What should I do if contractor insolvency occurs?
In the event that the worst happens and contractor insolvency occurs, there are a number of steps which the employer should take immediately:
- Confirm that insolvency has actually occurred and the type of insolvency (for example liquidation or adjudication) – actions taken based on rumours can have adverse consequences
- Secure the site and carry out an audit of the plant, equipment and materials present – this may extend to changing the locks on site in order to prevent overzealous contractors and sub-contractors seeking to return and take what they see as their possessions. The building contract may contain a provision that these are the employer’s property, but they can be difficult to recover if they are not within the employer’s possession – possession is 9/10ths of the law!
- Ensure that there are adequate insurance and health and safety arrangements in place for the site – these would usually be dealt with by the contractor and therefore may no longer be in place, so alternative arrangements may be required
- Ensure that any further payments to the contractor are stopped pending a more detailed review
- Consider whether any off-site materials have already been paid for and can be secured. This can however be difficult in practice where the materials are not physically within the employer’s possession
In addition, there are also a number of further actions which the employer should consider in the slightly longer term:
- Investigate the options available and ascertain the cost of completing the works to assist in deciding how best to proceed
- Consider whether termination of the contractor’s employment under the building contract is required, and if so take the necessary steps in accordance with the building contract
- Consider whether there are any bonds or guarantees in place upon which the employer can rely, and if so assess their terms as to whether and how to make a claim
- Make arrangements to complete the works – as a general rule of thumb the cost of completing the works may increase by around 30% if it is necessary to get a replacement contractor
- Consider whether direct payment to subcontractors is possible or desirable
- Although we would say this(!) we would strongly recommend taking legal advice, as insolvency and its implications are complex and it is easy to inadvertently fall foul of the various different requirements
Hopefully, further guidance will provide additional clarification on this, but it is difficult to see how a charity whose operations have been significantly curtailed because of the Covid-19 restrictions, cannot furlough employees and access the scheme, in particular where they have several different income streams. For example if a charity’s retail or fundraising operations have been significantly curtailed due to the restrictions, then it would appear unfair for it not to able to rely on the furlough scheme to assist in the funding of the employment costs associated with this part of the charity.
However, it might be prudent, where there are services that are publicly funded and employees working within those services cannot undertake their normal work, to consider if they can do different roles to work on Covid-19 activities. If there is no such work available then the guidance does appear to allow the furloughing of employees and such organisations to access the scheme.
In our experience, the funding streams and work undertaken by the organisations that could fall into the third category identified above can be exceptionally diverse and we would strongly recommend that you take advice before making such decisions about furloughing employees.
The FCA’s test case in the Supreme Court ruled overwhelmingly in favour of policyholders. However, business interruption cover generally has the prerequisite of physical damage or loss to the property (or in some circumstances, the presence of a notifiable disease at the property or within a certain radius of it), to recover losses caused by the interruption to your business. The onus is on insurers to re-assess those claims which are impacted by the Supreme Court’s judgment and to make contact with the policyholders regarding next steps. If you have not already made a claim, in the first instance the terms of any policy should be checked carefully to see whether business interruption cover is provided.
On 25th June 2020, the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, among other things, introduced new restrictions on suppliers of goods and services to terminate the contract in the event that the customer enters an insolvency process. This has very important consequences for many businesses as it could expose them to greater financial risks.
This is something which is certainly on the Government’s radar as there is currently a Bill being heard in Parliament about making MHFAs a legal requirement for workplaces. It is still in the very early stages and therefore it is not clear at this stage what the outcome will be. What is clear is that this is an area which is being taken very seriously and it would not be surprising if measures were put in place regarding MHFAs in the workplace.
Where it is envisaged that 20 or more employees will be dismissed at a relevant establishment within a 90 day period or less, then collective consultation is required (in addition to individual consultation) and the company must inform BEIS (using form HR1).
If there are less than 20 dismissals then you are only required to carry out individual consultation.