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DWF comments on the budget

12 March 2020
Business colleagues in glass room
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has delivered his first Budget in the House of Commons, announcing the government's tax and spending plans for the year ahead. Our legal experts have reviewed the key changes.

Our legal experts review the following key areas of yesterday's budget and how this will affect businesses:

  • Concerns raised at legislating changes to the off-payroll working rules 
  • There remains a lack of clear direction for new nuclear build
  • Housing investment will go a long to resolve shortages 
  • Tech investments should target enhancing privacy capabilities 
  • Will transport initiatives go far enough to meet net-zero targets?
  • Lack of self-isolation clarity for Statutory Sick Pay


Concerns raised at legislating changes to the off-payroll working rules 

Commenting on the changes to the off-payroll working rules by the Chancellor, DWF's Corporate Tax Partner, Caroline Colliston said: 

"The Government has confirmed today that it shall legislate to implement the changes to the off-payroll working rules (aka IR35) from 6 April 2020.  This will occur against a back drop of concerns raised by business, representative bodies and professional advisers about the impact on business, the labour supply chain and the confusion and lack of clarity around the terms and operation of the legislation as well as an extensive House of Lords Select Committee review to which I presented evidence last week on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland.

"Business has been promised a soft landing for the new rules but it remains to be seen how valuable this will be or how this will operate.  All businesses require to take action quickly to check whether they are within the ambit of the new rules and if so, ensure that they are taking steps to comply with the new rules. Suggested steps include identifying their contingent workforce, ensuring the burden of operating PAYE is shifted down their contractual labour supply chain, reviewing the terms of contracts in their labour supply chain, adopting robust internal procedures and audits to ensure status determination statements are provided and liability is limited as well as considering establishing an employment status disagreement process."

There remains a lack of clear direction for new nuclear build

Commenting on the energy announcements by the Chancellor, Darren Walsh, energy partner at DWF, said: 

"There are a number of subtle positives announced by the Chancellor in today's Budget in connection with energy and the low carbon economy. It is pleasing to see still further expansion of the Energy Innovation Programme, as this covers a broad cross section of low carbon initiatives, including renewables, smart energy system technologies, nuclear, built environment, etc.  There is clear support for a carbon capture and storage power station by 2030 but there remains a lack of clear direction for new nuclear build which, as part of the overall energy mix, is essential in meeting the country's decarbonisation targets by 2050 (or earlier). 

"In addition, support for further decarbonisation of the transport system is welcomed with support for additional EV fast-charging infrastructure. There is continued support for domestic and non-domestic RHI schemes." 

Housing investment will go a long to resolve shortages 

Commenting on the housing announcements by the Chancellor at the Budget, Lee Pickett, a real estate partner at DWF, said: 

“The Government has indicated a willingness to invest heavily in housing and infrastructure required to unlock housing sites and resolve the shortages. It is also backing local authorities and RPs to deliver the majority of affordable housing and no doubt, they will continue to work closely with Homes England to make further inroads to meeting the challenges laid down in the Housing White Paper."

Tech investments should target enhancing privacy capabilities 

Commenting on the innovation and technology announcements by the Chancellor, Stewart Room, Head of Data Protection and Cyber Security at DWF, said: 

"The Government's support for science and technology is welcome and encouraging. Anything that can be done to improve skills is a positive advance and employers will welcome access to new talent.  Our hope is that some of the new investment is targeted at growing the UK's position in Privacy Enhancing Technologies.  This is a new market opportunity, which will scale and grow rapidly over coming years and the UK is in a great position to take its market share."

Will transport initiatives go far enough to meet net-zero targets?

Commenting on the transport announcements by the Chancellor, Jonathan Moss, head of transport at DWF said: 

"Rishi Sunak's debut Budget is delivered amidst the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and is the first since the UK's departure from the EU. While the UK economy continues to face unprecedented challenges, the Budget introduces new funding to develop investment in roads, railways and digital networks. The second Road Investment Strategy ('RIS2') - a motorway and major A road investment project will commit £27 billion of public funds in the period 2020 to 2025. The Government also intends to invest £20 million to develop the Midlands Rail Hub and to allocate £1 billion in cities' transport, from the Transforming Cities Fund. 

"In the year that the UK looks to hold the COP26 UN Climate Summit, the Budget introduces tangible steps to decarbonise the economy, while protecting the UK's natural heritage. RIS2 will be rolled out in synchronisation with consumer incentives to support innovative transport technology including £500 million to support fast-charging hubs for electric vehicles, £304 million to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions. The Chancellor announced he will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022 except in agriculture, fish farming, rail, and non-commercial heating. Finally, on entering a new decade with a new Budget, Rishi Sunak has shown that he wishes to direct the UK towards sustaining low carbon transport, natural climate solutions and carbon capture and storage. With fuel duty remaining frozen for the tenth year in a row, there is debate about whether the initiatives will go far enough to meet net-zero target aims."

Lack of self-isolation clarity for Statutory Sick Pay

Commenting on the employment-related COVID-19 announcements by the Chancellor, Kirsty Rogers, employment partner at DWF said: 

"The 2020 Budget confirms the Prime Minister's announcement that the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill will for the time being allow SSP to be paid from the first day of sickness absence, rather than the fourth day, for those who have COVID-19, or who have to isolate in accordance with government guidance. The Budget also confirms that individuals who are unable to work because they have been advised to self-isolate and individuals who have the responsibility for caring for people in the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate will also be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay ("SSP"). It is not clear if this covers people who are caring for people who are required to self - isolate but do not have symptoms. It does not appear to. If you are caring for a child who is off school but does not have symptoms, or anyone else who is self - isolating but asymptomatic then SSP would not appear to apply although there is a right to time off for dependants.  

"Employers have a duty of care to their workforce and should discourage employees from coming into work when they should be self-isolating.  The measures set out by the government assists employees and offer assurances that some form of pay will continue from day one of sickness and in an approved isolation scenario.  Employers need to be mindful that an employee receiving less than full pay will be motivated to return to work and to full pay – this poses a risk to the wider workforce.  As a priority, continuity plans should be implemented by businesses, from homeworking to travel restrictions – putting the business in the best possible position.  

"Additional measures have been set out in the Budget for those ineligible for Statutory Sick Pay. The government has recognised that self-employed individuals need some form of assistance and has set out a number of steps to assist with a "new style" Employment and Support Allowance payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government guidance.  These measures are applicable from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth.  This protection is a sensible step in the direction for public health and safety.  With the significant growth in the gig economy, protecting this sector is undoubtedly a priority.  By way of example, many individuals in the courier industry are currently categorised as self-employed contractors – measures must be taken to ensure these people have access to benefits.  Failure to do so will inevitably lead to a risk to public health and safety as contractors may feel they have no option but to work if protection is not available during periods of isolation or sickness.  

"As part of a £30 billion coronavirus package, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, has also announced support for small and medium sized employers (250 employees or fewer) by refunding eligible Statutory Sick Pay ("SSP").  Refunds will be limited to two weeks for any employee who has legitimately claimed SSP as a result of COVID-19.  This announcement will come as a welcome relief for small and medium sized employers who undoubtedly will experience financial hardship as a result of the virus.  The government has set out in the 2020 Budget a clear priority of protecting people's jobs.  Whilst protecting the health and safety of the population is undoubtedly the number one priority; keeping the economy stable is also critical.  Providing employers with this assistance is undoubtedly a step in the right direction."

For further information or specific legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact any of our experts

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