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In-house agenda: May 2021

Robert Clay

18 May 2021

Image Credit: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

A further relaxation of lockdown restrictions in England are expected on 17 May 2021 and the first repayments under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme are also due in May. Aside from COVID-19, in-house lawyers should also take note of the publication of the United Kingdom’s (UK) 6th carbon budget, which will require greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 78 percent by 2035.

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COVID-19

In England, from 17 May 2021 at the earliest, most businesses in all but the highest risk sectors, indoor hospitality venues, indoor entertainment venues, the rest of the accommodation sector and some larger performances and sporting events in indoor and outdoor venues may open. The Welsh First Minister has announced that the timetable for lifting more restrictions on businesses in Wales will be brought forward so that from 3 May, gyms, fitness facilities, leisure centres and swimming pools can reopen.

The government has launched four reviews to clarify how the COVID-19 pandemic will be managed after the final step of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown is reached on 21 June. As part of its Social Distancing Review, BEIS is consulting with employers about the possible introduction of long-term social distancing measures in the workplace. Possible strategies include the implementation of six months of social distancing each year and the longer-term use of masks and see-through plastic screens.

A government call for evidence has been published to ascertain the impact of the pandemic on commercial property rents in England, particularly the arrears that have accrued due to the trading restrictions. Protections from forfeiture for non-payment of rent for business tenancies are in place in England until 30 June. The government aims to understand how landlords and tenants are responding to the build-up of rent arrears that has occurred due to businesses being unable to trade normally during the pandemic. The call for evidence closes on 4 May.

The first repayments under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (subject to any repayment holidays) are due from May onwards.

Climate change

On 21 April, the UK government laid legislation for the UK’s 6th carbon budget  (2033-37) that will require greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be cut by 78 percent by 2035. This brings forward the UK’s previous 80 percent target by nearly 15 years. Also, for the first time, GHG emissions from the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping are included.

To coincide with Earth Day on 22 April, The Chancery Lane Project (TCLP) published 21 new clauses for its Climate Contract Playbook. Key examples include:

  • Nico’s Clause, which is a set of climate-aligned boilerplate clauses to ensure climate change is considered throughout the lifecycle of a contract.
  • Scarlett’s Performance Conditions, which link executive incentive awards to meeting environmental, social and governance (ESG) and climate targets and will encourage companies and executives to focus on reducing the impact of their business on the environment.
  • Aatmay’s Clause, which encourages landlords and tenants to reuse materials or to use recycled or reclaimed materials when making alterations or repairs in line with the obligations in their lease.

The ECJ has dismissed the appeal against the General Court’s May 2019 decision in the People’s Climate Case. Residents from several countries had sought to challenge the EU legislation implementing the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, on the basis that it breached their rights to life, health, occupation and property, and is inconsistent with higher-ranking law. The General Court had ruled that their action was inadmissible. The ECJ confirmed that the action against the legislative package implementing the 2030 Framework was inadmissible.

Narrative reporting

A proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which would alter and expand the current reporting requirements under the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, has been adopted by the European Commission. Under the proposed Directive, affected companies would have to report information on a full range of ESG issues relevant to their businesses.

The Commission will now engage in discussions with the European Parliament and Council. In parallel, the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group will start work on a first set of draft sustainability reporting standards, which it aims to have ready by mid-2022.

UK Listing Review

The government has issued a written statement confirming how it will take forward the recommendations directed towards it by the UK Listing Review. In the statement, the Chancellor confirms that the government will bring forward a public consultation on this subject later in the year.

Artificial intelligence

A report published by the TUC urges the government to introduce new legal protections for workers exposed to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. The report, based on a study by the AI Law Consultancy, claims that workers are currently at risk of being “hired and fired” by potentially discriminatory algorithms.

Key dates for your diary

1 May

Draft Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Kyoto Protocol Registry) Regulations 2021 come into force.

5 May

7 May

Deadline for submissions to the inquiry on the power of social influencers.

9 May

31 May

Health and safety detriment protection extended to workers from this date.

Written by our Practical Law experts. To see the original article, on the Practical Law In-house blog, please click here (free access).
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