I work in construction. Should construction sites continue to operate?
The formal Government position relating to construction sites is that construction work should continue on site if it can be conducted safely, and the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, has written an open letter to the UK Construction Industry thanking it for all its help in the current crisis. The letter also confirms the Government’s current official policy of keeping construction sites open. The full text of the letter can be downloaded.
This also remains the formal position of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) with the qualification that sites should operate in accordance with Public Health England instructions; without compromising health and safety; and in accordance with the Site Operating Procedures issued last week by the CLC.
In practice, many construction sites have been closed by national developers and house builders due to difficulties with staffing and supply chain, and practical issues with compliance with the social distancing and site operating procedures.
The Scottish Government has recently issued guidance that all non-essential construction sites, which includes housing, office, leisure, schools and retail sites, must close to reduce the risk of the spread of Covid-19.
The CMA is particularly concerned about certain activities, its guidance highlights:
- Exchange of commercially sensitive information where this is not necessary in response to the crisis
- Collaboration which unfairly excludes third parties
- Abuse of a dominant position (including a dominant position held as a result of the crisis) – particularly to charge excessive prices
- Seeking to maintain prices or prevent reductions in prices
- Cooperation going beyond what is necessary to respond to the crisis in the interests of consumers
- Yes, and this includes furloughed employees under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
- Employers must continue to assess their new employees or newly eligible existing employees and enrol them where required, but can make use of the statutory postponement procedure which allows them to delay for up to three months the assessment of new employees for the purpose of enrolment (see further details here on the Pensions Regulator’s website). Declarations of compliance for new employers must still be completed in the normal way.
- Postponement cannot be used for re-enrolment. The Regulator recommends employers use the re-enrolment date tool on the Regulator’s website to choose a date up to three months after the third anniversary of enrolment to assess staff for re-enrolment. Further information about employers’ obligations about reenrolment from the Pensions Regulator can be found here. Re-declarations of compliance for new employers must still be completed in the normal way.
Many policies will only provide business interruption cover if it arises from property damage. The FCA has acknowledged that insurers are entitled to reject claims in relation to such policies, notwithstanding the success of the FCA’s test case in the Supreme Court, and which was generally favourable to policyholders [Insert a link here to our update on the test case]. In other cases the policy wording will be less clear and businesses may legitimately feel that their insurer is wrongly withholding payment.
One route of challenge to an insurer’s decision is via one of the well-publicised class actions. Another route of challenge is by a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). This service is open to consumers and small and medium-sized businesses, ‘micro-enterprises’, charities and trusts. The service will be an attractive option for many businesses, as it is free and relatively quick (although it remains to be seen how the service keeps up with an increase in demand as a result of the pandemic). You will need to have complained to your insurer before bringing a complaint with the FOS.
Further details can be found here.
As part of the Coronavirus Bill there is some good news for tenants in so far as it included the following:
- All commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland missing rent payments are to benefit from a government ban on forfeiture of their lease.
- Landlords then will be prevented from terminating leases and “evicting” commercial tenants.
- The above provisions rules will apply not only to principal rent, but to “any sum a tenant is required to pay”, leaving the burden of supplying services and insuring the premises on landlords. The bill will last until 30 June 2020, with an option for the government to extend this deadline.
Whist this is helpful to any Tenant planning not to pay rent or other payments due under their lease insofar as they will not suffer forfeiture and be evicted, it should be noted that the contractual obligation to continue paying rent and all other costs due under the lease remains and Landlords will still be able to take action to recover any payments due under the lease that are in arrears.
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.