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Can I ask for relief from KPIs or service credits under a contract with a public sector body if the Covid-19 outbreak means that I am having difficulty in performing it?

The Cabinet Office has published a useful Procurement Policy Note (“PPN”) on relief available to suppliers due to Covid-19 (available here). In brief, you should not be penalised by a public sector body, if, in the current circumstances, you are unable to comply (fully or partly) with your contractual obligations. Public sector bodies are expected to work with suppliers and, if appropriate, provide relief against current contractual terms. This is in order to maintain business and service continuity and avoid claims being accepted for other forms of contractual relief, such as the occurrence of a force majeure event.

The types of relief that may be available to suppliers to the public sector will depend on the existing contracts in place. Some contracts may have a payments by result mechanism, whereas others may be based on certain key performance indicators (KPIs) being met. Other contracts may not include any such mechanisms and therefore it will be a matter for discussion between suppliers and the public sector body.

The PPN provides that, rather than a supplier seeking to invoke a clause that would permit the supplier to suspend performance of its obligations (such as a force majeure clause), public sector bodies should first work with the supplier to amend or vary the contract. Any changes should be limited to the particular circumstances and considered on a case-by-case basis. Changes could include:

  • Amending the contract requirements
  • Varying timings of deliveries
  • Relaxing KPIs or service levels
  • Extending time for performance (e.g. revising a contract delivery plan), and/or
  • Preventing the public sector from exercising any rights or remedies against the supplier for non-performance (e.g. liquidated damages or termination rights).

These should only be temporary variations and the contract should return to the original terms once the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the contract has ended. Discussions with the public sector body about any changes that are agreed should be documented, in a variation signed by both parties.

A public sector may also need to take account of regulation 72 of the Public Contract Regulations 2015, to ensure that any changes to a contract (even of a temporary nature) do not trigger a requirement to conduct a new tender process. Whilst this may be unlikely to be the case with temporary variations, suppliers should still bear this in mind when discussing any changes to a contract with a public sector body.

If you are a supplier to a public sector body and you are currently struggling to meet your contractual obligations, we recommend that you take legal advice as to whether it might be possible to take advantage of the flexible approach that the PPN requires public sector bodies to adopt – it could be that you can avoid service credits or other financial deductions, or the need to serve formal notices such as “force majeure” or other relief notices.

 

 

Related FAQs

In a situation where a building has a B1 EWS1 rating but the insurance companies are either refusing to quote or saying the cladding is a fire risk (due to the result of the intrusive survey for the EWS1 rating) and quadrupling insurance premium, is there anything that will help with this situation in the Building Safety Act or the secondary regulations when they come in or do you think it is something case law will have to address?

The amount an insurer charges for providing cover is a critical aspect of the underwriting process. The premium must be sufficient to cover expected claims but must also take into account the possibility that the insurer will have to access its capital reserve –it is risk assessment based and the greater the risk, the higher the premium. Historically, insurers of high-rise buildings would have only had to prepare for a loss caused by damage to just a few flats within a building. That is because the design and construction of that building, with the right materials and fire safety provisions in place, should have limited the spread of fire and allowed the damage to be contained –or at least make this an extremely low risk. Now we know that many buildings have been designed, built and signed off in a regulatory system that an independent Government review has found was not fit for purpose. Premiums will reduce overtime but will be dependent upon the perceived level of risk reducing as the regulatory regime, BSA and BSR become more established.

What is the reaction to the funding?

The reaction from NCVO is that this is an important first step.  However, it will not stop well run charities from closing and others will look very different in a few months’ time.

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).

What happens if a patient is admitted to critical care during the pandemic?
  • On admission to critical care, the risks, benefits and likely outcomes of the different treatment options should be discussed with patients, families and carers so they can make informed decisions about their treatment wherever possible.
  • A member of the critical care team should be involved in these discussions whenever the patient or team needs advice about critical care to make decisions about treatment.
Can NHS or local authority workers be furloughed?

It is envisaged that employees of organisations falling into the first two categories set out above and won’t be eligible for the job retention scheme in relation to the majority of their employees. It is envisaged that NHS Trusts for example are going to require their staff to be working at full capacity where possible. However, the guidance doesn’t definitely exclude public sector organisations from furloughing employees and notably the government expects such organisations to use public money to continue to pay staff and not furlough them, rather than say requires. In reality, it is difficult to see how such an organisation will be able to rely on the scheme, but the guidance doesn’t completely rule it out.