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Local Authority round-up 21/01/22

Our Local Authority round up provides brief summaries of topical information on a weekly basis, to keep you aware of the changes and updates relevant to you.

Commercial

LG&SCO finds council at fault for how it handled COVID-19 business grants

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LG&SCO), has found fault with the way that the London Borough of Camden had dealt with two applications for COVID-19 business grants in 2020. One complainant (G) had applied for an award under the small business grant fund (SBGF) and the other (H) for a retail, hospitality and leisure grant. In both cases, the grants had not been paid because the council stated it was unaware of changes to the ratepayers occupying the relevant business premises on 11 March 2020 (but had been made aware of these after that date). The government guidance on administering both COVID-19 grants stated that they could only be paid to the person who (according to the billing authority’s records) was the ratepayer on 11 March 2020. Grant funding could be withheld or recovered where a council believed that the information held about the ratepayer on that date was inaccurate. However, councils retained a discretion to depart from this if they knew that record was incorrect on 11 March 2020. The LG&SCO found the council to be at fault in its approach and in failing to offer either complainant a review of its decision or access to its complaints procedure and that the government guidance would have allowed the council to have paid the grants where it had learnt of a change of ratepayer prior to 11 March 2020 but had not been notified until after this date. The LG&SCO recommended that H be paid £25,000 to reflect the council’s non-payment of the grant and that the decision to refuse G an award from the SBGF be reviewed and paid if he was eligible. Further, as the council had also admitted that there may have been other cases where it had refused grants in similar circumstances, the LG&SCO recommended that it provide written assurance about how any expressions of dissatisfaction received from businesses within 12 months of the date of the LG&SCO’s report will be treated.

For more information please click here.


Regulatory

England returns to Plan A measures

The government announced this week that with effect from Thursday 27 January England will return to Plan A measures. This means that the requirement to work from home is removed with effect from 19 January, face coverings will no longer no longer be advised in classrooms for both staff and pupils with effect from 20 January and from 27 January, masks will no longer be required by law in any setting and venues and events will no longer be required by law to use the NHS Covid Pass but can still choose to if they wish. The government has said that it will set out a long term strategy for living with COVID-19 in due course.

For more information please click here.

Self-isolation period reduced to five days following two negative lateral flow tests

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced that from 17 January 2022, the self-isolation period will be reduced to five full days for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, provided that they receive two negative lateral flow tests on the fifth and the sixth day. It is hoped that this change will ease staff shortages by allowing those who test negative on the fifth and sixth days to return to work. Research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the risk of being infectious after two negative tests is very low. However, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) modelling data from before the Omicron variant suggests that 31% of people are still infectious five days after testing positive. It is thought that reducing the amount of time before testing will result in more tests being used as nearly a third of people will still have a high viral load on the fifth day following a positive result.

For more information please click here.

Precautionary testing scheme introduced for critical workers in England

A precautionary testing scheme for critical workers has been rolled out in England with effect from 10 January 2022 for an initial period of five weeks. Under the scheme, lateral flow tests are sent directly to the workplaces of 100,000 critical workers to enable testing on every working day, with the intention of keeping essential services and supply chains running. The purpose is to help isolate asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 and limit the risk of workplace outbreaks by reducing transmission while COVID-19 cases remain high. The scheme covers critical workers who work in critical national infrastructure, national security, transport and food distribution and processing. To be covered by the scheme the critical worker must work in essential services, cannot work from home, may be at risk of spreading the virus (for example, due to working in an enclosed space), not already have access to a separate testing regime and be identified as being in a priority, specialist role.

For more information please click here.


International Trade

UK and EU issue joint statement on Northern Ireland Protocol

The UK and EU co-chairs of the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee met this week to continue discussions on the Northern Ireland Protocol with their talk described as “cordial and intensified negotiations.” They issued a joint statement following the talks which provided little information on the outcome but confirmed that the officials will meet for intensified talks next week, and the co-chairs will meet again on 24 January 2022. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “I think there is a deal to be done… I do want to make progress.”

For more information please click here.


Planning and housing

Business rates rules for second homes to change from April 2023

In its response to the consultation, Business rates treatment of self-catering accommodation, the government has announced changes to the rules that allow second homeowners in England to pay business rates rather than council tax (which can result in no tax being paid if the property has a rateable value of less than £12,000). To be assessed for business rates after 1 April 2023, owners of holiday lets will need to be able to prove to the satisfaction of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) that their property is available for short term lets totalling at least 140 days in the coming year, was available for short term lets totalling at least 140 days in the previous 12 calendar months and was in fact let out for 70 of these days in the previous 12 calendar months. A property that becomes newly available as a holiday let will be liable for council tax until it has been available for 140 days and let out for 70 days in the previous 12 months. On the day that these two criteria are met, assuming the property will continue to be available for 140 days in the coming 12 months, it will qualify for a business rates assessment. Evidence to be provided to the VOA might include the website or brochure used to advertise the property, letting details and accounts, but the exact method for providing evidence will be set out before the rules come into force. Practitioners advising on the purchase of second homes should check that their client is aware of the impending rule change and advise them to retain evidence of advertising and lettings.

For more information please click here.

New digital identity checking technology available

The government has announced that, from 6 April, certified identity service providers (IDSPs) will be able to use Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT) to conduct right to work checks and right to rent checks on behalf of British and Irish citizens.  This will mean that landlords, letting agents and employers will be able to use the new online service to verify identities and prove their eligibility to work or rent. Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, Kevin Foster said “Online checks make it quicker, easier and more secure for employers and landlords to carry out right to rent and right to work checks and stop those looking to abuse our immigration system. These changes will make the checks more secure, quicker to do and will better support remote working practices.”

For more information please click here.


Upcoming webinars

CPD Programme – Grievances and whistleblowing

Join us on 1st February at 10am for our third webinar in our CPD Programme which will focus on grievances and whistleblowing. These sessions are completely free and will take place by Zoom, so they will not disrupt your day. They are perfect for HR professionals and managers who have responsibility for managing people. You will have the opportunity to ask questions via the Q&A feature, or our teams will be on hand for drop-in sessions for attendees after each event. Ward Hadaway’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Programme is a new programme of HR and employment law training designed for our clients and contacts.

For more information and to book your place please click here.

Fire and the Building Safety Bill – a developer review

Architects Ryder, engineers and fire safety consultants Hydrock and Ward Hadaway are coming together for a free webinar on Thursday 17th February at 1pm to look specifically at the changes to fire safety standards contained in the Bill, and the impact that this is likely to have for developers, whether commercial, residential, health and local authority estate, or social housing providers. Using the Design / Build / Operate process as our roadmap, we will look from all angles at the changes this will bring, and implications on time, cost and quality for a project. With experts from Ward Hadaway’s construction, housing management and regulatory teams contributing alongside specialist architects and fire safety consultants, it will provide a fully rounded review of this complex but all important topic. Chair Alistair McDonald from Ward Hadaway’s Built Environment team will be putting the questions to our panellists, including some of your own questions submitted during registration or via Zoom’s Q&A feature during the event.

For more information and to book your place please click here.

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this update, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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