Will remote court hearings be permitted?
Court hearings have been conducted remotely, with the judgment in Kerry v SSCLG being given via telephone. The Senior President of Tribunals issued emergency Practice Directions which will apply to Property and Lands Chambers’ respectively. This has made provision for remote hearings. Inspections of properties have been suspended with immediate effect, with photographs, videos or external visits permitted where appropriate. Where inspections are essential, the case should be stayed.
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.
Some of these can be implemented by you, some need agreement or consultation and some depend on the wording of contracts. We’ll explain more in relation to each option.
Many will have worked collaboratively with their suppliers and customers to deal with the immediate public health crisis. This will have meant offering flexibility as to contractual arrangements, whether in delivery dates, volumes of goods or services supplied, or even in the specification of what has been delivered.
If this is the case, it is important that businesses now do their legal housekeeping and make sure they have a proper record of what has been agreed. Unfortunately, our experience shows that many legal disputes arise out of amendments to contracts, typically where the parties to the contract each have a different view about what exactly they agreed to change.
We would therefore advise businesses to review any amendments that they might have agreed either verbally, by email, or otherwise, and consider whether they need to be captured in a more formal way which will make clear exactly what has been agreed to be varied, and (where appropriate) how long that variation will remain in force.
It’s also important to remember that some contracts contain provisions that set out specific requirements about how amendments are to be made. For example, they might require that amendments are made in writing (rather than verbally). These “No Oral Modification” clauses are commonly found in commercial contracts, and the courts have recently shown that they are willing to enforce them.
Failing to deal with amendments in accordance with contractual requirements could therefore have a serious impact on businesses as they recover from the disruption caused by the lockdown. If they end up in dispute with a customer or supplier, a business could find that the contract has not actually been amended in the way that they think – potentially leading to legal costs and liabilities at the worst possible time.
You must exercise reasonable care in assessing status and making a status determination, considering what the position would be if the contractor was engaged directly by the end user client instead of via a PSC.
Status is usually determined by looking a number of factors and how they apply to the contractor’s working arrangements. This is a difficult exercise that is usually carried out by employment and tax lawyers and it is full of grey areas. We have a toolkit that can help you navigate this process which Paul will tell you more about at the end of the session.
The key factors used to determine status are:
- How much control does the end user client have over the contractor in terms of working arrangements (hours, place of work) and how the work is carried out? Or is the individual contractor able to determine how and when they work and without direct supervision of the end user client?
- Personal service:
- Is the contractor required to perform the services personally without the right to send a substitute? If there is a right to appoint a substitute is this subject to end user client approval?
- Mutuality of obligation:
- Is the end user client obliged to provide the contractor work with a mutual obligation on the contractor to accept that work?
Employees with visas should be treated consistently with the wider workforce. When their furlough leave ends, they should return to work and their pay should be reinstated. If you agree a pay cut or reduction in working hours, you need to ensure that sponsored workers are still earning above the minimum salary for their role and working in excess of the minimum number of hours (see above).
The flexible furlough scheme is now in place and can be used for employees who have previously been furloughed for a consecutive period of at least three weeks. The flexible furlough scheme remains in place until 31 October 2020.