VIDEO: Force majeure during the coronavirus pandemic
Commercial partner Damien Charlton explains the basic principles of force majeure, and how they are relevant in the current extreme circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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.
It remains the case that anyone who has symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms, should not leave their house to go to work. Those people should self-isolate, as should those in their households.
Given the impact the Coronavirus is going to have upon the commercial property market, landlords will undoubtedly, as a matter of good commercial sense, will have to seriously entertain approaches from tenants seeking a rent suspension – notwithstanding there is no entitlement to the same under their lease.
Some landlords may decide it is better to waive or suspend rental payments over the short term rather than face their tenants going out of business and leaving them with an empty building in a flat or dead market.
A measure falling short of a rent suspension would be for the tenants to negotiate with their landlord’s monthly payments of rent rather than quarterly and for those monthly payments to be in payments arrears, rather than in advance.
- It is important to have a clear paper trail for any agreed reduction in salary, and hence any reduction in the amount of contributions. However, the contribution rates (as opposed to the amounts) should be the same as normal, and hence all processes and software should function as per normal and, amongst other things, remain compliant with auto-enrolment employer duties.
- However, if the period of affected contributions does not overlap precisely with the period of reduced salary, for example because of different cut-off dates, there may well be instances of non-compliance with auto-enrolment employer duties at the beginning as well as at the end of the period covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
- Accordingly, where an employer takes advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, good communication with the persons responsible for pensions administration and detailed record-keeping are essential to prevent non-compliances in the short-term and confusion in the long term.