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What is available to stop creditors taking action against the company to recover debts during the current crisis?

The government has announced a number of measures to try to protect businesses during the current period of uncertainty. However there is no outright ban on creditors being able to take legal action to recover money they are owed, though there are temporary restrictions on some forms of legal action, like winding up petitions.

However, it is important to note that these measures only relate to winding up proceedings. Creditors will still be free to commence county court claims.

The new Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 brings in a new “moratorium” procedure. Businesses in financial difficulty that are viable and can be rescued will now be able to work with an insolvency practitioner to obtain at least 20 business days’ breathing space from creditors to allow the business to formulate a plan to deal with its financial problems.

For more information on the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, click here

As part of the raft of measures put forward by the government over recent months, there are also restrictions on landlords taking action to evict commercial tenants who miss rent payments. Various payment holidays and forbearance have been put in place in respect of certain tax liabilities and some business rates.

If your business is going to go into an insolvency process like administration or a company voluntary arrangement, there is the ability to obtain a freeze on creditors taking action whilst those procedures are put in place. However, these sorts of moratoriums will not be available to everyone and in any event not unless an insolvency process is being instigated.

Regardless of whether a business has formal protection from creditors or not, engagement with creditors and trying to reach agreement with them to deal with the debt is therefore vital. Much of the protection measures that the Government has introduced like curbing the ability of landlords to evict a commercial tenant, do not wipe out the debt. They simply prevent action being taken or a payment becoming due for a short time. All businesses should use that time to consider how those debts can be dealt with and engage with the relevant stakeholders sooner rather than later.

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Other considerations – the mental health and wellbeing of BAME staff and others

Undeniably and understandably BAME staff, as well as those staff who are identified as being at a higher risk, are going to have high levels of stress and anxiety. For some, this may become of such severity that those staff should be considered to be disabled under the Equality Act 2010. The question as to whether someone is disabled is one that should be answered in conjunction with appropriate medical advice. But the question about how to support any staff suffering with stress and anxiety should not be left until that stage. Proactive steps need to be taken and expert advice obtained on what support measures should be put in place. We know that many NHS organisations are already giving the mental wellbeing of their staff the highest priority.

From our perspective, we would ask managers to be mindful that stress and anxiety is likely to feature in how an individual reacts to questions about the level of risk to their health and the impact on their duties. The conversations with some staff may not be easy to have and may be met with challenge.

For those staff who’s stress and anxiety is such that it would qualify as a disability, reasonable  adjustments will need to be considered to the processes that you are applying.

An additional point to consider – it might be worth writing to all staff, asking them to come forward if they have any health conditions that they think you ought to be aware of, assuring them that such information is being given in the strictest confidence. You want to make sure that you are taking the appropriate measures to ensure their health and safety.

Will councillors still be able to vote if they can’t meet in person?

Local government legislation formerly stipulated that councillors must be physically present to vote and this requirement has already led to the widespread cancellation of Council meetings.  There is a limit to what can be achieved under the chair’s emergency powers and delegation to officers.

The Government has now legislated to allow for remote voting until 7 May 2021. The secondary legislation required was issued in draft on 2 April and has been in force since Saturday 4 April.

The legislation allows for committee meetings to go ahead where members and any members of the public attending remotely can all times “hear (and where possible see) and be heard (and where possible be seen) by the other members in attendance”.

It remains to be seen how many local authorities take up the opportunity to hold a virtual committee meeting. Concern has been expressed that the demographic of local councillors may mean that members have difficulty with the technological mechanisms for holding such meetings. However, the message from the Secretary of State is clear that wherever possible, the planning system should keep moving in these current times.

What will happen with inquests during the coronavirus outbreak?

The Chief Coroner adopts the approach taken by the Lord Chief Justice in that no physical hearing should take place unless it is urgent and essential business, and it is safe for all involved. If a hearing is to take place, social distancing must be maintained. All hearings that can take place remotely should do so, if it is not possible for social distancing requirements to be met. The expectation is that some hearings will go ahead, most notably Rule 23 hearings. Coroners are reminded that they must however conduct any remote hearings from a court. Decisions as to the most appropriate approach will be left to the senior coroner in that jurisdiction.

As we have already seen, some inquests will be adjourned, most notably those with multiple witnesses and/or a jury.

The guidance stresses the need, when dealing with medical professionals, for coroners to recognise their primary clinical commitments, particularly in these high-pressured times. This could mean avoiding or deferring requests for lengthy reports/ statements and accommodating clinical commitments if clinicians are called as witnesses.

The guidance encourages proactive reviews of outstanding responses to Prevention of Future Death reports and extending timescales for Trusts to respond.

Is there going to be any support after October 2020 for employers to try and protect jobs?

The Chancellor announced:

  • A new “job retention bonus” for employers to access for furloughed employees subject to certain conditions being met – see below for more information.
  • A “Kickstart scheme” which will directly pay employers to create jobs for any 16-24 year old at risk of long-term unemployment.
  • Incentives for employers to take on apprentices.

As a result of the CJRS being extended, the Job Retention Bonus will no longer be paid in February 2021.

Does a sponsor need to report a change in workplace if a Tier 2 visa holder is working from home as a result of Covid-19?

No. The Home Office has confirmed that sponsors do not need to report sponsored workers as working from home, where this is directly related to the coronavirus outbreak.

However any UK employers who sponsor overseas workers, should also ensure that they remain compliant with their other sponsor licence duties, which includes reporting any change to an employee’s salary and duties.