19 May 2020

Keep Farm and Stay Alert – what the latest lockdown guidance means for rural estates

The UK has moved to a new lockdown phase following Boris Johnson's statement on 10 May and subsequent government guidance. We summarise the key points for rural estates below.

Going back to work

Staff should return to work if:

  • they cannot work from home; and
  • their workplace is open and "Covid-19 Secure" as per the government guidelines.

Where possible, staff should avoid public transport and make alternative travel plans.

The government identifies construction and food production as sectors that specifically should continue to stay open and hospitality and retail as sectors that should remain closed. So arrangements for estate farmers and builders to return to work can be made, but tea rooms and cafes should remain closed until at least 1 June. Estate office staff should work remotely as far as possible.

In all cases estates should be pragmatic, take measures to ensure social distancing in the workplace and discuss with employees so they are comfortable with their working and travel arrangements. Estates will also need to consider the logistics for bringing back those employees who have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Economic support

The government's economic support package has not changed substantially in recent weeks. But estates should be aware that the furlough scheme has been extended until October (with employers taking an increased share of the financial burden from August) and the government has set up a new fund to support dairy farmers.

Historic houses and gardens

Historic houses and indoor attractions should remain closed. According to the government's loose timetable they may be able to open in early July. You should also note that the public access requirements for Conditional Exemption have been relaxed.

Subject to social distancing and "Covid-19 Secure" conditions, people may spend unlimited time outside and drive to outdoor spaces. But while public parks will be open "ticketed outdoor leisure venues" will not. So for the time being gardens should remain closed, but larger open spaces may open.

The National Trust says: "Whilst our houses, gardens and parklands remain closed in line with the rules about ticketed venues, we’re opening some of our car parks in England so you can get out into much needed green space."

Summer events

The forecast for weddings, pop concerts and other large gatherings is bleak. Although venues should be able to open at some point over the summer major events seem unlikely this year. Rural estates should look to their staffing resources and contracts with partners; some may wish to keep their options open and not cancel until the last minute, others may postpone until the Autumn, while others may prefer the certainty of cancelling now and writing off 2020.

Estates should take some consolation that there will be considerable 'pent-up demand' once restrictions are removed. They should also be creative and take advantage of possible opportunities, such as providing open space for wedding marquees in the Autumn or socially distanced events like drive-in movie nights.

Renting

Landlords won't be able to begin eviction proceedings against tenants for at least three months. This will continue until 30 September and all existing possession processes are suspended for 90 days. That said, Tenants are still required to pay rent although the government encourages landlords and tenants to work together and put in place a payment scheme if tenant is struggling to pay.

Buying and selling property

On 13 May the government published relaxed restrictions on the housing market. Providing social distancing is respected, the property can function as usual. See here for more detail.

Please do get in touch if you have any questions.

Disclaimer

The current global crisis is evolving rapidly, and the rules and guidance for individuals, companies and other entities to manage its implications are similarly fast moving. Notes such as this may be out of date almost as soon as they are published. If you have any questions prompted by this article or on any other matter relevant to you, please get in touch with your usual contact at Forsters.

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