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Can I still take legal action to recover money that is owed to the business?

You will need to check the terms of the contract you have with the debtor to make sure you are still entitled to be paid (including checking any force majeure clause).

It is also important to remember that the current exceptional circumstances might also affect your contractual rights in other ways too – please see our commercial & contracts site for more information.

Depending on the type of debt you are owed, there might be some additional restrictions in place that you will need to consider. For example there are certain restrictions on landlords being able to forfeit leases, evict tenants or send High Court Enforcement Officers to collect outstanding rent.

Assuming there are no sector-specific restrictions in place then you should be able to start county or high court proceedings to recover the debt.

As an alternative to starting court proceedings, if the debt is undisputed a creditor can usually opt to issue winding up proceedings against a debtor instead. However, the recently introduced Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act introduces a temporary suspension on the ability of creditors to present winding up petitions to recover money unless the reason why the debtor cannot pay is not related to covid-19. For more information click here.

Often taking firm action is the right thing to do, particularly given that it is a sad reality that it is the creditor who shouts the loudest that will often get paid first. However, one important consideration is the commercial reality that many businesses (and indeed individuals) now find themselves in.

Whether taking legal action is likely to result in payment is always a question any creditor should ask themselves. Some creditors might also want to try to support their customers during these difficult times and/or have concerns about their long term reputation if they pursue the debt too aggressively. However, even if that is the case it is still possible to engage constructively and positively with those who owe you money to try to reach the best possible outcome. This could include:

  • Having clear and consistent credit control processes in place
  • Obtaining statements of means to help understand what a debtor can afford to pay
  • Agreeing realistic payment plans
  • Negotiating formal payment holidays
  • Putting in place voluntary security to secure the debt
  • Identifying those debtors who can’t pay as opposed to won’t pay and targeting resources accordingly
  • Looking at what other options might be available, including recovering under parent company guarantees

Related FAQs

Who decides on carrying-over holiday entitlement?

The Regulations do not require any prior agreement between an employer and employee that it was not reasonably practicable for holiday to be taken for it to be carried over.

However, if an employee requests holiday then an employer must have ‘good reason’ for refusing it due to coronavirus. The term ‘good reason’ is not defined so the Government will expect employers, employees and (if necessary on any dispute) the Courts to apply common sense.

The Regulations are not confined to key workers so could, in principle, be used by employers for a wider range of employees.

The Government guidance suggests that the following factors should be taken into account when considering whether it was reasonably practicable to take the leave in the relevant year:

  • Whether the business has faced a significant increase in demand due to COVID-19 that would reasonably require the worker to continue to be at work and cannot be met through alternative practical measures.
  • The extent to which the business’ workforce is disrupted by COVID-19 and the practical options available to the business to provide temporary cover of essential activities.
  • The health of the worker and how soon they need to take a period of rest and relaxation.
  • The length of time remaining in the worker’s leave year.
  • The extent to which the worker taking leave would impact on wider society’s response to, and recovery from, the effects of COVID-19.
  • The ability of the remainder of the available workforce to provide cover for the worker going on leave.
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.

Given the recent decline in financial performance, the business is now in breach of its covenants with the bank. Should we be concerned?

That will depend on the terms of your facility and the stance taken by your bank.

Banking facilities often place obligations on businesses to stick to certain financial criteria. For example, an obligation to keep turnover or profit above certain levels or a commitment to keep the bank’s exposure within an agreed percentage of the value of the company’s assets (known as loan to value ratio).

The consequences of breaching those covenants will depend on the terms of your facility, but normally this amounts to an event of default. Events of default can result in the loan (or whatever form the facility takes) becoming repayable and could give the bank certain powers to take action to recover the money that they are owed.

Whether the bank will take action during these unprecedented times is another matter, particularly given the extent of support being offered to businesses via mainstream lenders and the political desire to keep viable businesses up and running. Lenders themselves will no doubt wish to remain supportive where possible. The underlying performance of the business (and whether but for the effects of Covid-19 it would have been in a healthy financial position), the relationship you have with the bank and your history with them will no doubt be relevant to the approach taken by the bank. However, early engagement with your bank (as well as other key stakeholders in the business) will be important.

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.

Who do you have to inform and consult?

The duty is to inform and consult appropriate representatives of the “affected employees”.

Note that the term “affected employees” means those who may be “affected by the proposed dismissals or who may be affected by measures taken in connection with those dismissals”. The term extends beyond those immediately at risk of dismissal to include those affected by measures associated with the redundancies.

“Appropriate representatives” can be:

  • The Trade Union (if recognised)
  • (For any roles not covered by collective recognition) any existing standing body of elected or appointed employee representatives (if already in place)
  • Employee representatives, who are elected specifically for redundancy consultation