CORONAVIRUS ADVICE HUB

www.wilsonbrowne.co.uk/thehub

All links contained in a ‘Useful Links’ page on The Hub. All information is correct at the time of going to press. In such a fast changing, fluid situation, you should check the current situation before making any decisions or taking any action as a result of the information contained in this article.

Employment

One of the big issues right now is home working – telling people to simply “work from home and log in” isn’t the end of it.

Working from home

“With the Government having imposed a lockdown (which is expected to be ramped up to a greater extent) homeworking is becoming a reality for many. Although some businesses are geared to homeworking, many are not. There are a number of HR/employment law considerations for homeworking; key ones are covered in this article.”

What should employers be doing? Some may elect to put in place a temporary working from home agreement which covers all the salient points. Where these agreements are not in place it is worth checking that the following is sufficiently robust:

Contracts

Do place of work clauses include home addresses? Are confidential information clauses sufficiently robust? Are your home working policies and procedures GDPR compliant? (how is data secured, stored, encrypted etc whether online or offline, “hard copy” or “soft copy”)

Policies

Does your Electronic Communications Policy cover home working? Do you have a “Use your own devices” policy? Does your expenses policy need reviewing? (is it reasonable to offset additional lighting/heating costs for working from home, against a reduction in personal travel expenses?)

Other

Make sure Communication plans are up to date, implement appropriate supervision arrangements and consider how you will deal with those employees who cannot work from home.

What are Working Parents Entitled to in Light of School Closures?

Statute allows time off for emergencies – this includes taking time to put in place longer-term arrangements. Strictly speaking, designed to be short-term so typically 1 or 2 days at most. However, given the unprecedented position we all find ourselves in, employers are urged to be flexible

This form of statutory leave is unpaid although some employers emergency time-off polices provide for this form of leave to be paid.

Alternatively, see “Working from home”; Utilise holiday entitlements – pay and procedures should apply as they would in ordinary circumstances.

Should school closures continue for an indefinite period of time employers will need to contingency plan for voluntary leave options (this may be either/a mixture of paid and unpaid leave), short time working and lay-offs.

Debt

Our advice – get proper advice from your own solicitor to avoid costly claims. At Wilson Browne Solicitors we will help by giving any business, client or not, 10 free debt recovery letters* (over up to 6 months) for unpaid invoices, until further notice. (quote ‘WBcashflow’). [*valid at time of going to press and can be withdrawn at any time without notice].

There is no catch. We know that some businesses will ‘hoard’ cash at the moment which can have a devastating effect on businesses, large & small. We’ve been in debt recovery for local businesses for over 25 years.

Self-Employed?

Check any and all insurance policies that you have. You may think that it is unlikely that your business interruption policy (if you had one) is wide enough in scope to help you must check!

Look to see if you are covered for any losses due to business interruption or any other applicable category in your policy. Talk to your broker…and if you do not have cover…read on.

Cashflow

Now more than ever be sure to issue your invoices as soon as possible. Remember your rights to compensation and interest on late payments.

Ask governmental bodies for time to pay things like VAT or other taxes. It is much better for the economy to reach an agreement with a large creditor like HMRC than to not pay another business.

If you have instalments or drawdowns due in the coming weeks ask your customer or client if you can draw that early. They do not have to agree, but if you do not ask you will not have the opportunity.

New accounts – be robust and review your payment terms, if you can get money upfront, or deposits, consider doing so.

Cash Grants

Businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure that have premises with a Rateable Value below £51,000 are to be given a £25,000 cash grant.

Those businesses that were eligible for Small Business Rates Relief or Rural Rate Relief that had been going to receive a £3,000 cash grant will now receive £10,000.

Government is working with local authorities to outline the scheme and help them to prepare. We understand that once set up your local authority will contact those that qualify rather than having to apply. Get this in your diary to check with your local authority at the start of April as some may be different.

HMRC, Tax, Employment Allowance (NI) and SSP

Remember that the first 14 days of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) per employee, from day one, can be reclaimed as SSP in the usual way for those off work due to coronavirus. You will need to keep a record but employees are not expected to provide a GP ‘Fit note’ – you have to take their word for it.

Talk to HMRC about more time to pay your tax. Call 0800 015 9559 Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm and on Saturday, 8am to 4pm. They should waive late payment penalties and interest, but you need to contact them as soon as you have concerns.

Employment Allowance – small employers who have a National Insurance bill of £100,000 or less will continue to qualify and can get £4,000 off their NI bill.

Business Rates

Don’t forget the budget provision to abolish rates for all businesses with up to £51,000 Rateable Value.

All retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England receive a 100% business rates holiday for the next 12 months.

Banks & Lending – apparently available from Monday 23rd March 2020.

To encourage banks to agree to lend, the British Business Bank is setting up a Coronavirus Business Interruption Lending Scheme to give a government-backed guarantee to 80% of the loan or overdraft facility. Talk to your bank for more details.

Banks can now issue loans of up to £5m (up from £1.2m); that the Government will underwrite and the first 6 months are interest free. Talk to your bank.

Lenders will, apparently, provide mortgage payment holidays of at least 3 months for those facing finance difficulties as a result of the outbreak. Similar details for those that rent are awaited. Talk to your bank as soon as possible if you have any concerns.

Benefits

Universal Credit – is replacing:

- Child Tax Credit

- Housing Benefit

- Income Support

- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

- Working Tax Credit

If you currently get any of these benefits, you do not need to do anything unless your circumstances have changed.

Aimed at helping those on a low income the Government has suspended the ‘minimum income floor’ for the self-employed. There is now no assumption that you earn the equivalent of the living wage (£8.72 an hour from April).

You can qualify for this if your income has dropped below the threshold for Universal Credit because of the economic impact of Corona Virus, even if your earnings before were too high.

Employment Support Allowance (ESA) You can apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if you have a disability or health condition that affects how much you can work.

Eligibility is here and you can claim for this as well as Universal Credit. If you test positive for coronavirus or are in self-isolation, you will be able to claim from day one. You can apply for ESA if you have a disability or health condition that affects how much you can work.

Other help

Business Support Helpline 0300 4546 3565 – the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s dedicated business support helpline for England.

In Wales, ring the Business Wales Helpline on 0300 060 3000.

The British Chambers of Commerce has produced detail guidance which you can access here.

Helpful Advice on Wills

Our first bit of advice is, please don’t worry unnecessarily.

Times like this tend to focus the mind and it’s important you have information and facts at your disposal, not half-truths and speculation.

If you made your will 5 years or more ago contact your solicitor and see if they offer a free will health check service – they should be able to tell you based on any change of circumstances if they think it needs updating.

For some changes your solicitor should be able to do most of the work remotely – in simple terms, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about travelling to see them. This will vary from solicitor to solicitor so the best thing is to call them.

If you haven’t got a Will, don’t panic.

Most law firms are continuing to work normally, or pretty much as normal. Most will see you if you feel a meeting is necessary and others are exploring how Wills can be done entirely remotely i.e. at a distance. This is an unusual step given the raft of regulation and compliance but these are exceptional times and the legal profession is working to deliver solutions for clients.

It’s worth checking that you (and your loved ones) know where your will is kept – normally your solicitor will have put the original into storage for you. They do this because a copy of a Will is not considered a valid document. Alternatively, consider registering with a service such as Certainty. Many solicitors will have done this for you, as part of the service.

In the worst-case scenario you may need help with Probate. A solicitor can walk you through the necessary steps making the process as easy as possible in an otherwise distressing time.

Everything said above really applies to Lasting Powers Of Attorney and Trusts – your solicitor should be able to work with you from a distance, to help give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything is in order.

If you are worried – talk to us. You don’t have to be a client, you don’t need to have had your Will made with us. We’re here to help.

Commercial Property

Advice for Landlords and Tenants

It goes without saying that if you have any queries as to how your Lease is drafted and to be interpreted then you should speak in the first instance, with the lawyer who drafted the same for you.

There is so much to cover in limited space, we’d recommend visiting The Hub. Here you will find answers to the questions:

Is my Tenant entitled to stop paying rent or apply a rent reduction? Can I stop paying my rent? If I can’t stop paying then am I at least entitled to a reduction in my rent? Aside from rent are there any other duties I owe to the Landlord if I have to vacate for self-isolation / home-working etc.? Will my insurance cover me? Can I close the premises? What practical steps can parties be taking?

Landlord & Tenant considerations for new leases

Where Landlords & Tenants are negotiating new leases now they should be considering:

- Whether there should be the inclusion of a force majeure clause

- Whether the rent suspension clauses or possibly even break clauses should also cover scenarios not linked to damage or destruction to the property

- Situations where a landlord may need to impact the quiet enjoyment

If you are negotiating a new lease, speak to your agent and solicitor at an early stage to assist with these considerations.

Help for the Hospitality Sector

There will be a business rates retail holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.

A £25,000 grant will be provided to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises, with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.

Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to the relevant local authority. Guidance for local authorities on the business rates holiday will be published by 20 March.

The government will provide additional funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR). This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to businesses currently eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs.

If your business is eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, you will be contacted by your local authority – you do not need to apply.

Funding for the scheme will be provided to local authorities by government in early April. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.

Wilson Browne act for many businesses operating in this sector, along with landlords whose tenants are in the sector, so any steps which can assist the continuation of these businesses through this difficult time are welcomed.

There are also new measures for loan facilities for businesses generally.

Pubs and Restaurants to be used as Takeaways

The government has announced that in the midst of the Covid 19 crisis planning rules will be relaxed so pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the outbreak.

Currently, planning permission is required for businesses to carry out a change of use to a hot food takeaway. The government has confirmed regulations will be relaxed to enable businesses to deliver this service without a planning application.

The government will introduce a time limited permitted development right through secondary legislation to allow the temporary change of use of a pub (A4 – drinking establishment) and a restaurant (A3 – restaurants and cafes) to a hot-food take away for a period of up to 12 months only.

Businesses will be required to tell the local planning authority when the new use begins and ends.