How do I remain compliant and cover any risk?
Data on properties, and people, has never been more important.
Given that compliance is at risk here, such a decision must be made by the Board to ensure good governance. Board approval should be sought and recorded for the approach the organisation is taking.
It is essential that you continue to record your data on compliance and report to your board at all times, and that there is a clear audit trail for issues with access, and if appropriate to the Regulator. Access issues as a result of self-isolation should be readily identifiable.
Operatives need to be provided with the tools to operate in as safe a way as possible:
- Checklist of questions to ascertain occupant’s current health
- Protective equipment (masks, gloves, over clothing)
The Gas Safe website is a useful resource for updates: https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/covid-19-advice-and-guidance/
To respond to the crisis businesses might need to exchange information to a greater extent than they would usually. They might need to discuss capacity and to coordinate supply chains (both upstream and downstream). They might need to purchase or sell jointly to ensure vital supplies are maintained. In general agreements or collaboration which:
- Avoid a shortage, or ensure security, of supply
- Ensure a fair distribution of scarce products
- Continue essential services
- Provide new services such as food delivery to vulnerable consumers
If changed circumstances mean that a business wants to exit from a contractual arrangement, then before trying to terminate it, a careful review should be carried out to see whether a right to terminate actually exists. For example:
- Not every contract for the sale of goods contains the right for the buyer to terminate in circumstances where the supplier hasn’t done anything wrong. If a business has entered into a contract on the supplier’s standard terms, it is unlikely to contain any such provision
- A contract for the provision of services is unlikely, if drafted by the customer, to contain a provision that allows the supplier to walk away from the arrangement at short notice, or perhaps at all
If a party tries to terminate a contract when it doesn’t have the right to do so, the other party will likely claim breach of contract and could sue for damages. In the case of a long term or high-value contract, this could amount to a very significant liability.
Even if the right to terminate the contract does exist, there might be particular rules about the following:
- How much notice has to be given
- How such notice has to be served (for example, it might have to be in writing to a particular address)
- When the notice can be served (perhaps on an anniversary of the start of the contract)
- How much a party has to pay if it cancels (for example, for raw materials, for work done to date, or even the whole contract price)
All of these factors must be taken into account, and any contractual processes for termination are followed.
The government released further clarification on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on 4 April. The wording referred to concerning public sector organisations and organisations receiving public funding remains the same.
The revised guidance does provide a helpful insight into how HMRC will deal with applications made to it for assistance under the scheme. It appears that there won’t be a particularly forensic approach adopted by HMRC. The guidance says you can furlough staff if you cannot maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by coronavirus.
It goes on to say that all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme and the government recognises different businesses/organisations will face different impacts from coronavirus. The need to demonstrate the impact of coronavirus on your business/organisation is not one of the criteria businesses/organisations are going to need to satisfy, so the government does not appear to intend to set a specific test to determine if a business/organisation is “severely impacted by coronavirus”. It is hoped that this should provide additional comfort to publicly funded organisations facing significant restrictions to their operations during the Covid-19 crisis.
The government has stated that the scheme will apply to apprentices and that they can continue to train whilst they are furloughed. However you must pay at least the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage, National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage for all periods of training during furlough leave, taking into account the rate increases from 1 April 2020 and the increases which will take effect from 1 April 2021. This means that you will be responsible for any shortfall in the amount claimed under the scheme and the appropriate minimum wage.
We recommend that you get in touch to discuss any queries on furloughing apprentices.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued a number of guidance documents about the application of competition law rules during the coronavirus outbreak. In general, the competition law rules are being relaxed in very specific circumstances.