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What does this mean for my business?

The guidance is helpful and is likely to be useful to businesses as they seek to respond to the crisis and to restart their business activities as lockdown is eased. However, there remain outstanding questions. For example, can collaboration to prevent widespread insolvencies be viewed as in the interest of consumers? Businesses need to remain aware of the extremely high stakes involved in relation to competition law. Businesses contemplating collaboration with competitors should take legal advice before doing so.

Related FAQs

What should I do if I think this is relevant to my contracts?

It would be prudent to take legal advice early in relation to any issue you foresee in performing a contract. This will allow you to:

  • Ensure that initial contact with your counterparty is framed in the correct way
  • Ensure that any variations are fully documented so that both parties are fully protected
The employee I need to consider suspending is a doctor – do I have to follow MHPS

Yes probably in our opinion, even if you are not considering taking any formal action against them. Ultimately if a doctor is suspended this could be considered as causing them reputational damage and it therefore is correct that they are afforded the protections (in particular in relation to keeping exclusion/suspension under review) of MHPS. Under Part V of MHPS there is provision for excluding practitioners if they are a danger to patients and they refuse to recognise it or if they refuse to co-operate. It doesn’t refer to a particular risk for the practitioner themselves, but it would appear logical that it would apply.

Where can I find more Companies House guidance?

Companies House guidance on the impact of coronavirus on their services can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-guidance-for-companies-house-customers-employees-and-suppliers

This flexibility offered by Companies House could be a useful short-term help to businesses that are struggling to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, but be sure to take action in advance of your filing deadline.

Should I stop paying my commercial rent?

Commercial leases generally prevent a tenant from withholding payments of rent. If a tenant stops paying rent there will be a breach of the tenant’s covenant to pay rent which, strictly speaking, will entitle the landlord to forfeit the lease and/or seek to recover the arrears in the courts. 

However, on 23 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that all commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland missing rent payments are to benefit from a government ban on forfeiture of their lease. This change, which will prevent landlords from terminating leases and evicting commercial tenants, is included in the Coronavirus Bill. It will come into force very shortly (once the Coronavirus Bill receives Royal Assent, which is expected to be in a matter of days) and will last until 30 June 2020, with an option for the government to extend this deadline.

It is anticipated that many commercial tenants will take advantage of the reprieve and withhold their rent. Importantly note the 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.

It is also important to note however that the protection offered by the government is from the threat of forfeiture should tenants withhold rental payments. The liability to pay the rent however remains an interest on unpaid rents will accrue. Furthermore, remedies other than forfeiture may be pursued by the landlord e.g. service of a statutory demand before insolvency or ordinary litigation proceedings for arrears etc.. Tenants then ideally should look to reschedule or suspend rental payment through discussions with their landlord.       

The advantage of this being you might be able to negotiate a sensible and manageable repayment program in respect of the suspended rent, free of the threat of litigation.

What if the status determination is disputed?

You should have in place a dispute resolution procedure that sets out the appeal process or contractors or the agency as appropriate. You must respond to an appeal within 45 days.

If the status determination is disputed you should consider the contractor or agency’s reasons objections. You must consider if the original determination is to be maintained and give reasons for this. Or a new determination with reasons can be provided if appropriate.

Records of disputed determinations and the outcome of any appeal should be kept.