On 4 January 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in England. The regulations allow the lockdown to continue until 31 March 2021, although the restrictions are expected to be reviewed in mid-February to allow for the possible reopening of schools. All of the United Kingdom is now under strict measures to curb the spread of the new fast-spreading COVID-19 variant—with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown (although these countries are governed by separate rules).
The government has published guidance on what residents may do during the lockdown. The new rules demand that people in England refrain from leaving their homes except for limited reasons; these are specified in the guidance. According to these rules:
- People are prohibited from socialising indoors unless it is with individuals in their own household or support bubble.
- Schools and colleges are closed to all pupils except those who are vulnerable or whose parents are critical workers. End-of-year exams will not take place in the summer as planned.
- Nonessential retailers and hospitality venues are required to close, although takeaway, click-and-collect (where goods are pre-ordered and collected without entering retail premises) and drive-through services are permitted.
Going to Work
The guidance provides that people should only leave home for work purposes if they cannot “reasonably” work from home. “This includes, but is not limited to, people who work in:
- critical national infrastructure;
- childcare or education;
- essential public services.”
A comprehensive list of “critical workers” can be found in the guidance.
The guidance encourages employers to “take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home”.
The government has also updated its guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) to state that employers can furlough employees whose health has been affected by COVID-19 or any other conditions, including “if they are unable to work, including from home, or working reduced hours because they:
- are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus and following public health guidance;
- have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has introduced a new one-off grant worth up to £9,000 for each business that is required to close under the new lockdown restrictions. This is in addition to business rates relief and the CJRS, which has been extended until 30 April 2021.
The new grant, called the Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed) Addendum, is available to businesses in nonessential retail, hospitality, and leisure, and businesses are not obligated to pay the grant money back. The payment will be based on the business’s property value, as follows:
- £4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under;
- £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000;
- £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000.
Other support packages have been extended until 31 March 2021, such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme. These had been due to close at the end of January 2021.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.