Is it legally enforceable?
The guidance is non-statutory and is not binding on business. However, businesses should be aware that there might be reputational consequences if they do not follow the guidance; we have already seen in the context of taking advantage of furlough funding that not being in breach of the law is no protection against negative publicity. Further to the extent a contract expressly requires parties to act reasonably, it could be expected that this guidance is one of the factors a court would consider in determining what is reasonable.
Directors of a company that is in, or potentially facing, financial difficulty have a duty to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole. Failure to comply with that duty can have consequences for directors (including personal liability and disqualification if directors get it wrong).
The duty to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole begins when the company is (or in some cases is potentially or at risk of becoming) insolvent i.e. its assets are worth less than its liabilities and/or the business is unable to pay its liabilities as and when they fall due. However, just because a company is insolvent doesn’t always necessarily mean than an insolvency process is inevitable. Sometimes, the insolvency might just be caused by a temporary cashflow problem or perhaps wider problems in the business that can be overcome by making changes to the business itself.
In addition to that, the potential liability of directors ramps up even further when the company reaches the stage that the directors have concluded (or ought to have concluded) that there was no reasonable prospect of the business avoiding liquidation or administration. If the business reaches that stage, in addition to having to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole, directors can find themselves personally liable unless, from the time the directors ought to have reached that conclusion, they took every step that they ought to have done to minimise the loss to creditors. This is known as wrongful trading.
On the 25th June 2020, the government introduced new legislation – the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 – which includes measures to temporarily relax the rules around wrongful trading with the proposed changes to take effect retrospectively from the 1st March 2020. Essentially, the changes say that any court looking at a potential wrongful trading claim against a director is to assume that the director is not responsible for worsening the company’s financial position between 1st March 2020 and the 30th September 2020. Whilst the wrongful trading rules have relaxed, directors still need to proceed with caution if the business is potentially insolvent as the new Act does alter other potential pitfalls for directors, like the risk of breaching their duties or allowing the company to enter into transactions that can potentially be challenged.
The support being offered by the government is potentially a lifeline for businesses under pressure through no fault of their own, but notwithstanding the recent changes to the wrongful trading rules it is still likely to be important for the board to carefully consider whether it is appropriate to make use of the loans, grants and tax forbearance that are on offer.
Exactly what the board should consider will vary from business to business and getting it right can sometimes involve balancing several different (and at times conflicting) priorities, challenges and concerns.
The end user client will be responsible for assessing if the contractor is employed or self-employed for tax purposes. It is required to take reasonable care in carrying out the assessments.
When an assessment is carried out the outcome must be confirmed to the contractor with accompanying reasons in a Status Determination Statement (SDS). This SDS must be provided to the contractor before making payment to them. It must also be provided to the agency if there is one in the chain (more on this later).
The end user client must have a dispute resolution procedure to enable to the contractor or agency to appeal the assessment outcome.
The best advice is that parties should proceed as they would have done before the crisis began.
We have teamed up with Scaleup North East to help companies impacted by the coronavirus outbreak plan how to get back to business.
Our specialist lawyers will provide a free “diagnostic” call with eligible businesses across the NE, exploring challenges they are facing in the aftermath of the lockdown, and identify specific steps to survive, and then thrive, in these challenging times and beyond.
Through the collaboration with Scaleup North East, eligible North East-based SMEs are then able to apply for up to 40% funding towards up to £4,000 of legal advice.
These might include:
- Employment issues, such as dealing with a phased return to work
- Measures to support cash-flow, such as amendment to terms of trading and debt collection procedures
- Renegotiations and amendments to contracts, and other advice about contracts with suppliers and customers to deal with consequences of Covid-19
- Managing property costs – review of leases, advice on break clauses and formalisation of any revised arrangements recently put in place with landlords/tenants
- Health and safety implications of return to work and social distancing
Find out more on our website or contact partner Damien Charlton. If you are not eligible because of location but are interested in the free “diagnostic”, please contact us.
On 18 April 2020, it was announced that an exception to the current stay in possession proceedings and ban on all evictions has been made to allow possession orders to be made against trespassers.
This means land owners can take action to remove unauthorised persons occupying their land. Trespassers include: squatters; travellers; failed successors of secure tenancies; and licensees whose licences have been terminated.
Further, the automatic stay to possession proceedings currently imposed no longer applies to applications for interim possession orders meaning any persons found to be “squatting” on land without permission may again be subject to an order requiring them to leave your premises within 24 hours of service of that order.