Government to bring forward an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill

The Government is bringing forward an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill inserting a new clause that would ensure that victims of domestic abuse are automatically eligible for access to special measures in family proceedings without the need for any determination of the victim’s vulnerability

This includes a new clause  given the Court the power to give a direction prohibiting cross-examination in person.

The direction will be given where such cross examination is likely to diminish the quality of the victim’s evidence or would cause significant distress to the witness

The court would have the power to appoint a legal representative to conduct cross examination on behalf of the perpetrator with payment made from central funds.

Further guidance is awaited.

This news is welcome. For too long, victims have been subject to cross examination by perpetrators. Currently, the Judge has limited powers only to prevent direct questioning, but this has the effect of making the process longer and more difficult.

The family courts make decision with lifelong consequences for children and it is essential that evidence is given that ensure a safe, lasting and satisfactory outcome for the child to ensure justice is done for all involved.

Graeme Fraser, Partner & Head of Family comments as follows:

This is welcome news, particularly at a time when domestic abuse has manifestly increased as a result of the Covid19 disruption and lockdown. We hope that these measures can be brought into force imminently so that justice can be done to all those affected.

 For information and advice in relation to domestic abuse issues, please contact the OGR Stock Denton Family Team.

Employees returning from parental leave continue to be eligible for furlough scheme

Employees returning from statutory maternity and paternity leave in the next few months will remain eligible for furlough through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Since 10 June, it has no longer been possible to furlough an employee for the first time, with the Government set to introduce part-time furlough from 1 July onwards. To facilitate this, the scheme will only be available to employers that are using the CJRS and employees that have previously been furloughed.

Because workers must complete 21 days of furlough to be eligible for part-time furlough, this means that the cut-off date for employees to be placed on furlough leave was Wednesday 10 June.

However, employees returning from parental leave will be eligible for the CJRS as they return to work, with further details set to be announced by the Government imminently.

The CJRS has helped more than one million employers so far, with more than one quarter of the UK workforce being furloughed.

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “When I announced these changes to the furlough scheme last month, I was clear that we wanted to do this in a fair way, that supports people back to work as the country begins to re-open following coronavirus.

“But for parents returning from leave, their circumstances has meant that they are still in need of support, and I’m pleased that they will be able to receive the financial assistance they and their family will need.”

Are employers responsible for commuter safety as people return to work?

Current guidance recommends that anyone who is not able to work from home should return to work within the ‘COVID secure’ guidelines.

As part of this return to work, people are being encouraged to avoid public transport where possible, but for many this may not be possible.

To assist those who commute via public transport the Department for Transport has published guidance. These guidelines include:

  • Take a less busy route
  • People should travel at off-peak times
  • Wait for other passengers to get off before boarding
  • Keep two metres away from other passengers where possible
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds after completing a journey

It is mandatory for passengers on all forms of public transport to wear a face covering from 15 June. Fines will be issued to those who refuse to follow this rule and they may be refused travel.

Employers are not legally responsible for any risks associated with an employee’s commute to work, but they do need to be aware of travel arrangements as it may increase the risk of transmission at work.

It is in an employer’s best interest to have a discussion with workers about their return to work and be receptive to concerns they may have about their commute.

Employers are being encouraged to discuss what is possible, and what might not be when taking their circumstances into account.

When bringing people back to the workplace employers should be careful not to discriminate against an employee based on their circumstance or create a situation that could lead to a potential legal dispute.  

Employers face imminent decisions on redundancies

Employers concerned at the prospect of contributing to the cost of furloughed employees’ wages from August now face imminent decisions about whether to begin the redundancy process.

An employer wishing to make 100 or more redundancies from 1 August, when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will cease to cover the cost of National Insurance and pension contributions, has until 15 June to initiate a 45-day consultation.

Meanwhile, employers looking to make between 20 and 99 redundancies must initiate a 30-day consultation, giving them until the start of July.

Additionally, employers may also need to allow for time for employee representatives to be elected, where there is no recognised trade union.

Collective consultation must follow a set structure, which begins with notifying the Redundancy Payments Service (RPS) ahead of the consultation, consulting with trade union or employee representatives, providing information to staff, responding to requests for further information, issuing termination notices and issuing redundancy notices.

For employers looking to make fewer than 20 employees redundant in a 90-day period, there is no statutory consultation period, but some form of consultation is generally recommended in order to mitigate the possibility of disputes arising.

Whistleblowers make almost 2,000 allegations of furlough fraud

Figures show that almost 2,000 allegations of furlough fraud have been made by whistleblowers against employers, with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) expected to impose steep penalties on businesses and directors found to have abused the scheme.

Such claims come in several forms, including requiring furloughed employees to work, failing to pass the full value of the grant to the employee and backdating claims to include periods when the employee was, in fact, working.

Draft legislation published by the tax authority indicates that retrospective auditing of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be rigorous with severe penalties for employers found to be in breach of the rules.

The proposed legislation provides for HMRC to raise Income Tax assessments to recover amounts wrongly claimed from the scheme and to charge penalties in instances of deliberate wrongdoing.

Significantly, the legislation also contains provisions for holding company directors jointly and severally liable for any breaches.

Government extends eviction ban in England and Wales

The ban on evictions in England and Wales, originally introduced in March, will now be extended for a further two months.

The Government’s latest extension to the eviction moratorium means that landlords will be unable to commence a claim in the Courts for possession before 23 August 2020.

The move, intended to protect tenants facing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, does not excuse tenants from paying rent and any missed payments will, in most cases, result in the accrual of rent arrears unless agreed otherwise.

How these arrears are repaid is down to the discussions and agreements between individual tenants and landlords. Once the moratorium ends, if arrears continue to be unpaid, then landlords will be able to take action to repossess their property via eviction proceedings.

The Government has said that tenants and landlords should maintain a dialogue and consider all options including flexible payment plans which take into account a tenant’s circumstances.

The Government is also working on new arrangements, including legislation, which will ensure the Courts are better equipped to address the need for appropriate protection of all parties, including those shielding from coronavirus. 

These arrangements should ensure that judges have the necessary information to make just decisions and protect the most vulnerable, according to the Government. 

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) extended

The Chancellor has confirmed the extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), with the announcement of a second and final grant to support the income of self-employed individuals during the Coronavirus outbreak.

The first and current round of grants under the scheme allows self-employed individuals to claim a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of three months’ average monthly trading profits, capped at a total of £7,500 and paid in a single instalment.

It has seen 2.3 million claims to date, collectively worth £6.8 billion.

Applications for this round of grants will close on 13 July 2020. However, the Chancellor has now announced that self-employed individuals will be able to claim a second grant in August. This will be worth 70 per cent of three months’ average trading profits and will be capped at £6,570 in total, also paid in a single instalment.

Individuals do not need to have claimed the first grant to be able to claim the second.

Unlike the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for employees, self-employed individuals may continue working, begin a new trade or take on new employment while in receipt of a grant.

The full criteria for qualification for the scheme remain unchanged. Applicants must:

  • Be self-employed or a member of a partnership;
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19;
  • File a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed or a member of a trading partnership;
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID-19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021; and
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000 and more than half of their total income come from self-employment. This can be with reference to at least one of the following conditions:
    • Trading profits and total income in 2018-19
    • Average trading profits and total income across up to the three years between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.

The scheme is not available to people working through their own limited companies.

Further details about how to apply for the second and final grant will be announced on 12 June 2020.

Chancellor unveils changes to furlough scheme

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced a series of changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) from July that will see furloughed employees able to return to work part-time, but with the value of Government support reducing gradually from August.

Meanwhile, the scheme will, in effect, close to employees who have not previously been furloughed from 10 June, before closing completely at the end of October.

A system of ‘flexible furloughing’ will come into effect from 1 July, allowing employers to bring back furloughed employees for any amount of time on any shift pattern, while still able to claim a grant in respect of the time not worked when they otherwise would.

Employers will have to pay employees at their usual rate of pay for any hours they work, while also covering the cost of Employer National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and minimum employer automatic enrolment pension contributions that this pay attracts.

They will need to reach new flexible furlough agreements with any furloughed employees brought back on a part-time basis.

From 1 August, CJRS grants will cease to cover Employer NICs and pension contributions, with this cost passing to employers. The grant will continue to cover 80 per cent of furloughed employee’s usual wages, up to a cap of £2,500 a month.

However, from 1 September, the value of the grant will fall to 70 per cent of a furloughed employee’s usual wages, capped at £2,187.50 a month. Employers will be expected to contribute the remaining 10 per cent plus NICs and pension contributions to reach a combined total payment to the employee of 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to a cap of £2,500 a month.

October will see the value of the Government contribution fall again to 60 per cent, capped at £1,875 a month, with employers expected to contribute 20 per cent of a furloughed employee’s usual wages plus NICs and pension contributions to reach the total of 80 per cent, capped at £2,500 a month.

At the same time, the Chancellor confirmed the closure of the scheme to new entrants from 30 June. After this point, employers will only be able to furlough employees who have been furloughed for three full weeks at any point before 30 June.

This means the last day an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be Wednesday 10 June.

Furthermore, after 30 June, employers will not be able to claim for more employees in a claim period than the maximum number they have claimed for in any period under the scheme in its current format.

Full details of how the scheme will operate from this point are expected to be announced on 12 June 2020.

The announcement comes against the background of an easing of the lockdown restrictions that have closed down large sections of the economy since late March, with the Government now encouraging certain sectors back to work.

The CJRS was announced by the Chancellor in March and currently allows employers to furlough any employees who were on a PAYE payroll and reported to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) through the Real-Time Information (RTI) system by 19 March 2020.

Since then, more than a million employers have collectively claimed £15 billion from the scheme in respect of 8.4 million employees, via the Government’s online portal.

The announcement comes days after the Chancellor issued a new Direction to HMRC, updating the record-keeping requirements of the scheme.

Under these requirements, the written agreement that the furloughed employee will, under the current terms of the scheme, cease all work must be retained until 30 June 2025 and:

  • State the main terms and conditions;
  • Be incorporated either expressly or implicitly in the contract of employment; and
  • Be either made or confirmed in writing.

It is widely expected that HMRC will audit use of the scheme retrospectively over the coming months and years, with potentially hefty penalties for those found to have acted improperly.