The Coronavirus Act 2020: Residential and Commercial Tenants, Mental Health Act 1983 and Managing the deceased

by Faareen Ali

The Coronavirus Act (‘the Act’) has temporarily increased the protections afforded to residential tenants, as they cannot be evicted, unless they have been served a 3 month notice, notifying them of their landlord’s intention to take possession. The non-statutory (non-legal) guidance by the government states that new possession matters should not be started unless there is a good reason to do so. If you are a tenant and your landlord is asking you to leave the property, please be aware that you can remain and it is against the law for your landlord to evict without serving you the extended notice,  and by going through court first.

Landlords continue to be subject to  covenants under the tenancy agreement, such as the requirement to ensure that the property is in a good condition, and that repairs are carried out within a reasonable period of time. Some delay caused in the repair process during this Pandemic is understandable, but the overall contractual obligations between both parties remain unchanged.

Tenants are similarly under an obligation to continue paying rent. So, If you are a tenant and experiencing financial difficulties, it is essential you have a conversation with your landlord as early as possible, and try to reach a suitable agreement. There is also some funding available through Universal Credit, and advice can be sought through charities such as Shelter. 

As for business tenancies, from 26 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 (‘relevant period’), a right of re-entry or forfeiture under a  business tenancy for non-payment of rent, must not be enforced whether by action or otherwise. Re-entry is usually a contractual right included in leases which allows a landlord to either enter premises or issue court proceedings to take possession, if the tenant is in breach of a covenant i.e. failure to pay rent. The Act does not aim to affect the landlords’ right to re-entry or forfeiture, but just pauses it for the relevant period mentioned. Further, it says that should a Court order possession of commercial or relevant property, then it must not allow it to take place until after the relevant period. 

The core impact of this is that a commercial tenant will not need to leave the property if a payment is not made, but it would be better for both parties to agree to a payment arrangement.  It should be noted that having considered the implications of these changes, a decision was taken to suspend all possession hearings in court for a period of 90 days in March, which will last up until the end of June. This has been further extended by 2 months up until 23 August 2020. Click here for more.

Mental Health Act 1983

The changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 (‘MHA’) are significant on one hand as they alter periods of detention and hospitalization, and unequivocally impinge upon the protections and freedoms of those who this Act affects, people who potentially lack capacity. Contrarily, the Act, at the same time, relaxes regulations in some areas within MHA too.

Before  the Coronavirus outbreak, the MHA required any recommendations for assessment and treatment of patients to be made by two registered medical professionals. This has now changed to one medical professional, to prevent any delay in treatment of people, including those who need to be assessed following detention by police.

The detention period for inpatients (those who were already in hospital but not hospitalized under this act) can now be extended up to 120 hours, from being 72 hours previously, as well as those detained by police who are in need of immediate care, which has increased from 24 hours to 36.

The court can exercise the following powers if the evidence from two registered medical professionals cannot be acquired, and  it is satisfied on the evidence of one medical professional:

  • Remand accused person to hospital for treatment
  • Order detention in hospital or guardianship of a convicted person
  • Order interim detention of convicted person in hospital pending final hospital order or other means of disposal
  • Direct that a person sentenced to imprisonment be detained in hospital 
  • Order detention of a person in hospital in the absence of the person.

There has also been an increase in the time that the defendants can be remanded for, and the transfers from prison to hospital from 14 days to 28 days. A single clinician will now be responsible for administration of medication, without consent, which previously required the certification of a second doctor. The MHA otherwise remains unchanged.

Managing the deceased

The initial draft of this Bill was particularly controversial as it proposed to forcibly cremate those who died from Coronavirus, against the family’s wishes, and religious burial rites. However, following public uproar and amendments invited by Members of Parliament, this was soon reversed, and the decisions regarding funeral now rests with the deceased’s family.

The registration of deaths and still-births had to be done on the basis of information given by a relative (‘qualified informant’) at the registration office, unless the cause of death had to be investigated by the coroner. However, the procedure has now been altered to accommodate registration via telephone to eliminate any face to face interaction. 

As there is potential for errors in the registration process during the Pandemic, relatives of the deceased will have the ability to correct and re-register deaths , which will be in force over the coming months.

Before  the Coronavirus outbreak, cremation Form 4 (medical certificate) had to be completed by a medical professional and cremation Form 5 (Confirmatory Medical Certificate) by an independent registered medical professional, to sign off for the cremation process. This has now changed to include only a medical certificate, to minimize any delay. 

A medical practitioner who has not seen the deceased can now register the cause of death, without referring it to a senior coroner, however, the matter can be referred if there is no one available to sign the certificate within a reasonable period of time. This arguably has the effect of removing requisite safeguards, but the government has said that it is necessary to ensure  medical practitioners are not inundated with administrative tasks, as well as front line duties.

The list of qualified informants under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 have been extended under this Act. It now includes funeral directors (undertakers) if they are acting on behalf of the deceased’s family. After the completion of death registration, the registrar issues a certificate of registration to the informant, permitting the disposal of the body. The Bill provides that this certificate can now be sent via post.

State Aid

The government has released information about the financial aid available to individuals and businesses, as well as the remuneration available to employers under the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. For more on the state aid available for individuals or businesses, please see articles below.

The effect of some of the changes of the Act is to relax strict procedures and ‘free up’ sufficient staff to ensure the continuity of vital care and services, without risking the spread of the virus. It is essential that everyone familiarizes themselves with their rights and protections available under the state measures, and exercises them to full effect. For more on the the vast impacts of this Act on the public healthcare sector, click here.

This article is intended for guidance only and must not be relied upon for specific advice.

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