divorce proceedings?

Cryptocurrency is viewed as an asset in divorce and financial proceedings. At the financial disclosure stage of the divorce process, both parties have a duty to provide full and frank disclosure of their finances. Any cryptocurrencies should be identified at this stage.

Once identified, cryptocurrencies need to be valued. As with any other asset involved in a divorce settlement, such as a house or a business, there must be a figure placed on the cryptocurrency to assist the settlement negotiations.

Unfortunately, cryptocurrencies are inherently difficult to value as their price is highly volatile. As the price of cryptocurrencies can vary wildly within the course of a divorce, although a partner could have built up a substantial crypto fortune when filing for divorce, it may have diminished by the time of settlement and vice versa.

Experts can be instructed to ensure that the valuation used within the divorce settlement negotiations is fair and impartial. This is vital for both sides as an inaccurate valuation will lead to an unfair settlement.

Cryptocurrencies should not be dismissed within settlement negotiations and they are assets of which the Court has the power to transfer ownership in divorce.

What is a pre-nuptial agreement?

A pre-nuptial agreement is a legal agreement made between two individuals before they marry. A pre-civil partnership agreement (or a pre-registration agreement) is a legal agreement made between two individuals who are planning to become civil partners. These agreements work in the same way as pre-nuptial agreements.

The pre-nuptial agreement usually sets out how the couple wish their assets to be divided between them if they later separate or divorce. Some agreements also detail how the couple currently arrange their finances and how they will arrange their finances during the marriage or civil partnership.

A pre-nuptial agreement can provide the benefits of transparency in relation to financial affairs, certainty as to how assets would be divided if the parties separate or divorce and protection for assets (such as inherited wealth or pre-marital property) from a later financial claim.

Pre-nuptial agreements therefore reduce the risk of there being uncertain, emotionally draining and financially costly court proceedings if the marriage does break down in the future.

If you believe that you may require a pre-nuptial agreement or have any questions about these agreements you should seek legal advice from one of our specialist matrimonial solicitors.

What are Mesher and Martin Orders?

Mesher and Martin orders allow spouses to continue owning a property jointly post-separation until a certain trigger event happens. They are often referred to as “deferred orders for sale”. You may want a Mesher order if, for example, you want to stay in the family home with the children but you do not have the financial means to take over the mortgage.

Mesher and Martin orders are both types of settlement of property orders that can be used to adjust finances on divorce when the matrimonial assets are being split. A settlement of property order creates a trust over the property for the benefit of one or both parties (or for the benefit of a child of the family).

Both Mesher and Martin orders create a trust of land in which the parties hold the property as tenants in common in defined shares. This means that the property is owned jointly, but  each party owns a separate share in the property. If one party dies, their share passes to their beneficiaries in accordance with their will or intestacy.

Mesher orders trigger an order for sale once a certain event happens. The proceeds of sale will then be split in accordance with the parties’ defined shares. Possible examples of triggering events under a Mesher order could be:

  • Youngest child of the family reaching 18.
  • Remarriage (or cohabitation) of the resident party.
  • Death of the resident party.
  • Further order.

When a Mesher order is in place, the joint legal ownership of the property is retained by both parties, even if only one of the parties remains living in the property. As the property remains jointly owned, the terms of the trust will often specify the contributions of each party to the mortgage payments, maintenance and upkeep of the property and insurance.

Mesher orders are complex and are often only appropriate  in certain circumstances. This is because  parties remain joined together in property ownership after their relationship or marriage has broken down.

A Martin order gives one party the right to occupy the former matrimonial home for life or until re-marriage.

Martin orders tend to be used if a couple have no dependent children and the non-resident party has no immediate requirement for capital to pay for somewhere new to live. For example, a Martin order could be used if the non-resident party is living in a second property which is worth much less than the matrimonial home. Likewise, a Martin order may be appropriate if the outright transfer of the former matrimonial home to the resident party would produce an unfair capital split.

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance (also known as periodical payments) means regular income payments to support a former husband or wife. Spousal maintenance may be used to assist in achieving a fair outcome on divorce, nullity or judicial separation. The court will take into account the principles of needs, compensation and sharing when determining whether spousal maintenance is required.

A spousal periodical payments order is a continuing obligation for one party to pay the other a weekly or monthly sum. In some cases, periodical payments can be secured by a capital deposit, where the paying party makes an upfront payment into a fund; the money in the fund is then used to pay the party receiving the payments. In financial proceedings the courts in England and Wales have a wide discretion as to how they deal with each case, and it will consider the individual facts of each case when determining the duration and amount of any spousal maintenance it thinks should be paid.

Spousal periodical payments may be made for such term as the court thinks fit. The term for which spousal periodical payments are made can be extendable or non-extendable. If the term is non-extendable, the court can direct that the party receiving the payment may not apply to extend the term of the order. If the term is extendable, there must be ”exceptional justification” for the term to be extended.

Regardless of the duration of any spousal maintenance order, if the party receiving payment remarries or enters into a civil partnership the payments will usually cease.

Spousal periodical payments will stop if either party dies, unless they are secured periodical payments, in which case they will only stop if the party receiving the payment dies. If the paying party dies, the secured periodical payments will continue to be paid to the surviving party out of the capital deposit that was paid by the deceased party at the outset.

Spousal maintenance can be a complex area of law and therefore if you wish to discuss this further we would advise that you speak with one of our specialist matrimonial solicitors.

My ex-partner will not pay me any money for our children, what can I do?

Child maintenance is a payment made by a parent with whom the child does not live with (or with whom the child lives with less often) to the parent who the child usually lives with.

Parents are encouraged to make their own arrangement, agreeing how much child maintenance ought to be paid and then arranging the payments directly. However if a parent refuses to pay, the first port of call is often the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

As a starting point, it provides a free “no obligation” calculator on its website allowing you to calculate for yourself how much child maintenance you ought to be receiving. If you do not have enough information to use the calculator, you can ask the CMS to carry out a formal assessment. There is a charge for this service but the CMS can access your ex-partner’s tax records to see how much they earn to produce an accurate assessment.

Once you have a calculation, you can see whether your ex-partner will voluntarily agree to pay this amount. If they still refuse, you can use the “collect and pay” service through the CMS in which the CMS will collect the child maintenance payment from your ex and pay it to you. There is however a cost for using this service so it is best to try arranging it yourself if possible.

What are the financial rights of unmarried couples?

As the law stands, the financial rights of unmarried couples are limited. It is a myth that somebody can become a common law spouse if they have lived together for a number of years. If a couple is not married, there is no entitlement to maintenance (income on an ongoing basis) or to a share of the other’s assets no matter how long they have been together for. A person who has enjoyed a particular lifestyle, living in their partner’s house and with their partner meeting the day to day living costs may find themselves in a difficult financial position on separation as the financially stronger party is not obliged to provide housing nor to continue meeting living expenses.

That said, there are two indirect options to consider.

If there are children, they may be able to claim child maintenance from their partner and depending upon circumstances, they may be able to obtain an order to be provided with accommodation for them and their child until the child turns 18. However the house is normally returned to the party who has provided it once the child turns 18.

Another option to consider is whether you have or have acquired an interest in property belonging to a partner due to agreements reached and the way you have conducted your finances. This however can be a complicated area of law which is very fact specific and requires specialist legal advice.

What is a non-molestation order?

A non-molestation order is a form of injunctive relief used when there is harassment / domestic violence within a domestic setting. It is commonly used when you or your children are the victim of domestic violence committed by a partner/ex-partner, but it can also be used if the acts are committed by a relative or by somebody who has had an intimate personal relationship with you. Such domestic violence can take many forms but is typically acts of physical violence, intimidation or harassment as well as more subtle forms such as coercion.

When non-molestation orders are granted, they usually require the perpetrator to stop:

  • Using or threatening violence against you
  • Intimidating, harassing or pestering you
  • Contacting you including in person, by phone, letter or electronic means including social media
  • Damaging or threatening to damage your property and possessions

They also prevent the perpetrator from encouraging somebody else to do these things on their behalf.

In addition, a non-molestation order may prevent the perpetrator from coming within a particular distance of your home or your child’s school

Breaching the order without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence so the perpetrator can be arrested and punished by way of a fine or up to 5 years imprisonment.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution used to settle a dispute away from court. It can be used to settle many different disputes including those concerning arrangement for children following a separation and financial matters. It is entirely voluntary and requires both parties to engage in the process with an open mind. The parties would often provide each other with some preliminary information, in the case of a financial matter, this may be an exchange of financial disclosure, and then the role of the mediator is to facilitate discussions to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable settlement. Mediation can be tailored to fit the situation so if the parties are willing everybody can all sit in the same room to discuss matters or there may be shuttle mediation whereby the couples sit in separate rooms and the mediator moves between them relaying messages and opening up the discussion.

Mediation can be advantageous in many ways as it can be quicker and less expensive than court based resolution and it allows the couple to reach an agreement they both want rather than a decision being imposed on them by a court. However, they do require co-operation and openness from both parties. Couples can attend mediation without solicitors but solicitors can attend if both parties agree. It is also common to have solicitors representing clients in the background so that they understand their legal positon and consequences of the settlement they are negotiating.

What happens to my mortgage after a divorce?

Within divorce proceedings, the court can order that a property is sold and that the mortgage is discharged from the proceeds of sale before the remaining balance is distributed to the parties, thus bringing the mortgage to an end.

The court also has the power to order that a property owned in joint names is transferred into one of the spouse’s sole name. However the court cannot order the mortgage provider to transfer the mortgage into one of the parties’ names. A number of options are available to resolve this. Depending on the financial circumstances, the spouse receiving the property may be able to re-mortgage the property into their sole name. If that is not possible and the mortgage has to remain in joint names, the court may require the spouse retaining the property to be responsible for the mortgage and provide an indemnity to the other party so that if they stop paying the mortgage, the other spouse can take action against them. Alternatively, in certain cases, a court may transfer the property into one spouse’s name but order that the other spouse continues to pay the mortgage, perhaps for a period of time such as until children reach a particular age.

Is a limited company protected from divorce?

As a limited company has its own legal identity, the court cannot make orders directly against it. By way of example, if a limited company owns a house, the court could not order the company to transfer that house to the husband, even if the wife is the sole shareholder or wholly in control of the company.  It is the company which owns the house, not the shareholder.

However this does not mean that a limited company is completely disregarded. If a party in a divorce is a shareholder of a limited company, it is likely the court will want to know how much the shares are worth which inevitably requires an assessment of the value of the company and its underlying assets and interests. The court could order that those shares are sold to realise their value. A court could order that there is a transfer of shares from one spouse to another, which frequently happens if both spouses are joint shareholders. Alternatively, the court may offset the value of a shareholding against other assets so the shareholder keeps the shares in full but their spouse keeps more of a different asset.

A company may also be seen as a source of liquidity if it holds excess cash. Whilst a court cannot order a company to pay a lump sum to somebody, it could make an order against a shareholder requiring them to make a cash payment to their spouse knowing full well that the only way to satisfy the payment is to extract cash from the company such as through declaring a dividend or taking a loan from the company.

Can I keep the dog if I get divorced?

Dogs and other pets are often seen as a much loved member of the family but sadly when it comes to divorce, in the eyes of the law a pet falls into the same category as a TV or a toaster as nothing more than a person’s personal property. As such the court is likely to be more interested in who owns the dog by considering factors such as:

  • who paid for the dog (ideally backed up with receipts)
  • who is registered at the vet
  • who is listed on the microchip database, and
  • who is the provider of key supplies and food

This person is more likely to have a successful claim over the dog, even if the other party has a better emotional attachment and spent more time looking after the dog.

If it is unclear who owns the dog, a sympathetic judge may consider who is best placed to look after the dog but parties should be prepared for a fairly rough and ready decision. The court is often reluctant to deal with disputes such as pet ownership as it is more concerned with the bigger picture such as arrangements for the children and the overall financial division. It is therefore far preferable for the parties to reach an agreement themselves, perhaps with the assistance of mediation.

Read our recent article to find out more.

What is a Pension Sharing Order?

Pension sharing orders are used to redistribute a couple’s pension provisions following a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. When a pension sharing order is made, the paying party’s pension provider is instructed to transfer a specified percentage of that pension into a pension in the name of the receiving party. The pension is effectively lifted out of the paying party’s pension and paid into a pension belonging to the receiving party so that it becomes their pension to do with as they please. Once implemented, the paying party cannot dictate to the receiving party what they should do with the pension. It is worth remembering however that when a pension is transferred under a pension sharing order, it must be paid into another pension and it cannot be released as cash. A pension sharing order is also not available to couples who have chosen to have a judicial separation rather than a divorce/dissolution.

My ex lives in another country – can I still get divorced in England and Wales?

Certain criteria need to be met to divorce in England and Wales. These criteria are generally based on where each party lives or is domiciled and how long they have lived in England and Wales. If you ex lives abroad, the more common grounds used are:

  1. That you were both last “habitually resident” in England and Wales and one continues to reside here
  2. That you are “habitually resident” in England and Wales and have resided here for at least one year immediately before applying for a divorce
  3. That you are “domiciled” and “habitually resident” in England and Wales and have resided there for at least six months immediately before applying for a divorce
  4. That you are “domiciled” in England and Wales

The test for whether you are “habitually resident” or “domiciled” for the requisite period of time can be quite fact specific so it is always best to seek legal advice.

If you meet the eligibility and start proceedings here, your ex may start competing proceedings abroad. In those circumstances, the court will consider where is most “convenient” and if the courts where you ex lives are found to be more convenient, it will stop the proceedings here. Convenience is fact specific but by way of example, if all of your assets are located in the country your ex resides in, it may be more convenient to base the proceedings there for ease of enforcing financial orders.

Are there alternatives to divorce?

Divorce is the main way to legally recognise that a marriage has come to an end. It allows the court to separate a couple’s finances and once granted, the parties are legally separate and able to re-marry again in the future.

Annulments are sometimes an option. Whereas divorce ends a marriage, annulments declare the marriage was not valid in the first place. The grounds for seeking an annulment are very fact specific (such as a lack of consent to marriage) but if it is granted, the parties are separated and it is as if they were never married. The court can however make financial awards similar to those in divorce proceedings after an annulment.

Sometimes couples may not wish to divorce but want legal recognition that they have separated. In such circumstances, they may consider a Judicial Separation. This grants the court powers to make some financial orders similar to those it can make on a divorce (such as spousal maintenance) but not all orders (such as pension sharing). With a Judicial Separation, the parties remain married so they cannot remarry and either party may seek a divorce at a later date.

A final option is to separate but not obtain a divorce. The court will not make any awards so the parties remain married but the parties can enter into a separation agreement regulating their finances. However, if either party seeks a divorce in the future, the court is not bound by the separation agreement and may decide to regulate the couple’s finances in a different way than was previously agreed.

What is the difference between matrimonial and non-matrimonial assets?

Matrimonial assets tend to be those which have been generated or accumulated during the marriage whereas non-matrimonial assets tend to be assets which are acquired outside of the marriage such as assets owned before marriage or assets received by one party during the marriage without contribution from the other such as through inheritance or a gift.

The discretion of the court when making financial awards is wide ranging and the way the court will deal with this distinction varies from case to case so it is always important to seek advice about your particular circumstances. However, in broad principles, any asset which is “matrimonial” in nature is usually shared unless there is good reason not to. If an asset is non-matrimonial, an argument could be raised that there ought to be a departure from an equal share of the asset to reflect the fact it is from a source external to the marriage. However:

  • If financial resources are limited such that a party’s needs cannot be met without using the non-matrimonial property, the fact it is non-matrimonial will carry little weight, if any.
  • The family home is seen as core to the marriage and is often treated differently. It is invariably treated as a matrimonial asset even if it would have been non-matrimonial in nature.
  • If a non-matrimonial asset has been intermingled with a matrimonial asset, a court may place less weight on the fact it started as non-matrimonial in nature.
  • If the parties were married for a short period of time, a court may place greater weight on the fact that an asset is non-matrimonial and may be persuaded to allow a greater departure from equality than if the parties have been married for a long period of time.

The court will always have a mind to fairness and is likely to take a step back and consider whether the overall division of the assets is “fair” bearing in mind the parties respective financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage.

What is classed as a good ratio of MHFA to staff numbers?

There is not a magic number. It depends on the nature of the organisation, the work carried out, the organisational structure, the geographical spread, working patterns and conditions. We would give specific advice personalised to the organisation and taking all these and other factors in to consideration. There is no such things as too many MHFAs!

Should volunteers be DBS checked?

There is not currently a requirement for MHFAs to be DBS checked.

What questions/factors should you look at to determine whether your procedure/policy in respect of MHFAs is or isn’t working?

It really depends on what your measure of success is! We would suggest regular wellbeing surveys – if the results of wellbeing surveys suggest that the culture is becoming more open, more psychologically safe, if people are asking for help or referring colleagues to MHFAs as a safe and effective pair of hands – these would be strong indicators of success.

What suggestions do you have to raise the profile of the MHFA group in an organisation, particularly with agile working?

Details of your MHFAs should be posted somewhere that everyone can access easily – a specific area on an intranet or whatever alternative exists. Regular comms involving the MHFAs, webinar sessions, Q&A sessions and mental wellbeing drop in sessions are all ideas that may work well.

Have you had any safeguarding issues in relation to staff they see and do you follow your normal safeguarding pathway?

Safeguarding issues are relatively uncommon, however, if they do occur, the normal safeguarding procedure of the organisation should be followed.

Do you recommend a structured approach to MHFA supervision?

Yes – there should be a framework in place to ensure that MHFAs are fully supported themselves and so that individuals are supported beyond the support the MHFAs provide.

Would you suggest using a different name for a MHFA, maybe a MH champion, to encompass the wider pro-active role?

This may be a good idea – whatever name they are given, it is essential that MHFAs are empowered to take a proactive approach to organisational mental health and that they have the bandwidth to be able to discharge their responsibilities.  The name should reflect the culture of the organisation, the key aspect is awareness and accessibility – identifying a name for your company that supports this is key.

How often do MHFA qualifications need updating?

The recommendation is every 3 years, however it is recommended that MHFAs receive regular ongoing training and support.

What are the negatives associated with having MHFAs in the workplace and what is the best way to manage this without removing MHFAs from the company?

The only potential negatives are the potential for MHFAs to become overloaded, or for MHFAs to overstep the boundaries of their role. Both would be avoided if a suitable framework is in place around them, and if adequate ongoing support and training is provided.

How can schools access training for MHFA?

Schools should be considering both Youth MHFA training and Adults MHFA training so that there are people within every school who have the skills and knowledge to support the mental health needs of students and teaching staff.

What first steps would you recommend to creating a strategy to integrate pro-active mental health first aid across the workforce?

The Thriving at Work Report and the recent NICE Workplace Mental Health Guidelines provide a good baseline for what all organisations should be doing on workplace mental health – this includes some guidance on training. There does need to be a plan in place and we recommend taking a holistic view of the integration of mental health first aiders into a business – ie it should be one component in a strategy that also comprises training for line managers, awareness training and education for all staff, peer support, and a documented framework for support and signposting.  It is also worth ensuring you have senior manager sponsorship, strong links with Occupational Health if available and also raising awareness via any works councils or employee forums helps ensure there is buy in at all levels.

How do you protect MHFAs from the potential stresses of the role?

There should be some data collected as to the type and number of interactions MHFA are having, to ensure no one individual or individuals are overloaded. MHFAs should be encouraged to maintain regular self-care practice, to lean in to all support provisions available in their organisation, to engage in peer support, and to take a break from their role as a  MHFA to prioritise their own wellbeing as needed. It is also important that those who volunteer to be MHFAs have the support of their managers.  So they have the time to do both their core role and their MHFA duties without feeling pressurised to cram work into spare time to make up for time spent on MHFA duties.

Do you think MHFA will become a legal requirement for businesses eventually?

This is something which is certainly on the Government’s radar as there is currently a Bill being heard in Parliament about making MHFAs a legal requirement for workplaces. It is still in the very early stages and therefore it is not clear at this stage what the outcome will be. What is clear is that this is an area which is being taken very seriously and it would not be surprising if measures were put in place regarding MHFAs in the workplace.

How do you prevent MHFA from handling situations that are for qualified individuals such as their GP or EAP?

The MHFA training makes this clear, it should be made clear in the MHFA role specification and procedures and discussed during regular MHFA peer support and MHFA surgery sessions. It is important to ensure that where an Employee Assistance Programme is in place, all MHFAs have details of that scheme available so they are able to instantly share details of the scheme with those who require support. If in doubt due to serious concerns then using 999 or Samaritans is an option.

How do you ensure clinical governance around MHFAs?

MHFAs are not qualified mental health medical professionals and they should not be diagnosing or giving medical advice, however, their training will equip them to provide initial support to those experiencing symptoms of mental ill health, and to signpost to further professional help when needed. The MHFA training makes the boundaries of the MHFA role very clear and there should be clearly defined role specifications, procedures and support pathways in place to ensure that individuals are referred on appropriately. There should be peer support in place for MHFAs and a system in place to ensure no individual or individuals are overloaded.

How do you support your Mental health first aider (MHFA) team?

We recommend that ongoing support is provided to all MHFA’s beyond completion of the MHFA training. It is necessary to do refresher training (approx. every 3 years) and ideally ongoing ‘continued professional development’ should be provided as well as regular opportunities for debriefing / seeking support. One way of supporting your MHFAs in the workplace is by creating a buddy system amongst the MHFAs. That way the individuals carrying out the role of MHFAs have a support structure in place amongst themselves. All trained MHFAs can also reach out to management to discuss any concerns they have or to seek any further support they need.

What rights do grandparents have to see their grandchildren?

In most circumstances, grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to see their grandchildren. They can, however, ask the Court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order which will set out who the child is to spend time with. When deciding whether to grant permission, the Court will consider the nature of the proposed Application, the grandparent’s connection with the children and whether the application would disrupt the child. A successful permission Application will not automatically mean grandparents will get an Order to see the children, but it is the first stage of the 2 stage process completed.

If permission is granted, the Court will then determine the Application for a Child Arrangements Order. The Court will consider the welfare checklist (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/1). The children’s best interests are the Court’s paramount consideration. The Court will take into account any hostility between the parents and the grandparents and consider whether there is any risk of emotional abuse to the children by being caught in the middle of an adult conflict.

If possible, any disagreements regarding grandparents seeing their grandchildren should be resolved through mediation, family therapy or any other alternative dispute method before the Court process is utilised. Grandparents should also be aware that although they will want to see their grandchildren as much as possible, this must be balanced against setting contact at a realistic level which is workable for the children in the circumstances of the case.

Can my ex stop me from seeing my child?

Unless the contrary is shown, the court presumes that parental involvement in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare. This does not dictate any particular division of time but reinforces the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation, where that is safe and in the child’s best interests.

Your ex-partner should not, therefore, stop you from seeing your child unless there are welfare reasons to do so. If they do, you can ultimately apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order which will set out who the child will live and spend time with. You ex- partner may be viewed unfavourably if they have unjustifiably stopped you seeing your child.  In the interim, try and come to some kind of agreement with your ex in order to maintain contact with your child even if that is supervised contact via a trusted third party like a grandparent or a friend or indirect contact via Zoom, Skype or Facetime. You should also ensure that your child does not get placed in to the middle of any arguments between you. Consider using parenting tools now available online such as Our Family Wizard and amicable co-parenting.

Tensions can often run high when a relationship breaks down. You should consider what arrangement is in the best interests of your child. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your ex about child arrangements, you should speak to a Family Solicitor or use an alternative dispute resolution service such as mediation or family therapy before issuing Court proceedings.

Common law marriage – what is it, what are your rights?

Common law marriage is a term coined by the media for couples who have decided to live together but not marry. There is a common misconception that once a certain amount of time has passed in these circumstances, the couple will have rights to claim against each other’s assets in the event of a breakdown of the relationship but this is not the case. Unmarried couples have very limited claims against each other, and those relate to where children are involved (maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service and maintenance and capital claims through Schedule 1 of the Children Act) and properties. The latter is covered by complex Trust Law and can involve costly litigation through the Civil Court.

It is, therefore, extremely important to consider taking legal advice if you are moving in with your partner as you may wish to enter in to a Cohabitation Agreement or Trust Deed to ensure you have an interest in the property in the event of a breakdown, especially if you are making contributions to it. A Cohabitation Agreement can also set out what will happen in the event of a breakdown e.g. who will be able to live in the property and how long the other person will have until they have to leave. An agreement whilst together is better than trying to reach one apart, it can save time, heartbreak and costs if that relationship ends.

How much will a divorce cost me?

How much a divorce costs very much depends on how your spouse responds to the divorce proceedings. There is a set Court fee of £593 which you will have to pay if you issue the Application and any Solicitor fees will be in addition to that. Some people may be eligible for a fee exemption. Solicitor fees are usually between £500 to £1,000 if matters are straightforward, however, if your spouse decides not to respond to the divorce or there is an issue regarding jurisdiction (i.e. whether you should be divorced in England or Wales) the costs can significantly increase. Your costs are also typically higher if you are the Applicant rather than the Respondent.

At Ward Hadaway, we now offer 2 fixed fee options as follows:

  1. If you are starting the divorce process, our fixed fees are £500 + VAT (£600 in total) and the court fee of £593.
  2. If you are the respondent, our fixed fees are £250 + VAT (£300 in total). There are no court fees when you are the respondent.

You can contact one of our experienced divorce lawyers to discuss the fixed fee further and to find out what is and is not included within the overall cost by emailing familylawenquiries@wardhadaway.com or utilising any of the contact details listed below.

In some cases, it is a good idea to approach your spouse before issuing a divorce application  so that you can agree on the best way to proceed and you could even try and reach an agreement as to how the costs of the divorce could be shared. These negotiations can take place through a Solicitor.

Please also be aware that these costs are in relation to the divorce process only. If you also need advice on your finances or any child care arrangements, there will potentially be additional Court, expert and Solicitor fees for this. We ensure all clients are provided with an estimate of all costs at the outset.

Can I amend my divorce settlement due to Covid?

Maintenance Orders are capable of variation so if your income has reduced as a result of the pandemic, you may be entitled to reduce your payments. You should ensure that any reduction is reflected in a Court Order to ensure your ex-spouse cannot claim arrears from you.

It is not generally possible to vary capital and pension settlements included in Court Orders unless there has been a significant event, sometimes known as a “barder event”. The following four conditions must be satisfied:

  1. New events have occurred since the Order which invalidate the basis or fundamental assumption on which the Court Order was made and which were unforeseen and unforeseeable. This can include a change in the value of assets, employment status, inheritance and death.
  2. The new events occurred within a relatively short time of the Order being made.
  3. The Application to change the Order is made reasonably promptly.
  4. If the Application succeeded, this would not prejudice any third parties who have acquired assets in good faith e.g. if the family home has already been sold to a third party.

The applications relying on Covid as a significant event have had limited success. The circumstances in which the Barder principle may apply are few and far between. It is of note that the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 was not considered to be a Barder event.

Care should, therefore, be taken when deciding whether to pursue a change to the Divorce settlement and it is recommended that you speak to a specialist Family Law team like ours.

What is a declaration of trust, and what does it do?

A declaration of trust is a legal document which sets out who owns what. It is a document in which one person declares that they hold assets on trust for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. A declaration of trust is a legally binding document which can be used to formally record the financial arrangements between owners of a particular asset.

A declaration of trust is most commonly used in family disputes in relation to property which has been purchased jointly by a couple, and/or with the financial assistance of someone else, such as a gift/ inheritance from parents. Within the declaration of trust you are able to record who has paid the deposit for a home, and how you would want to split the proceeds of sale in the future if you were to separate. It can provide clarity at what may be a difficult time, and hopefully reduce any disagreements in the future in the event that you separate from your partner and wish to protect your parents’ bequest.

What is the divorce process?

From 6 April 2022, the process will change. The first stage in the divorce process is to issue a divorce application with the court. This is the document which outlines that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. If you are a sole applicant, the divorce application will be sent to your husband/wife, and they will have to acknowledge receipt of the application in order for the divorce to proceed. Alternatively, you and your husband/wife can make a joint application together, and the divorce application will be sent to both of you for acknowledgment.

The law lays down a minimum allowable period of 20 weeks between the application and the conditional order. After 20 weeks you can apply to the court for a conditional order. This is the stage when the court satisfies themselves that you are entitled to a divorce. Once you receive your conditional order, you can apply for your final order after 6 weeks and one day. The Final Order formally ends your marriage.

There can be complications to the divorce process if, for example, your husband/wife refuses to acknowledge the divorce application. At these times it is in your best interests to obtain legal advice as to the best way to proceed.

Our experienced divorce lawyers understand the stress of facing a divorce and can make the process simple, hassle free and affordable.

Will I have to go to court?

The vast majority of disputes settle without ever reaching a final hearing with something in the region of 2-5% of all cases actually ending up in court at a final trial.  So whilst it is very unlikely you would need to attend a court hearing, it is always a possibility.

How long does a claim take?

There is no hard and fast rule as to how long a claim under the 1975 Act can take.  If a dispute is settled early into the process then resolution can be reached in a matter of weeks or months.  If, on the other hand, matters have to proceed all the way to trial then it is not unheard of for disputes under the 1975 Act to last anywhere between 12-18 months

Who pays?

If a dispute goes to court then the losing party will have to pay both their own and the winning parties’ legal costs.   In other words, if you did not succeed with your claim, you would have to pay the legal costs incurred by the beneficiaries of the estate.  However, if your claim succeeds, the beneficiaries of the estate are likely to have to pay your legal costs, as well as any financial provision which is ordered by the court to come from the estate.

Ward Hadaway can offer a number of options to help to minimise your financial outlay, including acting on a fixed fee basis or a no win no fee arrangement.

We have been offering no win no fee arrangements now for over 20 years.  We know that good legal advice is expensive and  in most cases, if the case is strong, we can work with you to find a way of bringing the claim. Click here to see an example of one of our recent cases. Costs will be discussed with you in detail before you have to pay anything.

How long do I have to bring a claim?

Anybody who wishes to make a claim for provision under the 1975 Act must be issue their claim at court within 6 months of the Grant of Probate being issued in the deceased’s estate.

This does mean that it is quite important to act quickly if you believe that you may wish to bring a claim under the 1975 Act against an estate.  Whilst it is possible to make an application for financial provision more than 6 months after the issue of the Grant of Probate, the court would need to be satisfied with the reasons which are provided for the delay.

My sister has passed away. She separated from her husband years ago although they never got divorced, so they are technically still married. My sister never made a Will. Will her husband inherit her estate?

My sister has passed away. She separated from her husband years ago although they never got divorced, so they are technically still married. My sister never made a Will. Will her husband inherit her estate?

My ex-husband has died and I was receiving maintenance payments from him. He hasn’t left me anything in their Will. What can I do?

You may be able to make a claim against your ex-spouse’s estate on the basis that their Will does not make ‘reasonable financial provision’ for you. You will not be able to bring a claim if you have remarried, or if a condition of your divorce explicitly states that you will not make a claim against their estate.

These types of claims are very fact-specific so it is not possible to give a straightforward yes or no answer as to whether any such claim is available to you.  The court will consider all factors which we can explore with you in more detail.

My parents have not provided anything for me in either of their Wills. What can I do?

It is possible for children (including adult, working age children) to make claims against the estates of their parents if they have not been provided for in certain circumstances.

These types of claims are very fact-specific so it is not possible to give a straightforward yes or no answer as to whether any such claim is available to you.  The court will consider all factors which we can explore with you in more detail.

My long-term partner has not left me anything in their Will. What can I do?

It is possible that you may have a claim under the 1975 Act for reasonable financial provision, depending upon the exact circumstances of your relationship with your partner.  The court has a wide discretion regarding what it thinks is reasonable financial provision if it decides that the deceased’s Will did not provide for you sufficiently.

In these circumstances, it is quite important to take specialist advice as soon as possible, particularly in light of the time limits which apply.

Who can bring a claim for financial provision?

People who can make a claim for financial provision are set out in the 1975 Act.  The categories are as follows:

  • Surviving spouses or civil partners of the deceased;
  • Former spouses or civil partners of the deceased;
  • Cohabiting partners who lived with the deceased for a least 2 years prior to their death;
  • A child of the deceased;
  • Someone treated as a child of the deceased’s family (for example a step-child); and
  • People who are “maintained” by the deceased – sometimes referred to as people who financially depended upon the deceased.
Can I bring a claim against an estate even if the Will has been validly made?

Yes.  The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants Act) 1975 (more commonly known simply as the “1975 Act”)  allows certain categories of people to apply to the court for an order for what is known as “reasonable financial provision” in the event that they are either not provided for, or not provided for sufficiently, within a testator’s Will.

Will I have to go to court?

The vast majority of disputes settle without ever reaching a final hearing with something in the region of 2-5% of all cases actually ending up in court at a final trial.  So whilst it is very unlikely you would need to attend a court hearing, it is always a possibility.

How long does a claim take?

There is no hard and fast rule as to how long a dispute regarding the validity of a Will can take.  If a dispute is settled early into the process then resolution can be reached in a matter of weeks or months.  If, on the other hand, matters have to proceed all the way to trial then it is not unheard of for disputes to last anywhere between 18-24 months.

Who pays?

In general terms, if a dispute goes to court then the losing party will have to pay both their own and the winning party’s legal costs.

Ward Hadaway can offer a number of options to help your financial outlay, including acting on a fixed fee basis or a no win no fee arrangement.

We have been offering no win no fee arrangements now for over 20 years.  We know that good legal advice is expensive and in most cases, if the case is strong, we can work with you to find a way of bringing the claim.  Click here to see an example of one of our recent cases.  Costs will be discussed with you in detail before you have to pay anything.

What if I was promised something which isn’t contained in the Will?

If the testator promised you something during their lifetime which they said that you would inherit on their death, but then this was not provided for in their Will, you may be able to bring a claim known in legal terms as either proprietary estoppel or promissory estoppel.

You must be able to show that the testator made you a promise during their lifetime, that you relied on that particular promise and the reliance that you placed on the promise was to your detriment.   You can find more details above in the FAQ – How long do I have to contest the validity of a Will?

My dad has died and has left everything 50/50 to me and my sibling. However, I know that he gave my sibling a large sum of money before he died. Can this be deducted from my sibling’s share of the estate?

You will need to check the provisions of the Will. The Will might say whether your dad intended to set the amount of gift off against your sibling’s share of their estate.

If your dad intended the sum of money he gave to your sibling as a completely separate gift, then you cannot deduct the sum of money from their share of the estate. However, your sibling will have to prove that this was your dad’s intention when he made the lifetime gifts, as it is presumed that a person would not make the same gift twice (known as the rule against receiving “double portions”).

My mum remarried. She has now passed away and has left everything to my step-dad. I am worried that he will not leave me anything when he dies. Can my step-dad write me out of the Will?

This will depend on the arrangements your mum (or dad, as the case may be) and her spouse have made. They may have made ‘mirror Wills’ or ‘mutual Wills’. Alternatively, they may have simply made their own Wills which have totally different provisions.

If your mum and your step-dad made ‘mirror Wills’, then the surviving spouse can revoke that Will and make a new one. They may not leave you anything under their new Will, and a dispute may rise.

If your mum and your step-dad made ‘mutual Wills’, they make a legal promise not to change their Will unless they both agree to this.

Complex family structures can lead to issues and fallouts when someone dies. These circumstances are very fact-specific. You can contact us for advice and we can advise you whether we think you have a claim.

My dad has left one of my siblings much more than me and I don’t know why. Can I challenge the Will?

You cannot challenge a Will just because you feel that it is unfair (apart from in some limited circumstances where you if the Will does not make ‘reasonable financial provision for you’ – see our Financial Provision Claims FAQs).

However, there may be legitimate reasons for you to contest the Will, including if you think that your dad did not know what they were doing when they made the Will, or if you think someone was being forced to make the Will. See the other FAQs in this section and consider whether any of these apply to your circumstances.

These types of claims are very fact-specific so it is not possible to give a straightforward yes or no answer as to whether any such claim is available to you. You can contact us for advice and we can advise you whether we think that you have a claim.

What if I think the Will has been fraudulently obtained?

It is not unheard of for potential beneficiaries to produce a fraudulent or forged document which they say was prepared and signed by the testator. In these circumstances, detailed investigations need to be undertaken in order to establish the authenticity of the document which is produced, particularly if there was apparently no other parties involved in its preparation apart from the testator and the person who would benefit under the Will.

How can I tell if the correct procedure was followed when the Will was executed?

There are a number of technical formalities which any testator must follow in order to execute a valid Will.  These include:

  • The Will must be signed by the testator, in the presence of two other witnesses and then be signed by those witnesses, in the presence of the person making the Will after the testator themselves has signed the document.
  • The person making the Will must be over 18 years of age and have mental capacity.
  • The person must make the Will voluntarily without undue influence and must know and understand what the Will says; and
  • The Will must be in writing
What if I think that the person who made the Will was being bullied into creating/changing his or her Will?

Whilst the law does not prevent people from trying to persuade a testator from distributing their assets in a certain way under their Will, the court will intervene if a person has effectively coerced a testator into making a particular Will.  In other words, the testator’s own judgment effectively has to have been overridden by the person who has manipulated them into making a particular Will.

To determine whether there has been any improper influence requires thorough consideration of the evidence of the solicitor or Will maker who was involved in the preparation of the Will and the witness evidence of other people who were involved in the testator’s life.

I don’t think that my mum knew what she was doing when she made her Will. How can I tell if she lacked capacity?

You may be concerned that a family member or friend did not understand what they were doing when they made their Will. The legal test for whether or not a testator had sufficient mental capacity to make a Will requires that:

  • They understand the nature of the act of making a Will and its effect – in other words, that he or she understands that they are setting out how they wish for their estate to be distributed upon their death;
  • The size of their estate;
  • The individuals in respect of which they are morally bound to provide for and any consequences of not providing for these individuals; and
  • That they are not suffering from any disorder of the mind which may effectively poison their feelings toward people who may otherwise expect to benefit from the estate.

The process of analysing whether or not a testator did lack the mental capacity to make a Will involves consideration of the evidence of the solicitor or Will maker involved in the preparation of the Will, the testator’s medical records and the witness evidence of other people who were involved in the testator’s life.

How long do I have to contest the validity of a Will?

There is no time limit for a claim to contest the validity of a Will.  However, it is always advisable to act as soon as possible because – for the reasons explained above – there can be practical difficulties involved once a Grant of Probate has been issued and/or distribution starts to be made from the estate.

Any claims for reasonable financial provision under the 1975 Act must usually be brought within 6 months of the Grant of Probate being issued.  For more information see below in the FAQs relating to financial provision.

Who has the right to challenge a Will?

It is  possible for anybody to challenge the validity of a person’s Will.  In reality it is usually the case that challenges are only brought by people who would benefit under an earlier version of the Will  and as such, it is often only people with a financial interest under previous Wills who seek to bring claims which challenge the validity of a Will, or people who would be financially better off if there was no valid Will and the intestacy rules applied.

The position is different in relation to claims under the 1975 Act, where there is a specific list of people who are eligible to apply for an order that a Will does not make reasonable financial provision for them.  This includes spouses, former spouses, children, cohabitees and people who were being maintained by the deceased.  More information can be found at below in the FAQs relating to financial provision.

Am I entitled to see a copy of the Will before it goes to Probate?

The only people who are legally entitled to sight of a Will before a Grant of Probate is issued are the executors who are named in the Will.  That being said, it is common practice for an executor to provide a copy of the Will if it is requested.

Once a Grant of Probate is issued, the Will is then a public document and can be readily accessed by anybody who wishes to see it.

Do I need to dispute a Will before it goes to Probate?

It is always better for claims which challenge the validity of a Will to be brought before any Grant of Probate is issued because it is possible that distributions may have been made before your claim is raised, which can make recovery of assets more difficult.

In order to stop a grant being issued, a document known as a caveat can be lodged at the Probate Registry.  This is often the first step in disputing the validity of a person’s Will, and it is a step which we can assist you with.

What is Probate?

The Grant of Probate is the legal document issued by the Probate Registry which confirms that the executors of the Will have the legal authority to deal with the estate.

Can I dispute a Will before death?

It is not possible to challenge a Will before the person who has made it passes away.  This is because a Will does not come into effect until such time as the testator has died.  If, however, you do have concerns about the content of a Will, then you may wish to address these with the testator in person.

What if there is no Will? Can I challenge what I would receive ?

Yes.  It is possible to bring a financial provision claim under the 1975 Act to ask the court to decide that the amount which you would receive under the Intestacy Rules (which apply if the deceased person has no valid Will) do not make reasonable or financial provision for you.  Please see below FAQs on financial provision for more information.

What if I haven’t been left anything in a Will? Can I contest it?

There are several grounds upon which it is potentially possible to contest a person’s Will.  These include:

  • The person making the Will (the testator) lacked the necessary mental capacity
  • The testator either did not know or did not approve of the contents of their Will
  • The testator was improperly influenced into making the Will
  • The Will was not correctly executed
  • The Will is a forgery and/or was fraudulently obtained

All of these types of claim are known as “validity disputes”, because you are effectively disputing the validity of the Will itself.

On the other hand it may be that even if the Will is valid, you feel that it is unfair in that it does not make sufficient financial provision for you.  In those circumstances, it may be possible to bring a claim under a piece of legislation known as the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (known simply as the 1975 Act).  The 1975 Act provides for certain classes of people to be able to apply to the court for greater financial provision out of a deceased person’s estate, and is explained in more detail below in the FAQs relating to financial provision.      

What is IR35?

IR35 is an anti-tax avoidance regime which is intended to tackle (in HMRC’s view) the long standing issue of individual contractors providing their services or labour via an intermediary – which is usually a personal service company (referred to as a PSC). We’ll talk about PSCs here, but there are other types of intermediaries that are caught.

HMRC’s view is that this arrangement is often considered to be disguised employment and therefore a tax-avoidance arrangement.

So IR35 is essentially a test of employment status – and if, once you apply the test, the contractor should be an employee, they should then be taxed as an employee.

When does IR35 generally apply?

It would apply if the contractor uses an intermediary to provide their services or labour and they would be deemed to be an employee or office holder for tax purposes if they were hired directly by the end user client rather than via the intermediary PSC. This would of course require an assessment of employment status for tax purposes.

Contractors who are not taxed in the UK and supply their services exclusively from outside of the UK are unaffected.

If IR35 applies, tax and NIC’s should be deducted under PAYE by the PSC. In reality this has not been happening so a major reform of the regime was due to be implemented in April 2020. The changes were postponed by one year and are due to take effect from 6 April 2021.

“Within IR35” means a contractor arrangement is caught by IR35 and the individual should be taxed as an employee.

“Outside IR35” means a contractor arrangement is not caught by IR35 and the contractor status is fine.

How is IR35 changing?

The current position is that the PSC is responsible for assessing whether IR35 applies. This current regime has been difficult to police by HMRC and HMRC considers there is widespread flouting of the rules by contractors.

From April 2021 the responsibility for assessing whether IR35 applies will shift to the end user/client (with the exception of ‘small’ companies) which will require an assessment to be carried out on a contract by contract basis. HMRC anticipates that this will be easier to monitor and that end user businesses will be more compliant.

The reformed regime will apply to payments made on or after 6 April 2021 for services carried out on or after this date.

What is a small company?

The changes will not apply to end users who are a small company. If you meet two out the following 3 conditions, you will meet the small company definition and are therefore exempt from the changes to IR35:

  1. Annual turnover is no more than £10.2 million
  2. Balance sheet total is no more than £5.1 million
  3. No more than 50 employees

Companies will always be classified as small in their first financial year. Public companies will always be considered to be medium or large businesses and cannot fall under this exemption.

For a group company to be a small company its parent company must also meet the small company definition.

What is the new process for assessing status under IR35?

The end user client will be responsible for assessing if the contractor is employed or self-employed for tax purposes. It is required to take reasonable care in carrying out the assessments.

When an assessment is carried out the outcome must be confirmed to the contractor with accompanying reasons in a Status Determination Statement (SDS). This SDS must be provided to the contractor before making payment to them. It must also be provided to the agency if there is one in the chain (more on this later).

The end user client must have a dispute resolution procedure to enable to the contractor or agency to appeal the assessment outcome.

What if a contractor is deemed to be employed?

The fee payer that pays the fee to the contractor’s PSC for the services (end user client or agency) will be responsible for operating PAYE and deducting NIC’s. The fee payer must also pay employer NIC’s and where applicable the apprenticeship levy so there will be additional costs involved in the event of a change to employed status for tax purposes.

If the assessment concludes that the contractor is self-employed, the PSC can continue to be paid gross.

What if the status determination is disputed?

You should have in place a dispute resolution procedure that sets out the appeal process or contractors or the agency as appropriate. You must respond to an appeal within 45 days.

If the status determination is disputed you should consider the contractor or agency’s reasons objections. You must consider if the original determination is to be maintained and give reasons for this. Or a new determination with reasons can be provided if appropriate.

Records of disputed determinations and the outcome of any appeal should be kept.

How do I determine contractor status?

You must exercise reasonable care in assessing status and making a status determination, considering what the position would be if the contractor was engaged directly by the end user client instead of via a PSC.

Status is usually determined by looking a number of factors and how they apply to the contractor’s working arrangements. This is a difficult exercise that is usually carried out by employment and tax lawyers and it is full of grey areas. We have a toolkit that can help you navigate this process which Paul will tell you more about at the end of the session.

The key factors used to determine status  are:

  • Control:
    • How much control does the end user client have over the contractor in terms of working arrangements (hours, place of work) and how the work is carried out? Or is the individual contractor able to determine how and when they work and without direct supervision of the end user client?
  • Personal service:
    • Is the contractor required to perform the services personally without the right to send a substitute? If there is a right to appoint a substitute is this subject to end user client approval?
  • Mutuality of obligation:
    • Is the end user client obliged to provide the contractor work with a mutual obligation on the contractor to accept that work?
What other factors may be considered?
  • Integration:
    • Is the individual held out as being employed by the business by having a company email address, uniform, how would they introduce themselves to customers?
  • Exclusivity:
    • Is the contractor restricted from working for other organisations without the consent of the end user client?
  • Length of engagement:
    • Is the contractor engaged to work on a specific project for a defined period? Or are they engaged for an indefinite period with no reference to a specific task or project?
  • Pay:
    • Are there regular fixed payments or is payment on completion of specific task or commission based? Is the contractor entitled to benefits or bonuses?
  • Facilities:
    • Does the contractor provide their own equipment and materials to provide the services?
  • Financial risk:
    • Is the contractor personally responsible for any loss arising from their work in performing the services? Will they have to rectify unsatisfactory work at their own time and expense? Will they have the opportunity to profit from the success of a project?
What are some other factors?

No one factor will determine status and the outcomes will differ depending on the nature of the work being carried out and the business of the end user client.

When you have carried out an assessment based on the relevant factors you can either get in touch with us to discuss further, check your answers against HMRC’s CEST tool or do both before making a final determination.

Do you need to use HMRC’s CEST tool?

CEST stands for Check Employment Status for Tax and, although this should do exactly what is says on the tin, there has been criticism of its accuracy and effectiveness. The CEST tool does not test whether there is ‘mutuality of obligation’ in the relationship which is a key factor in determining status.

You are not obliged to use CEST if you are happy with your own assessment process. If you do use CEST keep a record of the certificate given at the end of the assessment and keep this on the contractor’s file. HMRC will stand by the outcome of a CEST assessment provided the information has been honest and accurate. However, you must have entered information honestly to rely on it – you can’t just say what you want to get the right answer, as HMRC may test what you have said.  Also, many people are unhappy with the CEST tool and consider it leans too much towards employed status.

Are there any differences in employment status for employment law or for tax purposes?

The key factors for determining status for employment and tax purposes are generally the same. However there are some cases that highlight the different approaches taken by employment tribunals and HMRC when determining status. The important thing to consider for IR35 purposes is that being deemed employed for tax purposes does not mean a contractor is ’employed’. PSC’s can still be used in moving forward but there are likely to be discussions on the commercial aspects of the contractor arrangement. Employment status for tax purposes is likely to come at a cost for both parties.

What if I get the status wrong?

As long as you can demonstrate that you have exercised reasonable care in determining status you have discharged your obligations in that respect. However, if you are unable to demonstrate this, you may as the end user client be responsible for the contractor’s tax and NIC’s.

What if the contractor is supplied by an agency?

As mentioned earlier, if an agency is involved you must send them a copy of the status determination statement for each contractor, and they will also have the right to dispute the outcome.

If the agency pays the contractor, they will be responsible for the operation of PAYE and NIC’s deductions and any apprenticeship levy. The agency may try to recover these costs from the end user client.

If workers are supplied by an agency or umbrella company and are already treated as employees by the agency, they will remain unaffected by IR35.

Do all contractors have to be assessed?

Individual contractors who are not operating via an intermediary (eg sole traders) do not need to be assessed under IR35. However, you will always have the risk with those individuals that there is no intermediary – therefore if their tax status is wrong, HMRC are very likely to consider that responsibility for this would fall on the hiring company in any event.

Can I reduce the risk of IR35 applying?

It is possible to review working arrangements for contractors before the new rules come into effect. This will require immediate action.

You could consider terminating current contracts and entering into new terms that reflect working arrangements for a self-employment arrangement.

Another possibility is encouraging contractors to abandon the PSC model and provide services under a compliant umbrella company.

In the event of a determination of employed status you should seek to enter new terms that at the very least reflect the new tax arrangements .

What should be included in genuinely self-employed contractor terms?

If you consider the factors used to determine status you can include the following terms that are more in line with a self-employed relationship:

  • The right to provide a substitute of the contractor’s choice in the event the individual is not able to perform the services;
  • The ability to work for other businesses as long as doing so will not affect the services to be provided by the contractor;
  • The contractor should have sufficient control over how, when and where (if possible) they provide the services;
  • A degree of financial risk can be included for unsatisfactory work or failing to complete a project or task

We have terms that cover all of these points that can be tailored to your needs. The consultancy agreement is included in our IR35 toolkit.

What are the additional costs for the end user if the contractor is deemed employed?

The immediate impact is accounting for payroll purposes for the additional cost of 13.8% employers NIC’s and 0.5% apprenticeship levy on top of the payment to the contactor’s PSC.

Secondary NIC’s cannot be recovered from payments due to employees and the same applies under the new IR35 regime. However, new terms can be agreed with reduced level of fees to reflect this additional cost.

Can I wait until April to carry out assessments?

We don’t recommend this. Status determination statements must be issued before 6 April 2021 for current engagements and the appropriate deductions are to be made on payments for services carried out on or after 6 April 2021.

What about office holders?

Office holders who provide services under an intermediary (such as a service company consultancy agreement) and whose services relate to the office held, would fall under the IR35 regime and must be assessed accordingly.

Preparing for April 2021 – what do you need to do?
  • Audit
    • Identify your off-payroll contractors
    • Determine the status of off-payroll contractors
      • CEST – HMRC employment status checker for tax purposes
  • Communication – liaise with affected workforce
  • Contracts – get them compliant
  • Consider the Ward Hadaway toolkit
What is in the WH Toolkit?

We have developed a toolkit to assist with compliance. The Toolkit contains a specimen contract; detailed guidance; step by step guides and flowcharts; details of the factors to take into account for the status determination test; procedures for challenging the determination; and standard letters for the process.  Click here to fill in a form and register your interest in the Toolkit, which contains:

  1. Detailed guidance in the form of Key Facts
  2. Employment status checklist
  3. Employment status assessment flowchart
  4. Status questionnaire and guidance
  5. Letter confirming self-employed status (agency)
  6. Letter confirming employed status (agency)
  7. Letter confirming self-employed status (direct with PSC)
  8. Letter confirming employed status (direct with PSC)
  9. Status disagreement process guidance
  10. Status disagreement process flowchart
  11. Letter confirming outcome of status disagreement process
  12. Consultancy agreement
What tips can you share for remote mediations?

Remote mediations have become increasingly popular as a way of settling a dispute before it goes to court. There are a number of ways in which you can mediate remotely, but the most common platform is Zoom, due to its easy-to-use nature and the ability to have ‘break-out rooms’. We have answered some FAQs and set out a quick guide to remote mediations below.

What is remote mediation?

  • Mediation is a form of assisted negotiation, in which a neutral 3rd party mediator seeks to help the parties resolve their dispute. The process on the day is managed by the mediator and adopts certain key ground-rules. These are that discussions are private and cannot be referred to in court; and the process is entirely voluntary and non-binding, if and until a settlement is finalised. In the current pandemic mediations are now usually conducted remotely by video conference, instead of an in-person meeting.
  • The structure of the mediation will depend on the matters that are in dispute. Before the mediation the parties will exchange their views in position papers and prepare a bundle of the key documents.
  • Generally the parties will start the mediation in the same ‘room’ as the mediator, where they will be invited to set out their positions. The mediator will then put the parties into ‘break-out rooms’. These rooms serve as your own private ‘room’ which the mediator will join. You will therefore be able to have private discussions with the mediator without the other side being able to hear those discussions. The mediator will go between the ‘break-out rooms’ to discuss a party’s position further in order to attempt to reach a settlement.
  • If an agreement is reached, at the end of the mediation the Settlement Agreement will be drafted. The Settlement Agreement works as an enforceable contract. The Settlement Agreement will outline the details of what has been agreed and the intentions of the parties, such as any actions required, payments to be made and appropriate timescales. Each party will sign the Settlement Agreement, which can be done electronically.
  • It is not always possible to reach a resolution/agreement by mediation, but the mediator serves as an impartial third party in order to aid the process. If no agreement has been reached, the mediation may still prove useful as it will give you a better understanding of the other side’s position.

What should I do before the mediation to prepare?

  • Ensure that you are in an area with minimal distractions. Mediation is a confidential process, so make sure that you are in a private location.
  • Ensure that your microphone and camera work and that you have access to the online platform that will be used. We send our clients a link to the website in advance so that this can be tested out.
  • Consider any agreed dress code and dress appropriately.
  • Have a copy of the mediation bundle to hand, whether in hard or soft copy, and be aware of what documents are in there.

Any tips on what to do on the day?

  • Remember to make sure that before you have any private conversations with the mediator you are in your break-out room.
  • You may contact the mediator whilst being in the break-out room. On Zoom there is an ‘Ask for Help’ button on the screen. The mediator will then be prompted to join your room.
  • Ensure that you inform the mediator if you or others enter/leave the room. It is important that the mediator knows who is present.
  • Be mindful of body language and facial expressions as these can appear more enhanced on the screen, and they are easier to pick up in a remote mediation.
  • Stay calm and focussed at all times. When you have a dispute it is sometimes tricky to maintain a calm manner, but this is always vital in attempting to reach an agreement.
  • When engaging with the mediator avoid any external distractions such as text messages and emails, as it may come across that you are not interested in the process. It is important to pay attention so that you do not miss any dialogue which may be key to any agreement that is reached.
  • When you are in the break-out room without the mediator make sure that you take breaks and keep refreshed, as virtual mediations can be tiring.
What tips can you share for giving evidence during remote hearings?

During these unusual times, we are all having to adapt to what has become the ‘new normal’ and implement changes in how we carry out civil cases. If you are to give evidence in a remote hearing, whether this is by Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business or the Cloud Video Platform, we have pulled together a quick and useful guide below on what would be expected by the courts:

Before the hearing

  • Make sure that you have access to the video-conferencing software that will be needed for the hearing. We will tell our clients and their witnesses in advance which platform will be used. The courts have increasingly been using Skype for Business to conduct the hearings (but you may find other platforms being used)
  • Test that your camera and microphone are working and it is clear to see/hear you.
  • Dress appropriately, as if it was an in-person hearing, and use the same formalities.
  • Ensure that the background which is visible on your screen is appropriate and allows for your face to be clearly seen. A ‘blur background’ option may also be available on your settings which you may prefer.
  • Make sure that your mobile phone is on silent and you are in a location where there will be no/minimal distractions. You should be on your own in a room when giving evidence, however, as we have all experienced with working from home, sometimes interruptions such as children appearing cannot be avoided.
  • Join the call ahead of the allocated time, in order to allow for any small technical difficulties.

During the hearing

  • Have a copy of the hearing bundle to hand, so that you can follow the proceedings (this may be in hard copy or soft copy). You are not allowed any other notes or papers, whether hard copy or electronic, in front of you when giving evidence.
  • Unless addressing the Judge or you have been directly asked a question, keep your microphone muted.
  • When giving evidence, you must make sure both your camera and your microphone are switched on.
  • Remote hearings can be difficult and if you do not understand or you do not hear a question properly, then do ask for the question to be repeated/re-framed.
  • You should not move away from the screen without permission from the Judge. The Judge will allow time for breaks.
  • Address the judiciary and other advocates the same way as you would if you were in a physical courtroom.
  • It is permitted to drink water throughout the hearing, but mugs of tea and/or coffee are probably best avoided. It is also not permitted to eat food during the hearing.
  • Don’t panic if someone walks into the room or the dog starts barking because there is a knock at the door. Judges are only too aware about what might happen. Communication is key and if the interruption has interfered with your train of thought or the evidence you are giving then do say so.
  • Be aware that all evidence is recorded and that a transcript of all evidence can be obtained at a later date.
Are the courts continuing to operate during Lockdown 3.0?

With another lock-down in force in England, it has been confirmed that the courts will remain open. This is different to the first lockdown in March 2020, in which the majority of courts were closed and most face to face hearings did not take place. Hopefully, this new lock-down measure will ensure that cases are still being heard at a steady rate, and there should not be a backlog for your case to be dealt with.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP emphasised the importance of maintaining safety during the new measures: “Our courts & tribunals continue to be an essential public service, served by essential workers and meeting Covid-secure standards endorsed by public health officials. With the use of remote hearings wherever appropriate, this vital work can and should continue.”

A large sum of £110m has been spent in recent months to make courts safe and to ensure that trials should go ahead where necessary. As a result of the expenditure, hearings can now still take place both in person, whilst adhering to the rules, as well as remotely. Your case may be heard in court if it is deemed as being “necessary in the interest of justice”.

Precautionary measures, such as social distancing, will still be in place, with Judges and magistrates ensuring that this happens.

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon commented: “The next few weeks will present difficulties in all jurisdictions. But as before judges, magistrates, staff, the legal profession and others involved in the system will meet them and ensure that the administration of justice continues to function in the public interest.”

Can I demand that my employees have the vaccine?

In most circumstances the answer will be no. It would be an infringement of their human rights. It could also be a criminal assault.

However where there is a high risk to employees of exposure to COVID-19, such as care homes and healthcare environments, you might be able to make it a requirement of their role to have the vaccine.

First, consider whether you need to have a blanket requirement covering all employees or whether only certain groups who work in the most high risk areas require the vaccine.

You will need to do a thorough risk assessment balancing the amount that the risk of exposure would be reduced against the interference with the employee’s human rights. Consideration will need to be given as to whether insisting on the vaccine is proportionate to the risk and whether other less invasive steps could be taken instead, such as maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands.

Any requirement for employees to be vaccinated should be communicated clearly to employees and trade unions together with a clear explanation for why it is necessary.

What is the risk if I insist that my employees have the vaccine?

If you do not have a justifiable reason for insisting that your employees have the vaccine (see FAQ above) your employee could resign and bring a claim of constructive unfair dismissal if they have more than 2 years’ continuous employment. This would be on the basis that you have breached trust and confidence.

If the vaccine includes pig gelatine (as many do), and the employee refuses on religious or because they are vegan, you may face a claim for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Can I dismiss an employee if they refuse to have the vaccine?

See above FAQ about whether you can demand that your employee has the vaccine.

Dismissal for failing to follow a reasonable instruction would be a possibility but it should be the last resort.

First you will need to be able to show that you have reasonable grounds for insisting that they have the vaccine. You will then need to demonstrate that you have taken into consideration the reasons why the employee has refused and why they are not considered reasonable. Before taking a decision to dismiss you should look at alternatives such as other duties/other roles.

What about someone who refuses because they are against the vaccine (the anti-vaxers)?

It is a theoretical possibility that “anti-vax” beliefs could be a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 and therefore anti-vaxers have the right not to be discriminated against for their beliefs. Much will depend on why the individual is against the vaccine. Conspiracy theorists (the vaccine is being used as an opportunity to monitor you or it’s all because of 5G) are highly unlikely to be treated as having a philosophical belief!

Can colleagues meet outside of work during the national lockdown?

Yes, but only for work purposes and where it is unreasonable to do so from home. Work colleagues cannot meet to socialise.

Can I ask my employees to travel for work during the national lockdown?

As above, people must not leave their home unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ and travelling should be limited to their local area. Employees may leave their home and local area to travel for work if they cannot reasonably work from home. You should attempt to reduce the number of journeys they make.

Can I ask my employees to stay away from home overnight during the national lockdown?

As above, employees must not leave their home unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’.

What can I do to make sure my home-working people are doing so safely?
  1. Keep in touch. If contact is poor, workers can feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned. This can adversely affect stress levels and mental health – especially in the current crisis when everyone is feeling more anxious.
  2. Think about the use of laptops/devices (DSE) at home. Provide a basic form of risk assessment for self-completion.
  3. Remind workers of simple steps to reduce the risks from display screen work:
    • take regular breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or change activity
    • avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
    • get up and move or do stretching exercises
    • avoid eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time
Can an employee who has the resources to work from home, but struggles to do so, attend their place of work during the national lockdown?

Whilst many employees may now have the resources and equipment to work from home, an employee may struggle to effectively work from home for a number of reasons. For example, an employee may not have a suitable working environment where they can work without being disturbed or alternatively, working from home for prolonged periods of time may be having a detrimental impact on the employee’s mental well-being.

In circumstances such as these, employers must carry out a careful assessment. Unfortunately, there is not any specific guidance as to when an individual cannot ‘reasonably’ work from home – it is likely that each case will be fact specific.

In relation to employees who are struggling with their mental well-being, employers owe their employees a duty of care. It is crucial that procedures are in place which will enable an employer to recognise the signs of stress as early as possible. In the circumstances, it may be appropriate to allow an employee to attend their place of work if this would help alleviate work-related stress or to prevent mental health issues.

Can we still use the furlough (coronavirus job retention scheme)?

Yes. For further guidance, please see our FAQs section on Furlough.

What options do I have if my employee, who can work from home, is struggling to do so because they have young children at home who need “teaching” and supervision?

This is likely to be a common situation and employers and employees are going to have to take a pragmatic approach. You could enter into a temporary flexible working arrangement perhaps agreeing to vary working hours/days or reducing targets or agree to use some annual leave.

Employees could ask to take a period of unpaid leave, asserting their right to time off to care for a dependant but the lack of pay is likely to be unappealing.

Alternatively employees who are unable to work because they have caring responsibilities as a result of COVID-19, which includes childcare responsibilities, can be furloughed.

What options do I have if I have staff with childcare responsibilities but their job cannot be done at home?

If it is not possible to find work for the employee to do at home, you do have the option of putting the employee on furlough.

Can we ask for proof of caring responsibilities and if so what would be reasonable proof?

Yes, but be reasonable and sensitive to avoid any claims of associative or indirect discrimination.

The National Lockdown Guidance states that anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable should not attend work. What options do I have if an employee is in the clinical extremely vulnerable category but cannot do their job at home?

The now defunct Guidance for the Tier system suggested that the clinically extremely vulnerable would be treated in the same way as those who were shielding in Lockdown 1. This means that anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable and cannot work remotely, will be entitled to SSP. These employees should receive a letter confirming that they are deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable/shielding and you should ask for a copy of it as evidence to support a claim for SSP. It is likely that the Lockdown 3 Guidance will be the same.

You could also furlough an employee in the clinically extremely vulnerable category. Again we do not anticipate this changing.

What happens if an employee refuses to attend work because they are afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 particularly the new more transmissible strain?

An employee can refuse to attend work but their refusal to do so will have to be based on a reasonable belief that their health and safety is in danger.  Whether or not their refusal is reasonable will take into consideration factors such as the employee’s own health and whether they are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19 and the steps their employer has out in place to mitigate the danger of contracting Covid-19 at work.

In such circumstances where the employee’s belief is deemed to be reasonable, they will be entitled to stay at home and receive full pay.

If an employee is subsequently dismissed for refusing to attend work in these circumstances, they may be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.

What if an employee cannot work from home but is genuinely afraid of travelling / going into work – what options do I have?

There is less guidance in respect of whether an employee can refuse to go into the workplace as a result of health and safety concerns about their commute. An employer’s duties to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees only extend to the workplace or where an employee is acting in the course of their employment. This does not include the risks of travelling to and from work by public transport.

As there are various ways in which an employee can travel to work, it will be difficult for them to legitimately refuse to come to work due to their commute.  Employers should discuss any concerns with the employee and seek to find an appropriate resolution. The government has published guidance on safer travel for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic and employers should encourage flexibility as far as possible, such as allowing employees to travel at off-peak times and staggering workers’ hours.

If an employee refuses to come into work is their absence unauthorised and do I have to pay them?

This would depend on the reason as to why the employee is refusing to come into work. An unauthorised absence is where an employee fails to attend work and they do not have a statutory or contractual right, or their employer’s permission, to do so. An employer will not be obliged to pay employees their normal pay for periods of unauthorised absence.

There are some absences which may be viewed as authorised which would entitle the employee to their full pay. For instance, employees who believe that they are in serious and imminent danger by coming to work would be entitled to stay at home and receive pay if their belief is deemed reasonable.

An employer should always try to discuss any unauthorised absences with an employee. They may then consider whether to take disciplinary action against the employee.

What can I do as an employer if employees are known to be breaking the National Lockdown rules?

This will depend on the particular facts and the employee’s circumstances but an employee should co-operate with the employer so far as is necessary to enable compliance with any statutory duty or requirement relating to health and safety.

In addition, conduct outside of work can result in an employee’s dismissal if the conduct pertains to the employment relationship. If an employee breaches the lockdown rules and it affects their ability to work, such as it being no longer safe for them to attend work, or the reputation of the employer, these may be grounds for disciplinary action and subsequent dismissal.

How do I take “all reasonably practicable steps” to protect my employees during the coronavirus outbreak?

Follow up to date UK Government advice. This can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19

For best practice and more detailed information; consult the HSE’s website at https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm

Failing to follow the guidance is likely to be regarded as failing to take all reasonably practicable steps.

Do I need to do anything extra to safeguard my employee’s mental health during the Covid-19 outbreak?

Homeworking can cause work-related stress and affect people’s mental health and being away from managers and colleagues could make it difficult to get proper supervision and support.

Encourage your employees to keep in touch. Put procedures in place so you can keep in direct contact with home workers and can recognise signs of stress as early as possible. Use group chat and video chat tools imaginatively.

Have an emergency point of contact and share this so people know how to get help if they need it.

People are much more anxious than usual and may be less productive as a result – recognise this and try to be patient.

I have essential workers who do home visits. How do I assess the risks?

The fundamentals of risk assessment remain the same as for any other foreseeable risk.

Focus on risk controls which reflect Government guidance; social distancing (2 metres) and avoiding contact with occupiers if possible, high-quality PPE – disposable overalls, gloves and fluid repellent surgical face masks, ready access to antibacterial wipes for surfaces, tools and equipment and plentiful hand sanitizer.

What is the latest update from the Civil Court?

Almost two thirds of hearings conducted in the Civil Court will occur in person over the next few months as the Civil Court sees an influx in cases.

The Courts

In the Business & Property Courts, cases have been dealt with consistently since the start of the pandemic, except for trials that run for longer than 10 days in the Commercial & Admiralty Court. The Queen’s Bench Division and Administrative Court are also running as normal. If your case is listed for one of these courts, you do not need to be concerned that your case may take longer than anticipated, with conclusions still being reach at the normal rate.

Hearings

Since the start of the pandemic, most hearings have been conducted online through various platforms such as Skype for Business and Cloud Video Platform. The courts are of the view that remote hearings tend to take longer than those that are held in person. As a result, if your case is due to be held in person, the case may be heard in less time. HM Courts and Tribunals Service stated that:

Wherever possible we will look to facilitate face-to-face hearings, but our expectation is that remote hearings will continue to play an important role for the foreseeable future, given that social distancing will continue to limit courtroom capacity compared to pre-Covid levels.”

More courtrooms have become available since the start of the pandemic, resulting in more facilities for cases to be heard in person, which will have the aim of helping to rid of the backlog of cases, along with remote hearings being conducted too, which is a welcome step forward.

Approximately 300 additional support staff will be employed for remote hearings before the end of 2020, enabling better service with remote hearings. The Government has decided that some civil judges will have the option to extend operating hours for cases to be held in the evenings and on weekends too, which may be most suitable for small and fast-track claims, resulting in a potentially faster outcome. The efficiency of all the new measures are being monitored and changes are being implemented, such as increasing the capacity of the Small Claims Mediation Service.

Small Claims Mediation Service

With claims of a lower value, a high proportion of cases successfully settle outside of court, therefore, if you have a small claim, the mediation service may be suitable for your case. Mediation involves a trained impartial third party, with the parties to the case discuss the dispute with the assistance of the third party, aiming to reach a settlement. Now with the increased capacity, it may make the mediation service more accessible, meaning that an agreement can be reached more swiftly rather than waiting for the matter proceed to a hearing.

The courts have stated that:

We aim to increase capacity to accommodate 90% of parties who want mediation, rather than the current 40%. We are recruiting additional mediators and restructuring ways of working to achieve this.”

This is a positive shift for those with small and fast-track claims where legal costs ought to be kept to a minimum. Settling by mediation removes the need for trial costs, amongst other costs, and has additional benefits such as the matter being dealt with more amicably.

Can I require my staff to inform me should their circumstances be such that they need to self-isolate?

Yes.

Workers (and agency workers) who are aware of the requirement to self-isolate and are due to work during their isolation period at a place other than their designated place (see below) must, as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event before they are next due to start work within the isolation period, tell their employer that they are self-isolating, and set out the start and end dates of their isolation period.

Clear communication to all workers about their obligation to do this is strongly recommended.

Can I be fined for failing to take steps to try to ensure that my staff comply with the requirements to self-isolate?

Yes.

An employer which is aware that a worker or agency worker is or ought to be self-isolating, should not knowingly allow that worker or agency worker to leave the place that they are self-isolating in (“the designated place”).  To do so without reasonable excuse would amount to an offence which could result in the employer being issued with a fixed penalty notice.

The value of the fixed penalty varies depending on if it is the first or subsequent fixed penalty notice to be issued:

First fixed penalty notice £1,000
Second fixed penalty notice £2,000
Third fixed penalty notice £4,000
Fourth, and any subsequent fixed penalty notice £10,000
If a member of staff does not inform me that they ought to be self-isolating will I still be liable for a fine?

Potentially no.

If an employer is not put on notice that the circumstances of a worker or agency worker are such that they ought to be self-isolating, by either the worker or agency worker themselves or another member of staff, then there ought to be a reasonable excuse, and potentially, no fixed penalty notice will be issued.

What can I do as an employer if employees are known to be breaking the local lockdown rules?

This will depend on the particular facts and the employee’s circumstances but an employee should co-operate with the employer so far as is necessary to enable compliance with any statutory duty or requirement relating to health and safety.

In addition, conduct outside of work can result in an employee’s dismissal if the conduct pertains to the employment relationship. If an employee breaches their lockdown rules and it affects their ability to work, such as it being no longer safe for them to attend work, or the reputation of the employer, these may be grounds for disciplinary action and subsequent dismissal.

If an employee works with vulnerable people who are at high risk of catching coronavirus, can the employer require them to limit their activities outside of work?

It is unlikely that an employer can place such a requirement on staff without infringing the employee’s privacy. If the employee is acting in accordance with the rules, limiting their activity would likely be considered unreasonable.

If an employee has had a coronavirus test, can we require them to disclose evidence of their test results?

Obtaining an employee’s Covid-19 test result will amount to processing personal data for the purposes of the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) and information about an employee’s health is a special category of data (sensitive personal data under the Data Processing Act 2018 (DPA)).

In accordance with the GDPR and DPA, there must be lawful grounds for processing such information. Most employers rely on employees’ consent to obtain medical information and process sensitive personal data and if the employee is unwilling to give consent, you will not normally be entitled to the information.

Special category data can be processed lawfully if it is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the data controller. Employers may be able to require an employee to disclose their Covid-19 test if there is a substantial public interest, such as ensuring that the employee self-isolate if they have a positive test. However, there is a risk that this measure could be considered disproportionate particularly if it is enforced on all employees as a blanket measure.

What are the new rules about wearing face masks in the workplace?

The new rules for wearing face masks/face coverings in the workplace introduced on 23 September 2020 are as follows:

  • Staff in retail, including shops, supermarkets and shopping centres, will now have to wear a face covering
  • Staff in hospitality will now have to wear a face covering
  • Guidance stating that face coverings and visors should be worn in close contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, will now become law
  • Staff working on public transport and taxi drivers will continue to be advised to wear face coverings

You can take off your mask if:

  • You who need to eat, drink, or take medication
  • A police officer or other official asks you to
Who is liable to pay the fine for not wearing a face mask at work, the employer or the employee?

If an employee is required under government guidance to wear a face mask during the course of their employment and there is no applicable exemption, any fine issued would be payable by the employee, not the employer.

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask at work?

Those individuals who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, will continue to be exempt from the new rules. These include:

  • Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or disability
  • People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress
  • Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
As an employer, can I force employees to wear face masks at work?

An employer has a duty of care to its workforce and must take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. Employers also have a duty of care towards anyone entering or using their place of business, such as visiting clients or customers.

This means that if an employer reasonably believes that wearing face masks at work is appropriate and necessary, it can issue an instruction to employees to this effect and employees should abide by this as far as possible.

However employers should be cautious about introducing and enforcing a policy across its business which requires its staff to wear face masks as there is the risk of unlawfully discriminating against people who are exempt from wearing face coverings or have legitimate reasons for not doing so. An employer should also consider the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and discuss any concerns raised by employees who do not want to or feel unable to wear a mask.

If an employee refuses to wear a face mask at work, can I discipline or dismiss them?

In appropriate cases, disciplinary action and then dismissal may be fair if an employee refuses to wear a face covering in the workplace. For example, if this is in breach of the government guidance or if  employer has issued a reasonable management instruction to this effect due to an identified health and safety risk.

It is important that employers use a fair and reasonable procedure when deciding whether to discipline and/or dismiss an employee and that its actions does not unlawfully discriminate against employees who have legitimate reasons for not wearing masks, such as those individuals who have health conditions like asthma.

Can an employee in a public facing role refuse to interact with a customer who is not wearing a face mask?

In some circumstances, visitors and customers are required to wear face coverings, such as those travelling on public transport, shoppers and museum visitors. The government guidance states that:

  • businesses must remind people to wear face coverings where mandated; and
  • premises where face coverings are required should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law.

As part of their duty of care to employees and to uphold a relationship of mutual trust and confidence, employers should consider how employees can ensure that visitors and customers comply with the rules and provide their staff with guidance. They must also seek ways to protect their employees both from the risks of those customers not wearing face masks and potential abuse from customers or visitors who decline to wear a face covering. This may include having signs in place requiring customers and visitors to wear a mask and allowing staff to refuse to serve customers if they do not follow the rules.

However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the police, security and public transport officials to remove customers from premises where they are not complying with the rules on face coverings.

The police and Transport for London have been given greater powers by the government to take measures if the public do not comply with the law relating to face coverings without a valid exemption, such as refusing to wear a face covering. This includes issuing fines which have now been increased to £200 for the first offence (and £100 if paid within 14 days). Transport operators can also deny access to their public transport services if a passenger is not wearing a face covering, or direct them to wear one or leave a service.

What are the consequences of the shake up of the planning Use Class system?

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England Regulations) 2020 were laid before Parliament and come into force on 1 September 2020. They apply in England only.

The changes include the revocation of the following Use Classes;

  • A1 – shops
  • A2 – financial and professional services
  • A3 – restaurants and cafes
  • A4 – drinking establishments
  • A5 – hot food takeaways
  • B1 – business. Also revoked are the sub parts of B1;
    • B1(a) – offices
    • B1(b) – research and development of products and processes
    • B1(c ) – industrial process
  • D1 – non residential institutions
  • D2 – assembly and leisure

The changes include the amendment of the following Use Class;

  • B2 (industry)

The changes include the introduction of the following Use Classes;

  • E – commercial, business and service
  • F.1 – learning and non-residential institutions
  • F.2 – Local community

There are no changes to the following Use Classes;

  • C1 – hotels, boarding and guest houses
  • C2 – residential institutions
  • C3 – dwellinghouses
  • C4 – small HMO

From 1 September 2020;

  • Small retail shops (not more than 280 sq metres net sales area) selling essential goods including food and at least 1 kilometre from another shop will cease being an A1 use and will become a F.2 (local community) use;
  • Other A1 shops will become an E (commercial, business and service) use;
  • A2 uses will become an E (commercial, business and service) use;
  • A3 uses will become an E (commercial, business and service) use;
  • A4 uses will not be in a Use Class, they will be sui generis, ie not in any use class;
  • A5 uses will not be in a Use Class, they will be sui generis, ie not in any use class;
  • B1 uses (included B1(a), B1 (b) and B1 (c) will become an E (commercial, business and service) use;
  • B2 uses will either be B2 uses or will be Class E uses.
  • Clinics, health centres, creches, day nurseries and day centres (previously D1 uses) will become an E (commercial, business and service) use;
  • Schools, non residential education and training centres, museums, public libraries, public halls, exhibition halls, places of worship, law courts (previously D1 uses) will become an F.1 ( learning and non-residential institutions) use;
  • Cinemas, concert halls, live music performance venues, bingo halls and dance halls (previously D2 uses) and will be sui generis, ie not in any use class;
  • Gyms, indoor sport, recreation or fitness not involving motorised vehicles or firearms principally to visiting members of the public (previously D2 uses) will become an E (commercial, business and service) use;
  • Hall or meeting place for the principal use of the local community (previously D2 uses) will become an F.2 (local community) use;
  • Indoor or outdoor swimming baths, skating rinks, outdoor sports or recreation grounds (not involving motorised vehicles or firearms) (previously D2 uses) will become an F.2 (local community) use.

Changes of use within a Use Class do not constitute development. That being the case, provided the Order is applicable, its operation not having been restricted by planning condition, Agreement or Article 4 (1) Direction for example, planning permission would not be required, development as defined not happening.  If legally binding confirmation is required that planning permission is not required this can only be obtained by way of a successful application for a Certificate of Lawfulness. In the absence of such, there is some risk.

It remains the case that planning permission may be required for operational works to buildings. It also remains the case that other consents and permissions may be necessary for example licenses. Furthermore amendments to leases may be required if the property is rented.

The Regulations additionally include transitional arrangements because of permitted development rights for changes of use in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order amongst others.  To respond to this Regulations introduce a ‘material period’ which is defined as meaning the period beginning 1 September 2020 and ending 31 July 2021. It is expected during the material period the Orders giving permitted development rights for changes for use which do constitute development will be amended / updated to reflect the new use classes.

Click here to view the Regulations.

The above is based on our understanding of the new Regulations at the time of issue and in advance of planning practice guidance being issued.

VIDEO: SRA Standards and Regulations

Damien Charlton, Julie Huntingdon and Chris Hugill look at the SRA Standards and Regulations (STaRS) for solicitors which came into effect late 2019, and represented a whole new regulatory landscape for the legal profession. The enhanced reporting and transparency obligations have an important impact on in-house practice, so this webinar gives you the opportunity to reflect on how the new rules impact on in-house lawyers, in both your professional and personal lives.

This webinar is part of a series designed for in-house lawyers. If you would like to register to receive invitations to future events for in-house legal counsel, please email damien.charlton@wardhadaway.com.

Read more about this
VIDEO: Market outlooks – the before, during and after

At 10am on the 21st July, we hosted the fourth of our “in conversation…” webinars, this time featuring the ninth largest private bank in the world, Swiss-based Julius Baer. Ward Hadaway partner Emma Digby once again lead the conversation, this time with Luke Downes and Darren Hirst from their investment and relationship teams on “Market outlooks – the before, during and after”. They were joined by Andrew Evans from our private client team to feed in his perspective. This will be of interest to individuals who are thinking about investment portfolios and pension pots, but also businesses keen to see how investors are viewing their sectors, markets and customers.

Luke and Darren took us through how the markets looked pre-Covid, how they responded to the pandemic, and obviously most importantly what we might expect going forwards. They took a look at the sectors that are seeing the quickest bounce-back, discuss which countries are likely to be the most attractive for investors, and where the long term financial gains are expected to be. They also touched on that imminent event, shrouded in mist recently but no less significant – Brexit! What is the expected effect on the markets, and who are likely to be the winners and the losers?

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What is the new Permitted Development Right for the construction of new dwellinghouses?

A new Permitted Development Right has been introduced by The Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronovirus) Regulations 2020 providing for the construction of new dwellinghouses on detached blocks of flats.

The new Right comes into force on 1 August 2020 and from this date development consisting of works for the construction of up to two additional storeys of new dwellinghouses immediately above the existing topmost residential storey which is a purpose-built, detached block of flats is permitted development.  The Right additionally covers specified associated works, the construction of fire escapes and ancillary structures, bin stores for example.

The Right is subject to detailed criteria being met and to a prior approval process to the Local Planning Authority who can consider the acceptability of the proposed development in a range of respects.  A link to the Regulations is here.

The Regulations additionally include a number of further amendments including additional rights for the holding of markets and for additional temporary uses of land for a time limited period.  They additionally include amendments to existing permitted development rights for the change of use of buildings to dwellinghouses through a requirement that there be adequate natural light in all habitable rooms.

What was the purpose of the Chancellor’s economic update?

On Wednesday 8 July 2020 as part of a summer ‘mini-budget’, Rishi Sunak delivered the Government’s response to the threat to millions of jobs due to the existing furlough arrangements being wound down from August 2020 until it planned to close at the end of October 2020. In a wide-ranging speech to Parliament, the Chancellor announced a number of schemes to look to protect jobs beyond October 2020, in particular in certain sectors and for those aged 18-24. As the Government releases further information over the coming days and weeks, we will add to these FAQs.

Is there going to be any support after October 2020 for employers to try and protect jobs?

The Chancellor announced:

  • A new “job retention bonus” for employers to access for furloughed employees subject to certain conditions being met – see below for more information.
  • A “Kickstart scheme” which will directly pay employers to create jobs for any 16-24 year old at risk of long-term unemployment.
  • Incentives for employers to take on apprentices.

As a result of the CJRS being extended, the Job Retention Bonus will no longer be paid in February 2021.

What is the “Job Retention Bonus”?

As a result of the CJRS being extended, the Job Retention Bonus will no longer be paid in February 2021.

What is the government’s “Kickstart Scheme”?

This scheme is specifically aimed at creating jobs for 18-24 year olds who are on Universal Credit and considered most at risk of unemployment because of the economic downturn. The Government has announced that it will pay young people’s wages (equivalent to 100% the National Minimum Wage plus the associated National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions) for up to 6 months, and that this will amount to a grant worth approximately £6,500 per young person.

The jobs that are created must provide a minimum of 25 hours per week and be paid at a minimum of the National Minimum Wage The Chancellor announced that will be no cap on the number of jobs that will be funded under the Kickstart scheme.

What support did the Chancellor announce for employers to be attracted to take on apprentices?

The Chancellor announced that employers will be given £2,000 to employ apprentices and £1,500 for apprentices over the age of 25 for each apprentice they hire from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021. These payments will be in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the Government already provide for new 16-18 year old apprentices.

He also announced that employers would be given £1,000 for taking on trainees in response to the traineeship scheme being extended.