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Can I argue that my contract has been frustrated?

It could be possible depending on your contract. If there is no force majeure clause in a contract, it may be possible that the contract may have been “frustrated” by emergency legislation. In legal terms, a contract can be frustrated where an event occurs after it is entered into which was not contemplated by any party at the outset, is not due to the fault of any party, and which makes the performance of the contract impossible.

If this is the case, the contract could be “discharged”, meaning that the parties’ obligations under the contract are no longer binding.

It is possible that a contract could be frustrated within this particular legal doctrine by a change in the law that makes performance of a contract illegal. However, if it simply becomes more difficult, or more expensive, then the legal tests for frustration might not be satisfied. There are also limits to the application of the rule if the frustrating event was already known about at the time the contracted was entered into.

Again, careful legal advice will be required at an early stage. The rules about force majeure or frustration might help businesses that find themselves unable to perform a contract because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Any new contracts that are concluded should expressly deal with the possibility that performance might become more difficult, more costly, or impossible to perform.

Related FAQs

What amount do you claim under the Flexible Furlough Scheme?

You will claim a pro rata’d amount of 80% of salary, based on the proportion of hours not worked out of the employee’s normal working hours (their “usual” hours).

There are 2 ways to calculate an employee’s usual hours, depending on whether they have fixed or variable hours/pay:

  • For those with fixed hours/pay, you take the number of hours worked in the pay period before 19 March 2020.
  • For those with variable hours/pay, you take the higher of:
  1. the average number of hours worked in the tax year 2019 to 2020 or
  2. the corresponding calendar period in the tax year 2019 to 2020.

If employees are paid per task or piece of work done, you should work out the usual hours for these employees in the same way as for other employees who work variable hours, if possible.

When you calculate the usual hours, you should include any hours of leave for which they were paid their full contracted rate (such as annual leave) and any hours worked as overtime (but only if the pay for those hours was not discretionary).

VIDEO: Managing your business's funding – Directors' responsibilities

Ward Hadaway in conversation with Begbies Traynor webinar was recorded on Tuesday 16th June.

The business spotlight is firmly on Directors. Difficult, sometimes drastic decisions need to be made in unprecedented times. But the consequences of those decisions have long shadows, and Directors need to consider their future position through the lens of their creditors, shareholders, funders, HMRC and even the courts.

In conversation with leading business rescue and recovery specialists, Begbies Traynor, we focused on the proactive approach Directors can take in these exceptionally challenging times. We discussed very practical advice about the quickest routes to funding, how to bolster cash flow, protecting the Board, and ultimately how to be proactive and in control of the process if you think there is no way back for your business as a result of the pandemic.

It is important to note that the changes to insolvency law currently before parliament only deal with wrongful trading – all other duties remain the same. So Directors must still ensure they are acting in the best interests of the company, its shareholders and creditors. In this context, the webinar discussed funding options for keeping a business solvent, and how to manage the process if this is not possible.

Ward Hadaway partner Emma Digby talked to fellow partner and insolvency specialist Jane Garvin and Kris Wigfield and Matthew Cluer from Begbies Traynor about these issues.

This webinar is the first of our Yorkshire “In conversations with…” where we explore with other experts how businesses can get on the front foot in #gettingbacktobusiness.

VIDEO: Redundancy exercises in the new normal – what should we do differently?

Following our webinars on all aspects of furlough and alternatives to redundancy, it is an unfortunate fact that a number of organisations are likely, sooner or later, to be forced to make some employees redundant.

Our employment experts Jamie Gamble and Roisin Patton take you through the key aspects of conducting cost reduction redundancies, but with a focus on aspects that make this exercise different this time. For instance:

  • How are you going to conduct sensitive meetings remotely?
  • How are you going to ensure that dismissing any furloughed staff will be fair? You may have furloughed at speed, but redundancy selection criteria cannot be defined by such factors.
  • Will you use this time to review your selection criteria if you already have some in place?
  • How will you deal with individuals who are shielding, have child care issues or are pregnant?
  • How do you ensure this is all done sensitively and fairly for those roles that are being made redundant, but also for those who continue to work for you but are still isolated on furlough or working from home?
  • And what are the risks for making redundancies in this “new normal”?

Although you may be perfectly familiar with redundancy exercises these are far from normal times and it is therefore worth pausing to think about the impact that Covid-19 might have and what else you need to think about or plan for.

The webinar was recorded on Thursday 2nd July.

 

What has been the response from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)?

The CMA is the government body that is responsible for protecting consumers from unfair trading practices. It has announced programme of work to investigate reports of businesses failing to respect cancellation rights during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Based on the complaints received by them from consumers, the CMA has identified three sectors of particular concern:

  • Weddings and private events
  • Holiday accommodation
  • Nurseries and childcare providers

The CMA has expressed concern about the number of complaints that it has received about businesses seeking to retain deposits for cancelled events, undue restrictions being placed on use of vouchers provided for cancelled bookings, and payments being demanded to hold open nursery places.

The CMA has said it will prioritise investigation of these sectors, and then move on to other sectors.

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.