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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.

Related FAQs

I’m a housing provider. How do I continue to manage disrepair during the coronavirus outbreak?

The practicalities and processes regarding disrepair claims will undoubtedly be affected. Housing providers will have to adopt a risk-based approach and consider government guidance to handle claims going forward. Key points to consider are:

  • Compliance with the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims (particularly disclosure)
  • The practicalities of inspection
  • Non-urgent repairs
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What are the early warning signs that a contractor may be in financial difficulty?

As the project progresses, it is important to continually monitor the contractor’s performance.  Any one or more of the items below can be early warning signs that the contractor is in financial difficulty, and that further actions may be necessary:

  • Decrease in labour or contractor’s personnel on site, and/or rapid turnover of contractor’s personnel
  • Slowdown in progress on site
  • Plant, equipment or materials suddenly disappearing from site for no apparent reason – unpaid subcontractors may unilaterally decide to remove items from site regardless of their contractual rights to do so
  • An increasing number of defects and reduction in the quality of the contractor’s work
  • The contractor seeking changes in the payment arrangements, and in particular early payments
  • The contractor making spurious claims or contra charges
  • The contractor seeking assignment of its benefit of the building contract
  • Late filing of accounts by the contractor at Companies House
  • Unsatisfied court judgements against the contractor
  • Subcontractors and suppliers not being paid or being paid late
  • Rumours in the press, in the industry, on site or elsewhere regarding the solvency of the contractor
  • Unusual visits to site, for example from the contractor’s senior management or other personnel who had not previously been present or are not expected to be present
  • Increasingly aggressive behaviour by the contractor
  • The contractor’s parent company or another company within the contractor’s group displaying any of the above signs
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What is the guidance in relation to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The Department of Health & Social Care has published guidance for hospitals, care homes and supervisory bodies on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) during the coronavirus pandemic.

In many scenarios created or affected by the pandemic, decision makers in hospitals and care homes will need to decide:

  • if new arrangements constitute a ‘deprivation of liberty’ (most will not), and
  • if the new measures do amount to a deprivation of liberty, whether a new DoLS authorisation will be required (in most cases it will not be).

If a new authorisation is required, decision makers should follow their usual DoLS processes, including those for urgent authorisations.

A summary of the key points to be taken from the guidance is outlined below:

Use of the MCA and DoLS due to Covid-19

  • During the pandemic, the principles of the MCA and the safeguards provided by DoLS still apply.
  • It may be necessary to change the usual care and treatment arrangements, for example to provide treatment for people with Covid-19, to move them to a new hospital or care home to better utilise resources or to protect them from becoming infected.
  • All decision makers are responsible for implementing the emergency Government health advice  and any decision made under the MCA must be made in relation to a particular individual, it cannot be made in relation to groups of people.

Best interest decisions

  • In many cases, a best interests decision will be sufficient to provide the necessary care and treatment for a person who lacks the capacity to consent to the care and/or treatment arrangements during this emergency period.
  • If an individual has made a valid and applicable advance decision to refuse the treatment in question, then the relevant treatment, even for Covid-19, cannot be provided.

Delivering life-saving treatment

  • Where life-saving treatment is being provided in care homes or hospitals, including for the treatment of Covid-19, then the person will not be deprived of liberty as long as the treatment is the same as would normally be given to any person without a mental disorder.
  • The DoLS will therefore not apply to the vast majority of patients who need life-saving treatment who lack the mental capacity to consent to that treatment, including treatment to prevent the deterioration of a person with Covid-19.

The full guidance can be found here.

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Can directors, partners or those working under umbrella companies be furloughed?

Yes. The updated government guidance has confirmed that office holders (including company directors), salaried members of Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) individuals working under umbrella companies (including agency workers) and individuals who are classified as ‘workers’ rather than employees can be furloughed but only to the extent that they are paid via PAYE. Therefore director’s fees can be claimed (subject to the cap) but dividends are excluded, as are bonuses and commission payments.

Those who are paid annual are now eligible to make a claim, subject to meeting the remaining requirements. This includes being notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 19 March 2020 which relates to a payment of earnings in the 19/20 tax year.

The decision to furlough a director or office holder should be adopted as a formal decision of the company or LLP which should be minuted and notified in writing.

Company directors can only undertake work to fulfil a duty or other obligation arising from an Act of Parliament relating to the filing of company accounts or provision of other information relating to the administration of the director’s company while furloughed and they cannot carry out work that would generate revenue or perform services to or on behalf of their company. This also applies to salaried individuals who are directors of their own personal service company (PSC).

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VIDEO EXPLAINER: Removing healthcare workers from the front line – the dos and don'ts

Specialist healthcare lawyers from Ward Hadaway ran a free webinar looking at the practical and legal considerations if required to treat healthcare workers from a BAME background or other vulnerable groups differently in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

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