Will councillors still be able to vote if they can’t meet in person?
Local government legislation formerly stipulated that councillors must be physically present to vote and this requirement has already led to the widespread cancellation of Council meetings. There is a limit to what can be achieved under the chair’s emergency powers and delegation to officers.
The Government has now legislated to allow for remote voting until 7 May 2021. The secondary legislation required was issued in draft on 2 April and has been in force since Saturday 4 April.
The legislation allows for committee meetings to go ahead where members and any members of the public attending remotely can all times “hear (and where possible see) and be heard (and where possible be seen) by the other members in attendance”.
It remains to be seen how many local authorities take up the opportunity to hold a virtual committee meeting. Concern has been expressed that the demographic of local councillors may mean that members have difficulty with the technological mechanisms for holding such meetings. However, the message from the Secretary of State is clear that wherever possible, the planning system should keep moving in these current times.
Yes. The Government continues to support the construction industry and the Prime Minister’s recent statement supports the return to work of those who cannot work from home, if they can work safely. This has seen an immediate surge in industry workforce returning to work. Banks and storage and distribution businesses are permitted to operate as essential businesses.
Solicitors and estate agents may still not permit members of the public to enter their premises, but can operate remotely via website, phone, email and other methods, as normal. The Government’s latest guidance published on 13 May now advises that moving house need not be postponed, provided social distancing and safe ways of working can be adopted. Restrictions remain for those who are infected or who are self-isolating or vulnerable, and they should not move house or accept visitors.
Employers will be collecting and sharing health information. Health information is sensitive and higher data protection standards apply. Here are a few key pointers.
- Update privacy notices to cover the new collection and sharing of employees’ information and provide these to the workforce. Be transparent and fair.
- Identify the legal basis and condition for use of this information and put any required paperwork in place. The ICO guidance will help. For some conditions such as the employment condition, an Appropriate Policy Document (APD) will be required. The ICO has an APD template.
- Only use the information for the purpose of managing the workforce during the pandemic.
- Only collect or share information if it’s necessary – if it’s a targeted and proportionate way of achieving your purpose.
- Make sure any health information collected and shared is accurate – there may be serious consequences if it’s not.
- Work out how long the information must be kept for. Keep a record of that period and act on it at the appropriate time.
- Security is very important – there may be malicious actors trying to trick employers and employees. Make sure employees know how to identify a genuine NHS Test and Trace contact. Keep the information secure. Use the ICO’s data sharing checklists** and keep a record of the disclosures made and why. Control external disclosures – only certain authorised members of staff should make them.
- Make sure individuals can still exercise their data protection rights – that’s also very important. Keep data protection records up-to-date and ensure any exports of personal information outside the UK are compliant.
- Before introducing employer-led testing like taking temperatures, thermal imaging or other potentially intrusive tests, work out if a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) is required. It will be if the intended processing is ‘high risk’. If it is, then carry out a full DPIA. It will help address the issues systematically and mitigate risks.
- All this demonstrates ‘accountability’ – it shows affected individuals and the ICO that the employer is complying with data protection requirements.
If you need further help, please visit the ICO’s data protection and coronavirus information hub or ask our data protection team.
** Please note that this link is to the ICO’s existing checklists and data sharing code of practice. We will update the link to the ICO’s new checklists after they are published.
The Government will allocate £360 million to charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis. £200 million of this amount will be paid to Hospices UK to be distributed to hospices to help increase capacity and give stability to the sector. The remaining amount is to be allocated to:
- St Johns Ambulance to support the NHS
- victims charities, including domestic abuse, to help with potential increase in demand for charities providing these services
- charities supporting vulnerable children, so they can continue delivering services on behalf of local authorities;
- disabled people
- Citizens Advice Bureau to increase the number of staff providing advice during this difficult time
The Government Departments will identify priority recipients, with the aim that these charities will receive money in the form of a cash grant over the next few weeks and by the end of April to assist in paying amongst other costs April’s wage bill.
Many policies will only provide business interruption cover if it arises from property damage. The FCA has acknowledged that insurers are entitled to reject claims in relation to such policies, notwithstanding the success of the FCA’s test case in the Supreme Court, and which was generally favourable to policyholders [Insert a link here to our update on the test case]. In other cases the policy wording will be less clear and businesses may legitimately feel that their insurer is wrongly withholding payment.
One route of challenge to an insurer’s decision is via one of the well-publicised class actions. Another route of challenge is by a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). This service is open to consumers and small and medium-sized businesses, ‘micro-enterprises’, charities and trusts. The service will be an attractive option for many businesses, as it is free and relatively quick (although it remains to be seen how the service keeps up with an increase in demand as a result of the pandemic). You will need to have complained to your insurer before bringing a complaint with the FOS.
Further details can be found here.
If a tenant continues to refuse to take heed of the government’s social-distancing guidelines, for example by inviting large groups of people who do not reside there to their property, it can constitute a nuisance. One housing association successfully applied for an injunction. The injunction ordered by the Court stipulated that no persons, other than the children of the tenant, are to attend the property until the current social-distancing restrictions are lifted by the government.
A representative of the housing association highlighted the need for the current guidelines to be followed and the need for housing providers to ensure that all residents living in their communities are kept safe during this time of ‘unprecedented risk’.
This case demonstrates that flouting of the current restrictions is likely to be considered anti-social in the eyes of the courts – a point which all housing providers should bear in mind during this period. Further, it highlights the availability of an alternative remedy to the issuing of possession proceedings (in light of the government’s moratorium on evictions) to deal with anti-social behaviour during the next three months, Covid-19 related or not.