The Covid-19 situation has developed rapidly today. Here are the updates that we feel are most relevant to you and your organisation.
The Bank of England has cut the base rate from 0.25% to 0.1%.
The Government has now published its Coronavirus Emergency 2020 Bill. It gives the Government sweeping powers to take emergency action without having to spend a great deal of time taking individual Bills through Parliament. It is important to remember that the powers will only be used as or when each of them becomes necessary; it’s not a blanket scrappage of civil liberties and any aspect can be challenged under Judicial Review (e.g. challenging something in Court). This Bill has cross-Party support so it’s not something that will cause a Party political battle.
Here’s a summary of the main points:
The Government believes the new legislation is vital to tackle the public health crisis caused by Covid-19 and will be time-limited for two years and cover areas such as the NHS, social care, schools, police, Border Force, local Councils, funerals and Courts. As well as enhancing powers for Government, the legislation will also scrap existing regulations in some areas should public services suffer mass staff shortages. Not all the measures will come into force immediately and they can be ‘switched off’ if they are no longer necessary.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the new powers “will only be used when it is absolutely necessary and must be timed to maximise their effectiveness. Crucially they give the Government the powers it needs to protect lives,” he added.
In order to ensure the UK’s border security, Home Secretary Priti Patel will be given the power to request ports and airports temporarily to close and suspend operations if there is a shortage of Border Force staff. Police and immigration officers will also be given the power to detain a person and quarantine them if they are, or might be, infectious.
In other measures, the legislation will allow:
- Recently-retired doctors or medical students to be registered as regulated healthcare professionals, in order to boost the number of NHS staff;
- Social workers who have recently left the profession to be temporarily added to registers;
- Workers to be able to take ‘emergency volunteer leave’ for up to four weeks, with a compensation fund to be established to cover their loss of earnings and expenses;
- Just one doctor’s opinion, rather than the current two, to be used to detain and treat patients for a mental health disorder;
- Schools and children’s nurseries to be forced to close – or forced to stay open, as well as the relaxation of some requirements such as maximum class sizes;
- The greater use of video and audio link in Courts;
- The temporary appointment of Judicial Commissioners, who authorise warrants under anti-terror laws, should there be a shortage;
- The Government to have the power to restrict or ban any events or gatherings;
- The removal of some bureaucracy surrounding funerals and cremations, including expanding the list of people who can register a death to include funeral directors acting on behalf of the family;
- Local Councils to directly take over the management of deaths, if it becomes likely the number of people who might die from Coronavirus is likely to significantly exceed the capacity locally to manage the deceased;
- The food industry to be forced to provide information about food supplies.
The Bill will also allow the Government to bring in its planned action to temporarily suspend the rule that means statutory sick pay is not paid for the first three days of work missed, in a measure that will be backdated to 13 March 2020.
It will also confirm the postponement of Local and Mayoral elections to 2021.
In separate Government action, Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced the relaxation of planning rules to allow all pubs, restaurants and cafes to be able to offer takeaway and delivery services if they wish.
Definition of ‘Key Workers’ in relation to schools
You will recall from our previous Bulletin that the children of ‘Key Workers’ will be allowed to continue to go to school during normal term times. We regret that at the time of publication of this Bulletin the Government has not yet announced the definition of who and what job roles are designated as Key Workers. We will update you as soon as we receive this information.
Tenants, Tenancies & Eviction
The Government has changed the law to give security to Tenants who might have been under threat of eviction by Landlords using a ‘Section 21’ notice. This notice could have been used by a Landlord to evict a tenant in one of two situations:
- after a fixed term tenancy ends – if there’s a written contract
- during a tenancy with no fixed end date – known as a ‘periodic’ tenancy
Tenants will now have the automatic right to a minimum extension of 3 months – and the Government will review this further as the Covid-19 situation develops.
Financial help for Sole Traders, un-registered organisations and Self-Employed people
The Government has not yet finalised its plans for a comprehensive assistance package for these groups of people, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer is scheduled to make further announcements on Friday 20th March. We will pass on any details of measures that he announces in relation to these people.
We will issue further advice and guidance Bulletins as the Covid-19 situation develops.
Sir Henry Boyle
2000 hrs 19th March 2020