On 19 March 2020, the government’s principal statutory response to the novel COVID-19 outbreak was introduced to Parliament. Having been fast-tracked through the legislature in just four parliamentary sittings, the draft Coronavirus Bill received Royal Assent and took effect in law as the Coronavirus Act (“CVA”) on 25 March 2020.
The CVA contains a number of temporary measures intended to amend existing legislation or introduce new statutory powers designed to support workers and the economy, while enabling public bodies to ease the burden on “frontline staff” and better manage the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic within the UK.
In addition to providing the main legal basis for the nationwide lockdown and the emergency registration of retired and student healthcare professionals, the CVA introduces a right for employees to take between two and four weeks voluntary unpaid leave to support the NHS and social care sector. There is no right for employers to refuse volunteer leave and those who choose to take such leave will continue to receive the benefit of all their usual terms of employment save for remuneration. Moreover, as part of its effort to support individuals and businesses, the legislation makes statutory sick pay (“SSP”) available for employees from the first day of sickness and will enable HMRC to fund employers’ payment of SSP for coronavirus-related incapacity.
As many people have sought to ‘stock up’ on consumables, canned goods and other essential household items in anticipation of shortages, provision has been included to facilitate the government’s response to food-supply chain disruption. Notably, relevant authorities now have the power to require any person working in, or closely connected with, the food supply chain to comply with voluntary information requests about any actual or potential risk of disruption. Non-compliance can result in the levy of a financial penalty up to 1% of the relevant business’s turnover, subject to substantial increase where payment is not made within 28 days.
The implications of the CVA for property owners and tenants are also far-reaching, with the legislation seeking to address concerns by temporarily suspending commercial landlords’ ability to enforce forfeiture rights and extending the period of notice required for the eviction of tenants in the private sector to three months. For more information about the circumstances under which residential and commercial tenants can be evicted from premises during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, key considerations for landlords and other property guidance, please refer to the following articles:
The CVA is also supported by other legislative measures, such as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020, which provide for the mandatory closure of certain businesses, shops, retail and leisure premises. For more information about whether you may be required to close your business premises, please click here.
If we can assist you with any questions you may have about your business, commercial or residential tenancy, including the impact of COVID-19, please get in touch by telephone on 01206 574431 or by email at email@example.com and we will direct your query to the relevant team.