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What measures are being implemented to protect residential property tenants?

On 18 March 2020, the Government announced that it would pass emergency legislation which would prevent landlords, both social and private, from bringing possession proceedings against tenants who are unable to pay their rent. The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, stated that “no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.”

The announcement came after several organisations, including housing charity Shelter, expressed concerns that more than 50,000 households could face possession proceedings due to the economic uncertainty following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Related FAQs

What are the special considerations for DB schemes?
  • Before any agreed reduction in wages, actual changes to earning patterns (loss of overtime, for example) may impact the pensionable salary as defined under the scheme rules, with knock-on effects to a number of benefit calculations, such as death in service benefits.
  • Contractual changes to member salaries may adversely impact accrued benefits as the final salary figure may be reduced to a greater or lesser extent depending on the duration of furlough and the severity of any reductions in wage, and hence reductions may be difficult to agree with staff.
  • Reducing employer contributions will be subject to a number of the same considerations applicable to a DC scheme listed above. There will also be a need to change the rules and interact with the trustees, although it may be possible to override the rules with a direct contractual agreement with members.
  • Reducing employee contributions will also depend on the scheme rules, particularly as to whether there are any discretionary powers to suspend contributions, or pensionable service.
  • The rules will need to be considered for any unexpected consequences of furlough: depending on the wording of the rules, furlough may or may not be considered a leave of absence and may or may not have the effect of terminating pensionable service. This could have far-reaching consequences.
  • In particular, if the workforce’s pensionable service is inadvertently terminated as opposed to suspended in accordance with any relevant rule, this could trigger a statutory employer debt on an employer participating in a multi-employer scheme, if pensionable service continues for employees of other employers. This sort of issue is unlikely to be spotted until after the event, and therefore difficult to untangle. However, an employer should be able to take advantage of the “period of grace” provisions by notifying the trustees of its intention to re-admit employees to pensionable service within the next 12 months.
  • Clearly the impact of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on DB schemes is complex and legal advice should be sought before any changes are considered.
Can I ask my employees to travel for work during the national lockdown?

As above, people must not leave their home unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ and travelling should be limited to their local area. Employees may leave their home and local area to travel for work if they cannot reasonably work from home. You should attempt to reduce the number of journeys they make.

What can I do as an employer if employees are known to be breaking the local lockdown rules?

This will depend on the particular facts and the employee’s circumstances but an employee should co-operate with the employer so far as is necessary to enable compliance with any statutory duty or requirement relating to health and safety.

In addition, conduct outside of work can result in an employee’s dismissal if the conduct pertains to the employment relationship. If an employee breaches their lockdown rules and it affects their ability to work, such as it being no longer safe for them to attend work, or the reputation of the employer, these may be grounds for disciplinary action and subsequent dismissal.

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
Can employers reduce their pension contributions?
  • Yes, if contributions to a defined contribution (“DC”) scheme exceed statutory minimum for auto-enrolment purposes, it may be possible to reduce employer contributions to the statutory minimum, but not further.
  • However, the processes required for reduction of DC employer contributions will necessitate obtaining legal advice:
    • Reducing employer contributions may require changes to the employment contracts of affected staff (as does the furlough process).
    • Reducing employer contributions may also require negotiation with trade unions or other staff representative forums.
    • Where group personal pensions are used, the contractual format may not permit changes of employer contributions, and hence it may also be necessary to enter into a new contractual arrangement. Choosing a new group personal pension plan is a not insignificant task in itself.
    • Employers with at least 50 employees are required to conduct a 60-day consultation process with affected employees if they propose to reduce employer contributions (but please see below).
    • Finally, it may require a change to the scheme rules and engagement with the scheme trustees if the scheme is operated under trust.
  • For DB schemes, specific considerations apply (see the last section, below).