Which products and services are affected?
Initially, the relaxation applied to supermarkets and food suppliers. This was subsequently widened to apply to other businesses, permitting them to collaborate where necessary to respond to the crisis in the interests of consumers.
Where a couple is not married, they have limited rights in relation to each other’s assets and these mainly relate to rights over property assets. There is complex Trust law which governs whether or not your partner could claim an interest in your property and it generally relates to where someone has invested in renovations on the property or promises have been made. If this is something you are concerned about, you and your partner could enter in to a Cohabitation Agreement. These Agreements can set out various matters, including who will pay the bills and where each of you would live if you separated. Most importantly, they can record your intentions about who owns the property and exclude any rights your partner would have against your property.
These periods are often mistakenly referred to as minimum lengths of consultation (especially by Trade Unions). That is not correct. Consultation can commence, conclude and notices of dismissal be issued within the 30 and 45 day periods. The expiry of the notice would just have to be outside of those restricted periods.
A number of our clients and networks raised issues in the early stages of the Scheme around the requirement for personal guarantees to access finance under the Scheme. The Scheme has now been updated so that:
- For facilities under £250,000, personal guarantees cannot be taken to support lending under the Scheme.
- For facilities above £250,000, personal guarantees may still be required by a lender but the amount which can be recovered under these guarantees is capped at a maximum of 20% of the outstanding balance of the CBILS facility after taking into account any other recoveries from business assets.
The Coronavirus pandemic will have impacted businesses in many different ways, but some of the most likely impacts that could have a legal implication are as follows:
- Services were not performed in accordance with contract during the period of disruption. This could be a reduction in volume of services performed, a suspension of services, or performance in a way that does not comply with contractual KPIs
- Late delivery or non-delivery of goods because of factory closures, or disruption in the supply chain
- Changes being agreed between parties to contracts to deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak
Directors of a company that is in, or potentially facing, financial difficulty have a duty to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole. Failure to comply with that duty can have consequences for directors (including personal liability and disqualification if directors get it wrong).
The duty to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole begins when the company is (or in some cases is potentially or at risk of becoming) insolvent i.e. its assets are worth less than its liabilities and/or the business is unable to pay its liabilities as and when they fall due. However, just because a company is insolvent doesn’t always necessarily mean than an insolvency process is inevitable. Sometimes, the insolvency might just be caused by a temporary cashflow problem or perhaps wider problems in the business that can be overcome by making changes to the business itself.
In addition to that, the potential liability of directors ramps up even further when the company reaches the stage that the directors have concluded (or ought to have concluded) that there was no reasonable prospect of the business avoiding liquidation or administration. If the business reaches that stage, in addition to having to act in the best interests of creditors as a whole, directors can find themselves personally liable unless, from the time the directors ought to have reached that conclusion, they took every step that they ought to have done to minimise the loss to creditors. This is known as wrongful trading.
On the 25th June 2020, the government introduced new legislation – the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 – which includes measures to temporarily relax the rules around wrongful trading with the proposed changes to take effect retrospectively from the 1st March 2020. Essentially, the changes say that any court looking at a potential wrongful trading claim against a director is to assume that the director is not responsible for worsening the company’s financial position between 1st March 2020 and the 30th September 2020. Whilst the wrongful trading rules have relaxed, directors still need to proceed with caution if the business is potentially insolvent as the new Act does alter other potential pitfalls for directors, like the risk of breaching their duties or allowing the company to enter into transactions that can potentially be challenged.
The support being offered by the government is potentially a lifeline for businesses under pressure through no fault of their own, but notwithstanding the recent changes to the wrongful trading rules it is still likely to be important for the board to carefully consider whether it is appropriate to make use of the loans, grants and tax forbearance that are on offer.
Exactly what the board should consider will vary from business to business and getting it right can sometimes involve balancing several different (and at times conflicting) priorities, challenges and concerns.