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What is my legal position if emergency legislation to tackle the outbreak makes performance of a contract illegal or impossible?

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to develop, we have seen many countries begin to implement emergency procedures and legislation in an attempt to control the spread of the disease.

These have included bans on gatherings and public events, closures of shops, bars, restaurants and public spaces, and full lockdowns which restrict all but key workers to their homes except in certain limited circumstances.

This has a direct impact on businesses and their ability to operate. So what happens if a contract becomes impossible to perform because of emergency legislation?

For example:

  • If you are a hospitality business, you have agreed to host an event, and gatherings are prohibited
  • If you are a manufacturer or service provider, and your staff are required to remain at home, making performance of the contract impossible

Related FAQs

How does salary sacrifice affect the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
  • Employee pensions contributions are often paid by way of salary sacrifice arrangements.
  • Use of such arrangements may reduce the amount of wage an employer can claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as the reimbursement is calculated by reference to an employee’s actual pay as at 28 February 2020, hence post sacrifice pay.
  • Using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme does not in itself bring a salary sacrifice arrangement to an end, but where an employer wishes to maximise the amount of an employee’s pay that will be covered by the CJRS, the employer and employee(s) concerned may agree to terminate the salary sacrifice arrangement as part of furlough. HMRC has recently announced that the Covid-19 pandemic will be considered a “life event” (i.e. one of the permitted reasons to break a salary sacrifice arrangement mid-term), if the employment contract is updated accordingly.
Does this apply to bankruptcy petitions?

No. This bill relates to corporate insolvencies only. Should you require any advice as to personal insolvency situations, please contact our team.

What are my potential liabilities if a customer, supplier or other visitor contracts Covid-19 on my premises?

As an occupier of premises, you owe a duty of care to your visitors to take reasonable care to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using your premises.

It is therefore essential that you are taking reasonable steps and strictly adhering to up-to-date Government advice in all aspects of your business to avoid any potential liability.

Failure to follow Government advice could leave you vulnerable to claims for compensation for pain and suffering should a visitor on your premises contract Covid-19.

However, each case will be fact-specific and it would be very difficult for a visitor to establish that they contracted Covid-19 specifically from those premises (as opposed to being exposed to the virus anywhere else).

If someone suggests that they are going to make a claim make sure that you report matters to your insurer or insurance broker immediately.

What is the Flexible Furlough Scheme?

The Flexible Furlough Scheme, ‘FFS’ an unfortunate acronym, allows employees to work for some of the week and be furloughed for the rest.

I have to pay my ex-spouse monthly spousal maintenance pursuant to a Court Order and I can no longer afford to pay. Can I stop paying?

Maintenance Orders embodied in a Court Order are variable. If you have lost a very large part of your income, then the Courts ought to take that into consideration when looking at a Court Application to reduce or end spousal maintenance payments. The outcome of any Court Application will, however, depend on a number of factors.

Technically, you should not just stop paying or reduce the maintenance payments, as your ex-spouse could then make an Application to Court for enforcement and payment of the arrears. You could ask the Court to forego you having to pay those arrears if you had evidence to prove that you could not make the payments, however, the Court will need to take a fair approach and you should not assume this request will be agreed.

You should first try to negotiate a reduction or termination of the maintenance with your ex-spouse, either directly or through a Solicitor. If this is possible, you should obtain a Court Order reflecting that agreement. Where a sensible compromise cannot be reached, a Court Application may be necessary.