What is the current guidance relating to Private Finance Initiatives and PF2 Projects in light of coronavirus?
On 2 April 2020, the Government issued guidance relating to Private Finance Initiatives and PF2 Projects. The guidance, which is to be enforced with immediate effect (currently due to stay in place until 30 June 2020), is one of several guidance notes issued to date.
A link to the guidance is set out below:
Key messages to contracting authorities
- PFI contractors should very much consider themselves as being part of the public sector response to the current pandemic
- Covid-19 is not regarded as, and is not to be classified as a force majeure event
- PFI contractors must ensure that contingency plans are up to date and have been reviewed and discussed with contracting authorities to enable the continuity of full services to respond to the pandemic and maintain vital public services
- Contracting authorities should work closely with PFI contractors to use all available options to maintain public services during the emergency period
- Local arrangements should be made where PFI contractors can’t deliver the agreed requirements and performance standards
- “Best efforts” should be made by all parties for the continuation of service provision
There is less guidance in respect of whether an employee can refuse to go into the workplace as a result of health and safety concerns about their commute. An employer’s duties to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees only extend to the workplace or where an employee is acting in the course of their employment. This does not include the risks of travelling to and from work by public transport.
As there are various ways in which an employee can travel to work, it will be difficult for them to legitimately refuse to come to work due to their commute. Employers should discuss any concerns with the employee and seek to find an appropriate resolution. The government has published guidance on safer travel for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic and employers should encourage flexibility as far as possible, such as allowing employees to travel at off-peak times and staggering workers’ hours.
As long as you can demonstrate that you have exercised reasonable care in determining status you have discharged your obligations in that respect. However, if you are unable to demonstrate this, you may as the end user client be responsible for the contractor’s tax and NIC’s.
The golden thread requirements will be retrospective, so will apply to existing buildings as well as new build. This is part of the reason for the Building Safety Regulator’s ‘get to know your building’ guidance referred to in the talk, with the link in the Powerpoint presentation. While the details of the golden thread requirement are still to be confirmed, now is a good time to start to gather as much information as can be obtained about existing buildings as possible in preparation. The Government guidance anticipates that the Principal Accountable Person will be responsible for developing and coordinating the golden thread for existing buildings.
The end user client will be responsible for assessing if the contractor is employed or self-employed for tax purposes. It is required to take reasonable care in carrying out the assessments.
When an assessment is carried out the outcome must be confirmed to the contractor with accompanying reasons in a Status Determination Statement (SDS). This SDS must be provided to the contractor before making payment to them. It must also be provided to the agency if there is one in the chain (more on this later).
The end user client must have a dispute resolution procedure to enable to the contractor or agency to appeal the assessment outcome.
As the pandemic progresses, more and more people will be forced to self-isolate and, inevitably, both tenants and staff will be affected. Put plans in place to mitigate the impact that this may have, particularly regarding staff shortages. The most important focus here should be communication.
The Covid-19 outbreak will affect the pace of everyday life and delays will be expected. Rather than allowing the pandemic to take over completely, it is important to maintain open communication with tenants as much as possible and inform them of any front-facing challenges that you may face.
The Protocol does envisage that delays may occur and allows for some degree of flexibility. Whilst all efforts should be made to conduct inspections where practical and possible, it should be expected by all parties that timescales will be extended during this crisis. It is fundamental, however, that all changes made to standard practice are communicated and explained to tenants to manage expectations.
Similar flexibility should be afforded to tenants. As households are required to isolate it will not always be possible to gain access to properties as would usually be expected and required. Likewise, vulnerable people will wish to protect themselves and their families and may refuse access on this basis. During this period, a degree of understanding must be exercised and concessions made.
Inspections may be delayed if anyone in the household has symptoms. A questionnaire should be prepared for those visiting properties to assess so far as possible the risk; Personal Protective Equipment should be issued to those visiting, and government guidelines followed.