New national lockdown in England

The new national lockdown came into force in England at 12.01am on Thursday 5 November and will last until at least Wednesday 2 December.

The government has now published the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 4) Regulations 2020.

In Wales, the national 'firebreak' lockdown has concluded. Check the Welsh government's guidance.

What are the new restrictions in England?

The most relevant points for solicitors include:

  • fulfilling a legal obligation – under part 6, clause 4 of the regulations, it's acceptable for a person to leave home "to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings"
  • going to work – everyone who can work effectively from home must do so. Where it's not reasonably possible, people should continue to travel to work/attend their workplace, which is allowed under part 6, clause 4 of the regulations
  • international travel – outbound international travel and overnight stays away from home are to be banned, unless for work purposes. If people must travel, they should follow the quarantine guidelines and relevant travel corridor restrictions
  • courts – courts will remain open unless otherwise stated
  • education – childcare, schools, colleges and universities will remain open and the prime minister stressed school is the best place for children to be
  • vulnerable people – clinically vulnerable people have been asked to follow the restrictions closely as far as possible
  • property market remains open – the regulations allow people to leave home under part 6, exception 2.g for the purposes of conducting the following activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property:
    • visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes
    • viewing residential properties to look for a property to buy or to rent
    • preparing a residential property to move in
    • moving house
    • visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property
  • key workers – the definition of 'key workers' will be the same as it was in the first lockdown and will therefore cover solicitors if they fall within these categories:
    • advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors
    • other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings
    • solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills
    • solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty

See the full details on the restrictions on the GOV.UK website

Frequently asked questions

Certain businesses and venues have been ordered to close, but law firms are not covered in this list.

Government guidance indicates that other businesses are permitted to stay open, following COVID-19 secure guidelines.

The COVID regulations include a list of businesses permitted to remain open (part 3 of the Schedule).

In response to our queries on this point, government officials have clarified that the list in part 3 of the Schedule addresses essential retail and relates only to section 18 of the regulations, which references businesses offering goods for sale or for hire in a shop.

Law firms can therefore remain open.

However, everyone who can work effectively from home must do so. If the law firm requires an employee to work from the firm to perform a function that cannot be reasonably done from home, then the employee can leave home to attend work at the firm.

Law firms should continue to meet clients virtually and, if possible, deliver services remotely.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has clarified that for client due diligence and ID checks, face-to-face contact is not necessarily required.

You may consider whether using other means, such as email, telephone and virtual appointments, is enough. Visit the SRA website for further information.

Under part 6, exception 2.e of the regulations, it’s acceptable for a person to leave home "to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings".

The regulations do not define what is considered a legal proceeding. We’re seeking clarification from the government on this point and will update this section accordingly.

The government has stated that the guidance on the new national restrictions from 5 November, section 11, bullet point 5 indicates that people can travel for a number of reasons, including to buy services from premises that are open.

Remote witnessing of wills is now permissible. See the government's guidance on making wills using video-conferencing and our advice for members.

Law firms should continue to meet clients virtually and, if possible, deliver services remotely.

The regulations provide under clause 11.3.e an exception on gatherings when these are necessary to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.

The act states that personal care includes any form of advice or guidance which “is given to a person who is in need of it by reason of age, illness or disability”.

We’re seeking to clarify with the government if it's acceptable for solicitors to attend a vulnerable client's home, for example, to deal with a private client matter (such as a lasting power of attorney) and will update this section accordingly.

What new support is available?

In addition to previously announced support that remains available, the chancellor of the exchequer has announced additional support for the economy, including:

Furlough scheme extended

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the furlough scheme) will be extended until the end of March 2021.

Eligible employees will receive 80% of their usual salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

Businesses will have flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis or furlough them full-time.

Businesses will only be asked to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions which, for the average claim, accounts for just 5% of total employment costs.

The government has said it will review the policy in January and, if economic conditions allow, it may consider asking businesses to make contributions to furloughed employees' wages.

This measure is UK-wide.

Increase in support under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

The chancellor has announced increased support under the third instalment of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) by doubling the amount of trading profits that self-employed people can claim support on from 40% to 80% for the three months from November to January.

Grants will also be paid faster than previously planned, with the claims window opening at the end of November rather than mid-December.

This measure is UK-wide.

Coronavirus loans

The UK government has announced that it will extend the deadlines for applications to existing loan schemes to the end of January 2021 (the previous deadline was 30 November). This includes the:

  • Bounce Back Loan Scheme
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
  • Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The UK government is also adjusting the Bounce Back Loan Scheme rules to allow those businesses that have borrowed less than their maximum to top up their existing loan.

Businesses will be able to do this from the week starting Monday 9 November and can only make use of this option once.

These measures are UK-wide.

Local restrictions support grant

Businesses required to close in England due to local or national restrictions will be eligible for the following grants:

  • £1,334 per month or £667 per two weeks for properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
  • £2,000 per month or £1,000 per two weeks for properties with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000
  • £3,000 per month or £1,500 per two weeks for properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over

This measure applies in England only, but alternative funding will be made available to devolved administrations.

Local authority support

£1.1 billion is being given to local authorities in England, distributed based on £20 per head, for one-off payments to enable them to support businesses more broadly.

The government is also increasing the upfront funding guarantees for devolved administrations from £14 billion to £16 billion, on top of their Spring Budget 2020 funding.

The Scottish government will receive £8.2 billion of this, the Welsh government will receive £5 billion and the Northern Irish government will be given £2.8 billion.

Mortgage holidays

Mortgage payment holidays will no longer end on 31 October 2020.

Borrowers who have been impacted by coronavirus and have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday will be entitled to a six-month holiday, and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.

The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) will announce further information.

This measure is UK-wide.

Job Support Scheme

The Job Support Scheme, the successor scheme to the furlough scheme, which was scheduled to come in on Sunday 1 November, has been postponed until the furlough scheme ends.

The Job Retention Bonus Scheme has also been delayed until after the end of the furlough scheme extension.

This measure is UK-wide.

What will happen next?

The full lockdown regulations (the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 4) Regulations 2020) have been published and approved by MPs.

After 2 December, there will be a return to different tiers (1, 2 and 3) in different parts of England depending on virus numbers.

Scottish and Welsh restrictions remain as last week.

Resources for solicitors

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: guidance for law firms

Guidance to law firms on the Job Support Scheme

Guidance on the use of virtual execution of documents and electronic signatures

Virtual witnessing of wills

Coronavirus (COVID-19) sector-specific guidance: Conveyancers

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and residential conveyancing transactions

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We’ll continue to monitor the regulations and update our website as needed.

If you have any questions, email coronavirus@lawsociety.org.uk.

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