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Monthly Archives: January 2019

Changes to SDLT Filing and Payment Time Limits

Stamp Duty Land Tax (“SDLT”) is a tax on land transactions payable on the purchase of land or property (including leases) over a certain price in England.

The time limit for filing an SDLT return with HM Revenue and Customs (“HMRC”) and paying any tax due to HMRC is being reduced from 30 days to 14 days for those property transactions in England with an ‘effective date’ on or after 01 March 2019.

The ‘effective date’ is the date of completion; however, it may be brought forward where a contract has been substantially performed, for example, when a tenant takes early occupation of a tenanted property.

Improvements will also be made to the information to be provided in the SDLT return, and these will be in place when the new time limit begins (01 March 2019).

The Welsh Land Transaction Tax (“LTT”) replaced SDLT in Wales in April 2018. Under the LTT, the time limit for filing the return and submitting a payment to the Welsh Revenue Authority is 30 days from the effective date of the transaction.

The SDLT rules and LTT rules are complex, with many exceptions, exemptions, and reliefs. If your transaction is not straightforward you should take specialist tax advice to ensure that you pay the correct amount of SDLT or LTT (whichever applies).

Key Points on the Government’s Good Work Plan

At the end of 2018, the Government published details of its Good Work Plan, setting out its plans to introduce a number of reforms designed to improve protection for agency workers, zero hours workers, and others with atypical working arrangements.

The Good Work Plan is the Government’s considered response to Matthew Taylor’s report:  Good Work: the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, published in July 2017.

The main proposals included in the Good Work Plan are:

  • • Employment status clarification. The Government says it will bring forward “detailed proposals” as to how the employment status frameworks for the purposes of employment rights and tax will be aligned. There will also be legislation to “improve the clarity of the employment status test, reflecting the reality of modern working relationships”. This is a problematic area for employers and employees alike and has the potential to be a significant development, but the Good Work Plan is light on detail as to what this will involve.
  • • Extending the right to a statement of particulars to all employees and workers from day one. This right currently only applies to employees, and the statement can be provided up to two months after employment starts.
  • • Extending the relevant break in service for the calculation of the continuous service qualifying period from one week to four weeks. This is intended to help workers who work intermittently for the same employer and find it difficult to build up employment rights.
  • • Removal of the ‘Swedish derogation’ in the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 and banning this sort of contract from being used to withhold agency workers equal pay rights.
  • • A ban on employers making deductions from staff tips.

The Good Work Plan also includes proposals to improve the enforcement of employee rights, including:

  • • Introducing a ‘name and shame’ scheme for employers who fail to pay Employment Tribunal Awards.
  • • Implementing stronger sanctions for employers who have previously lost similar cases.

The Government has not given a timetable for introducing this legislation and, with the ongoing Brexit negotiations, may have other things on its mind for the foreseeable future. It is, however, useful to be aware in a general sense of what is likely to happen.

Brexit Notes: No-Deal & Consumer Rights

As 2019 dawned, there was hope in some quarters that a renewed commitment to common sense might have dawned with it and that our intrepid politicians might return to work determined to agree upon a way forward for Brexit. It is quite clear, not least in light of the House of Commons’ rejection of the Government’s Brexit deal on 15 January, that this is not to be.

Talk of ‘no-deal’ is far from new; however, for a long time, it has been reasonably easy to dismiss a no-deal scenario as unrealistic. Now, however, with less than three months before the UK leaves the EU, a no-deal Brexit is starting to look like a realistic possibility after all.

Opinions on a no-deal Brexit are wide-ranging and, of course, it is still entirely possible that the scenario will play out in some other way. Nevertheless, the Government has been making preparations for a no-deal Brexit, including the publication of a range of Technical Notices and an even broader range of draft secondary legislation.

In this post, we look at the impact of a no-deal Brexit on consumer rights in the UK and offer some comments on what this will mean for consumers and businesses in real terms.

No-Deal Brexit: The Basics

Before we get into the detail, it is as well to briefly outline exactly what ‘no-deal’ means. The UK is scheduled to leave the EU at 11 pm local time on 29 March 2019. If there is no deal in place at this point, EU law ceases to apply in the UK unless the UK has expressly adopted it. Unlike the alternative ‘deal’ scenario, there is no transition period within which EU law and the ‘four freedoms’ would continue to apply.

No-Deal Preparations for Consumer Rights

The Government has published a Technical Notice entitled ‘Consumer rights if there’s no Brexit deal’ and two draft statutory instruments: the Consumer Protection (Enforcement) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, and the Consumer Protection (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018.

In addition to the general changes outlined in this post, the Technical Notice also sets out some specific changes relating to package travel, timeshares, textile labelling, and footwear labelling.

The first set of regulations deal with cross-border enforcement while the second would implement the following changes:

  • • Limit the applicability of responsibilities set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (currently applying to importers into the EEA) to importers into the UK;
  • • Put choice of law clauses referring to the laws of an EEA state on the same footing as those referring to non-EEA countries;
  • • Limit consumers’ rights to redress from importers engaging in practices prohibited by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 to importers into the UK (as opposed to importers into the EEA);
  • • Put users of EEA-based payment service providers on the same (less-protected) footing as users of payment service providers based in non-EEA countries; and
  • • Remove the current obligations on UK ADR providers to deal with disputes involving consumers resident in EU Member States. This would also end the operation in the UK of the European Commission’s Online Dispute Resolution Regulation for consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Current UK consumer law is derived from EU law and, in the form of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, in fact provides better standards of protection than the ‘basic’ EU provisions. At least initially, therefore, UK consumer law and EU consumer law will be essentially the same. Cross-border enforcement would become more difficult in the event of a no-deal Brexit, however.

Put more simply, life for UK consumers would continue largely as normal, at least where their consumer rights within the UK are concerned. What would change is the ease of enforcing those rights if a trader is not based in the UK.

Cross-Border Enforcement and Dispute Resolution

At present, as an EU Member State, the UK’s consumer protection regime is supported by a reciprocal cross-border enforcement framework. A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK’s immediate departure from that framework.

Moreover, UK consumers would no longer be able to use the UK courts to take action against traders based in the EU effectively. Even if a UK court were to rule in a consumer’s favour in such a case, enforcing that ruling would be more difficult. By the same token, consumers based in the EU buying from UK-based traders could find enforcing their rights similarly difficult if we leave without a deal.

Access to alternative dispute resolution (‘ADR’) stands to be reduced. The European Commission provides an Online Dispute Resolution Platform for use in disputes between traders and consumers; however, a no-deal Brexit would mean UK-based traders and consumers no longer having access to it. Nevertheless, within the UK, the Government has said that it is taking steps to ensure that consumers and traders will still be able to use ADR for UK disputes. ADR obligations for businesses will not change; however, if your website makes any reference to the EU Online Dispute Resolution Platform, such references should be removed in the event of no-deal.

Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that regardless of how our departure from the EU proceeds, consumer rights will be affected in some way, but the impact of a no-deal Brexit could be more significant and would, of course, happen much sooner.

That being said, UK-based consumers and UK-based traders doing business within the UK should not need to be overly concerned and should expect the same rules that apply now to apply even if there is a no-deal Brexit. Those engaged in cross-border trading, however, should expect things to become less straightforward and prepare accordingly.

For consumers with questions about cross-border transactions in the event of no-deal, the UK’s European Consumer Centre will be available to help, and the Government has committed to funding the Centre for at least one year from April 2019.

From a business perspective, those selling only within the UK should not expect a great deal (no pun intended) to change. Those selling to consumers in EU Member States, however, must remember that, once the UK has left the EU (especially in a no-deal scenario), changes to EU consumer law will no longer necessarily be reflected in UK consumer law in the same way that they are now. In such cases, it will be important to keep up-to-date with EU law and the laws of any Member States sold into.

Do you trade with consumers in other EU Member States? If so, how are you preparing for Brexit, no-deal or otherwise? Are you expecting business to become more difficult or have you got it covered? As always, your comments are welcome!

 

[This post was edited on 16 January to reflect the outcome of the Meaningful Vote in the House of Commons on 15 January]

Fire Safety – Changes to Statutory Guidance – Approved Document B of the Building Regulations

Approved Documents are statutory guidance published by the Government on how to meet the Building Regulations for building work carried out in England only.

The Government has published changes to Approved Document B (Volumes 1 and 2) of the Building Regulations, which deals with fire safety. These changes come into force on 21 January 2019.

Approved Document B Volume 1 deals with dwellinghouses.

Approved Document B Volume 2 deals with buildings other than dwellinghouses.

The changes to Approved Document B seek to clarify the role of desktop fire safety assessments.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, a consultation took place in 2018 to consider whether the use of desktop assessments (in the absence of full fire safety tests) to assess fire safety regulatory compliance should be restricted or indeed banned entirely.

The amendments state that desktop assessments in lieu of tests are only to be used where necessary and are to be carried out in an appropriate way. Desktop assessments should not be used instead of tests where a test is necessary. Tests and assessments should be carried out by organisations with the requisite expertise and qualifications.

The Government has launched a Call for Evidence for a broader technical review on the guidance of fire safety (Approved Document B). Landlords, builders, developers, residents, and property managers are all invited to respond. The consultation closes on 1 March 2019.

Call for Evidence on Improving Building Safety

The Government has published a Call for Evidence – ‘Good practice on how residents and landlords/ building managers work together to keep their home and building safe’. Landlords, building managers, and residents are all encouraged to respond.

This Call for Evidence invites views on how residents and landlords/building managers work together to keep their buildings safe and ensure that all parties comply with their respective responsibilities.

The purpose of the Call for Evidence is to gather evidence to assess and examine the development of policy relating to resident and landlord/building manager engagement and collaboration in relation to fire and structural safety issues in the aftermath of the tragic event at Grenfell Tower. The aim is to ensure that there is a robust regulatory system for the future and to ensure that residential buildings are safe and remain so; however, it remains to be seen to what extent the Government will change the existing regime.

The questions are split into two sections, the first directed to residents, the second to organisations (landlords, building managers, and estate agencies, for example). Those who are both residents and landlords or managing agents should complete both parts of the questionnaire. Respondents are encouraged to respond through the online survey.

Responses must be given by 12 February 2019.

As a landlord or agent, do you find the existing regulations and arrangements allow you to manage fire safety risks in buildings effectively? Would greater collaboration between all parties involved make it easier to manage and ensure the safety of residential buildings?

Have your say in the Call for Evidence and share your thoughts with us below.

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