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The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – Further Details

The government published update guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“the Scheme”) on 4 April.

The main points are these:-

  • It has been made expressly clear that employees can start a new job when on furlough without jeopardising funding under the Scheme.
  • An employer can reclaim 80% of not just salary or wages, but any “regular payments” that they are obliged to pay employees, including overtime payments, “fees” and compulsory (presumably meaning contractual) commission payments – up to the cap of £2,500 per month. Although not given as a listed example, this must surely include car allowance. Whilst payments for private fuel under a fuel allowance by means of a card or account directly by the employer to the supplier will be excluded (as they will not be payments to the employee), arguably where the employee pays for private fuel and is then reimbursed by the employer, these payments will fall within the Scheme.
  • Expressly excluded from Scheme funding are discretionary bonus (including tips) and commission payments and “non-cash payments”, so non-monetary benefits (e.g. cars or life or medical insurance) are not included.
  • It has been made expressly clear that salaried company directors (including of personal service companies) can be furloughed under the Scheme. A board resolution must be passed to effect this, and it must be noted in the company records Furloughed directors can still perform their statutory duties, provided they do no more than would reasonably be judged necessary for that purpose, e.g. they should not do work of a kind they would carry out in normal circumstances to generate commercial revenue or provides services to or on behalf of their company.
  • It has been made expressly clear that members of LLPs who are treated as employees for tax purposes can be furloughed under the Scheme.
  • It has been confirmed that employees can be furloughed multiple times, i.e. they can be furloughed, brought back to work, then furloughed again – subject to funding being available only for any furlough period which lasts for at least three weeks.
  • It is newly stipulated that employers must not only notify employees of their furlough status, but that they must do so in writing and keep the record of that written notification for five years.

Some areas remain unclear. Two of the main ones are these:-

  • Are employees whose continuous service commenced on or before 28 February 2020 but who transfer to a new employer after this date under TUPE covered:

For any period of furlough which commenced less than 3 weeks before the transfer, even if, taking into account a period extending beyond the transfer, it lasts for at least 3 weeks in total?

Otherwise for any period of furlough post transfer?

Unless the government expressly provides for this in due course, it would appear not, as although the rights and obligations of the employee under the employment automatically transfer, as between employee and employer, by virtue of TUPE, it will remain that the employee will not have been furloughed with the transferor from the point of the transfer and nor will they have been on the transferee’s payroll as of 28 February.

  • Can an employee be furloughed under the Scheme and on annual leave at the same time?

Guidance published by Acas states not. It therefore remains prudent that in order to preserve funding, unless and until the government clarifies that the position is to the contrary, employers ensure that no days during furlough (including bank holidays) are treated as paid annual leave such that this might prevent a period of furlough continuing unbroken at least 3 weeks.

For our updated observations on all of the main aspects of the Scheme, taking into account the above, and a link to the government’s published guidance, click here.

For my article on changes to legislation effected on 28 March relating to statutory sick pay for employees off sick or in self-isolation due to COVID-19, click here.

For our regularly-updated wider guidance for employers on the impact of the virus outbreak, click here.

For advice on any of these issues, call us on 0800 294 5927 or click here to make an on-line enquiry.

How is COVID-19 Affecting Life Within The Corporate World?

There is no corner of the UK which is not being affected in some way by the impacts of COVID-19, so it is not surprising that the world of corporate law is experiencing some changes.

With the UK population having been told to remain at home, except for a handful of reasons, a significant impact is being felt by companies as face to face meetings cannot be held. In order to carry on making business decisions and to make the necessary decisions to reflect the current economic climate, meetings need to happen.

It is considered by government that the attendance of shareholders at meetings will not satisfy the definition of “essential work”. Therefore, to follow these rules, alternative measures will need to be taken when meetings are held.

One way around this is to hold board meetings and shareholder meetings remotely.

Companies are being told to make clear in their notices of meetings that shareholders and/or directors may not attend in person and that they will be refused entry if they try to attend in person. The meeting should be held by a maximum of two people, if it is to be held physically at all, in order to establish a valid quorum, and then the voting is to be done by proxy or by the distribution of a written resolution. As this can be done electronically, this is the most convenient option and the option which creates the least level of disruption. Another option in these trying times, is to use video conferences in order to hold the meeting.

These rules are applicable to shareholder meetings, board meetings of directors and AGMs of public limited companies, but whichever bracket your company falls into, the process of decision making will be affected in some way.

It is best that you receive legal advice to ensure the validity of your decision making. Please contact the corporate and commercial team at Lanyon Bowdler if you wish to discuss this further.

Coronavirus and the Impact on Society

At the time of writing this our country is in lockdown and we have been asked to stay at home as much as possible. The UK Government have implemented these restrictions to try and limit the spread of COVID -19. It is hoped that this will minimise the amount of people requiring treatment at the peak of this pandemic - protecting an NHS that is already on its knees.

It is a time of fear, devastation and great sadness. Thousands of previously hardworking people are furloughed on a reduced wage with no guarantees that they will have jobs to go back to. As a result of this it is easy to become overwhelmed by these intense feelings. I thought I would take a moment or two to reflect and share my thoughts with you.

We have become familiar with the term “keyworker” in recent weeks. These people, that might once have been overlooked, have become the heroes of our nation and include; medical staff, carers, lorry drivers, emergency service workers, legal professionals, supermarket staff, essential construction and service workers. Society has a new found respect for all our keyworkers, who are putting themselves at risk every day to keep us safe and treat our loved ones

Many of us are now working from home and some with a house full of bored children. The task of working from home and attempting to home-school is a real challenge. I can’t say I have succeeded on the home-schooling front but my children are safe and they are loved; I think we all need to be kind to ourselves and find solace in these victories. I certainly have a new-found respect for teachers and I’m sure there will be calls for them to receive a pay rise after this!

In my family today (1st of April) it is a day for celebration. It is my son’s 15th birthday. However, this was not the day of fun he or I had planned. Last night when talking to him about his birthday and the fact that it will be rather quiet he said “it’s ok Mum I can have presents and a party anytime. All I want is for my family and friends to all be here to spend the day with me next year”. His words got me thinking that, with all the negativity surrounding us now, it is easy to overlook the positive changes that we are seeing across the world.

Families are bonding over board games, Joe Wicks work outs and silly videos made to make people smile on social media. My children’s laughter is a sound that I have delighted in hearing in these quiet and scary times. Fortunately, it has been a regular sound bite. I have also noticed that my children are reconnecting with their siblings, as their ability to seek company outside of our home has diminished. We are, as a society, all in the grip of “absence making our hearts grow fonder” by social distancing from family and friends. Where possible, people are offering help to the vulnerable in our communities. Resulting in neighbours actually talking to each other and getting to know one another. On social media platforms I have seen offers of shopping, donations of essentials to those in need and treat packages for nurses and carers being gifted. It has made me emotional seeing the kindness and gratitude of others. These traditions of community seen in bygone eras are a reminder that human nature is inherently kind.

It is often times where humanity is at threat we see the power of human connection. Many of us have not experienced anything quite like this in our lifetime. That power of connection was certainly felt as we all hung out of windows and stood in our gardens to clap for the NHS. This simple act of solidarity and gratitude united us in tearful acknowledgment of the sacrifices that are being made for our health and wellbeing. This need to connect is being replicated in many different forms all over the world. In the UK people have joined together to play music/sing in our gardens and musicians have created virtual orchestras. All of these small things have brought us glimpses of hope and a shimmer of sunshine to what can be a very dull day. I am sure that, during this pandemic, you have read or have heard many stories about random acts of kindness and I am sure many more will be generated as these torrid times continue.

One of the most surprising revelations has been the impact to our environment. It would seem that as all of the nations around the world pressed a pause button on their daily lives, Mother Earth became the rather unlikely (and probably the only) beneficiary of the coronavirus crisis. In the months leading up to the global pandemic, cities across the world were filled with protesters calling for action on climate change. World leaders were accused of not listening, not caring and not acting fast enough to disrupt the continued destruction of our environment. Yet, in a few short weeks we have seen quite dramatic changes in C02 levels across the globe. For example, in China the fall in carbon emissions has been significant, a recorded fall of 25% in February 2020. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates that this is equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide — more than half the annual emissions of Britain. There has also been a significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Although, not in my house, our energy use is through the roof (not that my husband has mentioned Blackpool illuminations or said he’s boiling at all). The Grand Canal in Venice is flowing clear and sea turtles are hatching on empty beaches. Meanwhile, in Wales, the goats have taken over Llandudno.

It is important that we remember to not lose sight of the positives. Hopefully, by looking at the positives in equal measure with the negatives we will find an equilibrium that enables us to navigate our way through these stormy waves.

Planning Decisions in a Global Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic, lockdown measures and the need to practice social distancing will have a significant impact on the area of planning decision making, just like virtually every other area of public and private life right now.

The Rules

Determining planning applications and other planning decisions are local government functions which, despite the current crisis, still need to be made in accordance with public law rules, legislation and the Councils’ constitutions. Some planning decisions have to be made by planning committees while others, which are usually less complex or controversial, have been delegated to senior planning officers.

All local authority meetings, including full Council and committee meetings, have rules, set out by legislation relating to publicity. These include publishing the officer’s report to committee in advance of the meeting and making all documents which are relevant to the planning decision publicly available. Thanks to technology, many of these processes take place online and will perhaps be less vulnerable to disruption.

Planning committee meetings are required to be held in public with sufficient suitably trained members to make up a quorate. For certain types of decisions such as determination of planning applications, members of the public have rights to address the meeting (‘public speaking rights’).

Effect of Lockdown on Planning Committee Meetings

The laws enabling the nation-wide lockdown clearly make the usual planning committee meetings unfeasible. Regulation 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (in force from 26 March 2020), states that “no one is allowed to leave their house except for specific reasons, which include travelling for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living”. Regulation 7 prohibits the gathering of more than two people in a public place subject to exceptions which include a gathering which is essential for work purposes. Contravention of regulations 6 and 7 are criminal offences.

While the exceptions in regulations 6 and 7 may, if there were no other means of meeting, possibly enable officers and members to meet, the regulations would definitely prevent any members of the public from attending those meetings. Since the crisis started, Councils have been preparing themselves for the obvious need for change and have mooted the idea of remote meetings. Some Councils already stream their planning committee meeting via live webcasts allowing a wider audience to attend.

New Regulations on Remote Local Government Meetings

Regulations have now been made to enable local authorities to hold meetings remotely and fulfil their constitutional and legislative requirements regarding public access. The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, contain temporary measures, which specify that the definition of local authority meetings include meetings held virtually, online, by video conference or even telephone conference calling, so long as the members attending these meetings can be heard by, and where practicable, seen by other members and members of the public.

Under the regulations, a meeting is considered open to the public if it is accessible by remote means including video conferences and live webcasting. The regulations come into effect on Saturday 4 April.

Like working from home during this crisis, there is likely to be a practical difference between voluntarily making meetings accessible to some people online and having to conduct every planning meeting remotely. Adjustments will need to be made and resources, including staff time which itself is likely to be under strain, will be required to test systems, train members and ensure that everything runs smoothly. Notwithstanding this, it is extremely useful that technology has provided a potential solution to this particular aspect of the crisis which will hopefully prevent the system from grinding to a halt.

The rate of change is dramatic at the moment and we are all on a rapid learning curve to engage with new circumstances and technological solutions. What we will find is that local planning authorities’ responses will not be consistent and that the issues surrounding the delay caused by the crisis will impact on all aspects of the economy.

Commercial Leases and Covid-19 - Points to Consider

As a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic, these are concerning and unprecedented times for both landlords and tenants of commercial premises.

Specific advice should be sought before any action is taken and our solicitors within our commercial property team based in Shrewsbury are on hand to assist you. In the meantime we have identified some general points for consideration;

Impact of the Coronavirus Act 2020

Section 82 of the newly introduced Act impacts upon forfeiture of commercial tenancies for non-payment of rent. The moratorium applies to arears incurred prior to the coming into force of the Act.

The effects of the Act are that the landlord’s right to forfeit is suspended.

It is not the case that no business will be forced out of its premises if it misses a payment in the next three months; it is simply that no business will be forced out of its premises in the next three months if it misses a payment.

Section 82(1) provides that:

“a right of re-entry or forfeiture, under a relevant business tenancy, for non-payment of rent may not be enforced, by action or otherwise, during the relevant period.”

Relevant Business Tenancy

A “relevant business tenancy” means (a) a tenancy to which Part 2 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (LTA 1954) applies or (b) a tenancy to which that Part of that Act would apply if any relevant occupier were the tenant: section 82(12).

Pursuant to section 23 thereof, Part 2 of the LTA 1954 applies to any tenancy where the demised premises (or part) are occupied by the tenant for business purposes.

The Relevant Period

The extent of the restriction on forfeiture of leases of business premises for non-payment of sums due from the tenant is however limited to “the relevant period”. This is the period from 26 March 2020 and ending on 30 June 2020 (section 82(12), CVA 2020). Note the period may be extended by regulations.

Consequently there is, initially a three month period of grace within which forfeiture for non-payment of rent is precluded. It is also worth noting that ‘rent’ is wide ranging and can include other payments due under the lease.

It is however important to acknowledge the limitations of section 82(1), even in the context of non-payment of rent. These are as follows:

  • The Act does not extinguish the tenant’s liability for the rent payments.
  • The Act does not extinguish the landlord’s ability to exercise any other lawful remedies available to it – for example a breach of covenant action (save for non-payment of rent).
  • When the Act comes to an end (whether from 1 July or any later date), a landlord will, if it then desires, be able to forfeit the lease for non-payment of all the accrued arrears. It is important to note that Section 82 gives a tenant just a short window (during the COVID-19 outbreak) in which it is immune from forfeiture if it fails to pay its rent, but does offer long-term relief.
  • The tenant will also not be able to rely on any acts by the landlord during the relevant period as waiving their right to forfeit for earlier non-payment.

Specific Considerations:

If you are a tenant

  • Rent

If you pay rent in accordance with a turnover clause as opposed to one based upon market rent, you may see a decline in takings for your business as a result of the recent government restrictions. Consequently you may wish to see a reduction in the amount of rent payable.

Whether this applies will of course depend upon the specific turnover provisions contained within your lease.

  • Breach of landlord covenants

If you are a tenant of a multi-let building and the landlord is required as a result of Covid -19 to close then it could be argued that the landlord is in breach of its obligation to allow you quiet enjoyment as such closure would result in a tenant being unable to gain access to the premises. A tenant is entitled to exclusive possession of the premises. If this has or is about to happen, it may be worth taking steps now in order to raise a claim later for damages against your landlord such as loss of profit accounts.

  • Break clauses

You may want to double check your lease for any break clause provisions in case you want to end your lease earlier in light of the circumstances.

  • Force majeure clauses

These are not common in leases but it is worth checking for a 'force majeure' clause which could allow you to say that your obligations in the lease are suspended because of Covid-19. Be aware though the landlord could also use these provisions if they apply.

If you are a landlord

  • Rent suspension

The law does not provide that rent suspension provisions must in the current circumstances be applied – this will be a matter for negotiation between the you and your tenant. You may decide to defer, reduce or suspend the rent for a period to avoid tenant insolvency. Any decisions of this type must be documented very carefully.

In most leases the obligation to pay the rent is only suspended, or the amount of rent reduced, where there has been "damage" to or "destruction" of the premises by an insured risk or, in some cases, an uninsured risk. Covid-19 itself does not cause physical damage to or destruction of premises, so these provisions are unlikely to be engaged. It will be a matter for the landlord to prove that Covid-19 does not fall within the definition of insured risks as provided for by the lease and it could be argued that this is too far removed in order for the tenant to make a successful claim.

  • Force majeure clauses

These are not common in leases but it is worth checking for a 'force majeure' clause which could allow you to say that your obligations in the lease are suspended because of Covid-19. Be aware though the tenant could also use these provisions if they apply.

For further advice please contact me, Lynsey Cater or Andrew Evans.

Can I Still Move Home During the Covid-19 Outbreak

Last week the government issued guidance to buyers, sellers, estate agents, solicitors, surveyors and new property developers regarding moving home whilst the UK is in lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. We aim to answer any questions you may have in this regard within this blog.

Will my transaction proceed?

Whilst there is no need to immediately pull out of transactions, we all must ensure we are following guidance to stay at home and away from others at all times, including the specific measures for those who are presenting symptoms, self-isolating or shielding. Prioritising the health of individuals and the public must be the priority.

If you are moving into a vacant property, or if indeed you are purchasing a buy to let property which is vacant or already has tenants in situ, then you can continue with that transaction as planned. In these circumstances we, at Lanyon Bowdler, recommend a simultaneous (same day) exchange and completion. If you are moving into a vacant property you must ensure that when carrying out removals yourself, you comply with the social distancing guidance during the moving process.

Where the property is currently occupied and no exchange has taken place, we encourage parties to delay exchange until such time as the stay-at-home measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) will no longer be in place to minimise the risks.

If exchange has already taken place and you are contractually bound to complete, we encourage all parties within the chain to do all they can to amicably agree an alternative date to move, for a time in the future when it is likely that stay-at-home measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) will no longer be in place. This may be a fixed date in the future, or it may be more appropriate for an on notice completion, with a longstop and/or Covid-19 special condition provision. This can be done by a variation of the contract but it is important that a new contract is not entered into.

Will my mortgage offer be valid?

It is important to remember when agreeing a new completion date that you ensure your mortgage offer will remain valid at the point of the revised completion date. Last week UK Finance confirmed, that in order to support customers who have already exchanged contracts for property purchases with set dates for completion, all mortgage lenders are working to find ways to enable an extension of their mortgage offer for up to three months.

We recommend you check with your lender as to whether this is automatic or whether you will be required to apply for such an extension.

It is also worth considering that should your financial circumstances change between exchange and completion i.e. you lose your job, your lender would be entitled to withdraw the mortgage offer. Finally, you should also be aware that property prices could fluctuate during Covid-19 and again this may affect your mortgage offer. UK Finance have confirmed banks will work with their customers should this happen.

Follow the guidance

If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus. In line with government’s guidelines, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible.

In the new emergency enforcement powers given to the police, which came into force last week, there is an exemption for critical home moves, in the event that a new date is unable to be agreed.

If you are looking to put your property on the market for sale this may be more challenging than usual during this period. There should be no visitors to your home.

You can speak to estate agents over the phone and they will be able to give you general advice about the local property market and handle certain matters remotely, but they will not be able to start actively marketing your home in the usual manner.

If you are thinking about selling, you can use this time to start gathering together all of the information you will need to provide to potential purchasers, and indeed we at Lanyon Bowdler are accepting instructions from clients in this regard.

If your property is already on the market, you can continue to advertise it as being for sale but you should not allow people in to view your property. We are aware that some estate agents have arranged for sellers to carry out viewings with prospective buyers by video apps. We do not recommend, however, that you exchange until such time as the stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted so that you can view the property in person.

If you have any questions or if you would like to instruct us to act on your behalf please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

National Minimum Wage

National Minimum Wage rates are to increase from 1 April.

The National Living Wage (for over 25-year-olds) will increase 6.2% from £8.21 to £8.72.

For other age groups and apprentices the rates will increase as follows:

  • 21-24-year-olds: 6.5% from £7.70 to £8.20
  • 18-20-year-olds: 4.9% from £6.15 to £6.45
  • Under-18s: 4.6% from £4.35 to £4.55
  • Apprentices: 6.4% increase from £3.90 to £4.15

Agricultural Minimum Wage (Wales)

The Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2020 was made on 27 March 2020 and will come into force on 1 April 2020. This Order replaces the Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2019.

It makes provision about the minimum rates of remuneration and other terms and conditions of employment for agricultural workers in Wales.

The Order increases the minimum pay levels for all categories and grades of agricultural workers in Wales.

For the full Order please click here.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Back in February in the office there was a sense of anticipation in the air on Valentine’s Day and it was nothing to do with what the postman might bring. A fair few of us were hoping our phones might ring with news that we had won a prize raffle for a house worth over half a million. Sadly, our hopes were dashed when news broke that the prize had been won by a 23 year old from Wolverhampton. Congratulations to this lucky lady and we wish you the best for your future there.

Isn’t it lovely to get momentarily carried away with thoughts of our dream property, particularly in the current climate? For some it is a place in the country, others a spot by the sea.

But for many of our clients in Court of Protection their dream home is simply something that caters for their needs and allows them to live comfortably, securely and with independence.

Thinking about our own homes for a moment, it is easy to see how accessing them could become difficult or even a danger if we suddenly suffered a life-changing accident. At a time when our world has already been turned upside down, our home no longer representing a sanctuary is a sizable additional challenge to overcome.

Furthermore, as our property is often our most valuable asset it also represents a large area of vulnerability for our clients. Having someone independent in charge of making decisions relating to property can avoid questions about whether transactions are really being carried out in the best interests of the incapacitated person.

How Can We Help?

Our team of professional deputies recognises these difficulties and can make decisions on behalf of clients about: buying and selling property, finding suitable rental accommodation, authorising purpose-built housing to be made and/or arranging suitable adaptations for existing homes.

As someone who recently purchased a ‘doer-upper’ myself, I am aware of the significant costs involved in achieving a comfortable home. A deputy will be aware that any specific adaptations to a property may not be matched by an equivalent increase in the value of the property and therefore a good deal of consideration will be given to whether it is appropriate for the client to remain in their own home.

A deputy must always bear in mind that any improvements to a client’s property are to be done in their best interests and they will need to obtain a number of estimates from suppliers to ensure this is achieved. There may also be a need to defer to other professionals such as an architect or surveyor if the adaptations are sizeable.

As well as the bigger decisions, a deputy is responsible for many aspects of running and maintaining a home for our clients. This includes ensuring that the various safety checks are completed, that service contracts are in place to cover heating, water and electrical supplies and arranging the necessary buildings and contents insurance cover. They also manage the utility bills and are responsible for ensuring that the correct level of council tax is paid.

A deputy has a duty to ensure that a property is kept secure and in a reasonable state of repair. One of the professional deputy standards recommends that a deputy should regularly “review the condition of the property and ensure it is adequately maintained.” Therefore, our Court of Protection team works with our facilities manager and ensures that there is access to reliable tradesmen and contractors for repairs and gardening.

We know that a home represents a great deal more than simply the bricks and mortar it is made from. We work closely with our clients and their families when it comes to matters of the home and understand both the practical and emotional aspects. If you would like to contact us regarding any matter relating to mental capacity, please ask to speak to a member of the Court of Protection team.

Working and Learning Remotely

While applying for training contracts you’re often asked what new challenges will law firms face in the future. For the most part, in recent times, this would have incited a discussion concerning Brexit and the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. Less likely to be considered are the ramifications of a pandemic on the legal sector and the country as a whole.

As a trainee with Lanyon Bowdler, I had just started my second seat with the personal injury department when restrictions in the United Kingdom were yet to be put in place. I, like many of the other trainees, had only just begun to settle into my new role within the department.

At an early stage, Lanyon Bowdler started taking steps to actively manage the ever evolving situation, both in terms of meeting the needs of its clients and of its employees. I happened to be in the position where I was both an employee and a client of the firm; having only just recently completed on my property purchase.

A client’s perspective

From a client perspective, this included the residential property department liaising with me throughout the process, updating me as to any issues that might arise and generally assisting with my concerns. Whether this was regarding the effect this situation might have on exchange of contracts and completion, or just the normal everyday concerns.

A trainee’s perspective

Within my own department, the thing I noticed most, was despite the fact each individual had their own matters and concerns everyone took time to ensure that others could meet the changing demands of the situation. The firm as a whole has also come together with individuals taking on roles and assisting wherever they can, even if this is just by lending someone a spare laptop that can be used to work remotely or stopping to listen to another colleague’s concerns. My team has taken every step to ensure that my experience within the seat and my training contract will not be hampered and that I am still able to carry out my role effectively; albeit in a very different way.

The legal sector will take time as a whole to adapt to this situation, with everyone working remotely (including the courts). We may see changes to the way we would witness a Will, with e-signatures and video-witnessing being contemplated; although, there is no confirmation that this would be accepted so far. In personal injury, we have already seen a dramatic shift to remote access to the courts and greater cooperation between defendant and claimant lawyers who understand the need to maintain continuity and mitigate the effects of these unprecedented circumstances.

These are difficult times for everyone, the way we go about our lives has changed drastically with little time to adjust. The ability of the people of Lanyon Bowdler to maintain a degree of normality and to continue to perform exceptionally at times like this, is how I know I’ve chosen the right firm to undertake my training contract with.

If you are interested in applying for a training contract with Lanyon Bowdler, please visit the training contracts page for more information.

Coronavirus: The Conflict between Social Distancing and Signing your Will

These are uncertain and unprecedented times. COVID-19 is dominating the news and we, as a population, have to adapt to a new way of life, and one that includes such things as social distancing.

As many of us are practising social distancing, you may find yourself at home, away from your workplace and with more time on your hands. Many will be using this time to catch up with general life-admin, and of course considering their future. The Daily Telegraph has reported that levels of requests for New Wills are up by 30 per cent since Coronavirus reached the UK. At Lanyon Bowdler, we can most certainly believe this statistic, as we continue to receive an influx of instructions for new Wills on a daily basis.

We are following government guidelines regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and we acknowledge the need to stay safe at this time. Whilst it may be difficult at the moment for you to leave your home to come in and see us, you can easily get in touch with us by phone, email or by video conferencing (which allows us to take your instructions without the need for face-to-face meetings). We will be more than happy to help you and your family with any concerns you may have during these uncertain times.

How Can I Have my Signature Witnessed when Social Distancing?

The issue crops up when it comes time to sign your Will. After we have received your instructions we can send you your Will for signing at home (to avoid you having to leave the house and attend the office). To be validly executed, a Will must be signed by the testator (you) in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign the Will in your presence.

As you can see, this presents an issue given the guidance as regards social distancing.

Asking your spouse or a family member in your household to witness the Will is not the solution. Your witnesses must not be a beneficiary of the Will. If one of them were to sign as your witnesses, then they would lose any gift or inheritance left to them in the Will.

To comply with the current guidelines regarding social distancing, you should not have friends or neighbours over at your house and you should avoid coming into contact with others. How then, can a Will be validly signed and witnessed?

Some options could include signing outside with neighbours looking on over the garden fence, or on your doorstep with witnesses at the other end of the driveway. It is extremely important, however, in all cases, to keep a safe distance from others and to comply with the latest government guidance at all times, for example by witnessing at a distance of at least two metres and with everyone using their own pens.

In these times of social distancing, the above options present their own problems, in particular with regards to those in a vulnerable category, or those who may be self-isolating. But what about witnessing a Will through a window?

The Case of Casson v Dade

You may be surprised to learn that such a situation was, in fact, addressed in a very old piece of case law: the case of Casson v Dade of 1781.

In Casson Miss Honora Jenkins went to her solicitor’s office to execute her Will. She signed the Will in the office, in the presence of her witnesses. After she signed the Will, however, Miss Jenkins felt faint and was taken to sit in her carriage outside of the office. The witnesses to the Will stayed in the solicitor’s office and signed the Will, at which time the carriage window was in a clear line of sight with the office window. Miss Jenkins looked through the window and therefore could see the witnesses signing the Will. The case of Casson suggests therefore that it may be sufficient to have two witnesses who are in line of sight though not in the same room, i.e. through a window or closed patio door. This could be the solution needed when it comes to validly executing your Will.

Advice Regarding the Validity of Your Will

COVID-19 is changing the world we live in on a daily basis. In these unprecedented and unpredictable times, it is natural for us to be thinking about the future and planning for the unknown. As part of this, we just need to ensure that any documents are valid and correct.

At Lanyon Bowdler we are continuing to provide legal services to you and we will remain available to discuss your matter. If you want to talk about your Wills or any other related issues, then please get in touch with one of our experienced private client solicitors.

The Coronavirus Act 2020

As the police redeploy and only arrest where absolutely necessary and the courts slow down, I find myself in the unusual position of having 10 minutes spare to compose a blog…

The current state of play is that all ongoing jury trials will continue until conclusion. Locally, no new jury trials will commence and any trial listed between now and 27 April will be vacated and relisted later in the year. This is sure to cause significant problems to a criminal justice system that is already listing trials that are over two years old.

At present, Crown Courts are only covering urgent work which may include for example a bail application or to extend custody time limits.

Likewise, Magistrates’ Courts are only covering urgent work such as overnight custody cases and people produced from prison.

Finally, the police are being diverted to coronavirus related patrols, for example dispersing barbeques or house parties as I have read in the local press!

It is now a criminal offence to leave the place where you are living (unless homeless) without a reasonable excuse.

'Reasonable excuses' are listed and include assisting vulnerable people, taking daily exercise, purchasing food necessities or attending court!

As designated ‘key workers’, myself and my colleagues are still on call 24/7, as and when we are needed.

The Coronavirus Act 2020

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is now out and sees a number of temporary changes in the criminal justice system.

In the Act, for mental health related cases, only one practitioner is now required to make a recommendation instead of two where impractical or would involve undesirable delay (Schedule 8).

New screening procedures and powers of enforcement are brought in for those suspected of having coronavirus or symptoms which could result in a fine, not exceeding level 3 if somebody fails to comply without reasonable excuse (Schedule 21).

Under Schedule 22, people can be fined (a £60 fine, which is reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days and an additional fine of £120 for a second offence) if they fail without reasonable excuse to comply with a prohibition relating to events, gatherings and premises.

Finally, Schedules 23-26 inclusive, introduce and fast track the courts’ powers to utilise live audio and video links for people to take part in proceedings amending existing legislation.

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