Covid-19 Update

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First4Lawyers’ Coronavirus Guidance

The current coronavirus and COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in widespread confusion around what services are still open and operating. First4Lawyers is here to reassure you that we remain open to help you with your legal requirements.

As directed by the government, we are working remotely to ensure safety and are happy to help you make an injury claim or an enquiry into a personal law matter.

Here, you can learn more about how we’re continuing to ensure you have access to justice and legal assistance during this unprecedented time.

Current claims

If you are in the middle of an ongoing claim, you might worry that this will be stopped or delayed. But rest assured, First4Lawyers is still open and working to help your claim progress as quickly as possible.

Find out here what you can expect for the rest of the claims process.

Will my current claim be affected by the coronavirus epidemic?

Every claim is treated individually so we would advise that you contact your solicitor to discuss your claim. All our panel law firms are operating remotely and available for clients, as is our claims team.

We expect that there may be some delays as courts switch to a virtual model and inevitably as more people suffer with the virus. However, it is a rapidly evolving situation and your solicitor will be able to offer the most up to date advice on your claim.

Can I start a new claim during the current situation?

Yes, absolutely. If you’d like to discuss the possibility of starting a claim, our team is here as normal to help provide any advice and support you may need.

Will my claim take longer because of coronavirus?

We expect that there may be some small delays, particularly if large numbers of people are ill due to the virus. But the vast majority of your claim is likely to be handled remotely so delays should be kept to a minimum.

The length of time it will take to make your claim depends on your individual circumstances. Every case is different, so it’s very difficult to say at the early stages how long the process will be from start to finish.

Medical Negligence Claims

We understand that medical negligence is a particularly sensitive topic at the moment, so we’ve outlined our response to it here.

Why are you still advertising for people to bring a medical negligence claim against the NHS?

Whilst we recognise the fantastic work the NHS is doing in exceptional circumstances unfortunately there are people that have suffered historical medical negligence. As such if claimants do want to bring medical claims, we can discuss their options with them. Many of the claims we bring are against private sector, cosmetic and dental treatment providers, rather than just the NHS.

Can I still bring a medical negligence claim?

Yes, if you would like to discuss the possibility of starting a claim our team is here, as normal, to help provide any advice and support you may need.

Personal Injury Claims

Injuries still happen during medical crises. If you have suffered an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, you could bring a claim against them.

First4Lawyers is open and working remotely to help you process your personal injury claim.

I work in construction and was told I had to work even though I raised the government advice with my employer and now I have suffered an injury at work during the lockdown. Can I bring a claim against my employer?

If you have suffered an accident at work that you believe could have been avoided if proper safety procedures had been followed, you could be able to bring a claim against your employer.

To discuss your situation with our team, just give us a call or start your claim online.

I am due to have a medical assessment to support my claim. Will that still happen?

You will still need medical evidence to progress your personal injury claim. To help ensure your safety and that of the medical team, this will now be done through a video assessment.

It’s important to be honest with your medical examiner and report every symptom you are experiencing. Everything could potentially be used as evidence.

Property & Conveyancing

The government has advised delaying home moving, but how will this affect you? If you need more advice on what to do about your home move during the coronavirus crisis, contact First4Lawyers.

We are in the process of buying a property. Will that now be on hold due to the measures the government has put in place?

The legal and property industries are working hard to limit the impact that the current situation is having on people, with all our solicitors working normally from home.

However, we understand that the conveyancing sector is seeing a great deal of disruption right now, particularly after the government advised home movers to delay moving. For information on your specific purchase, we recommend contacting your solicitor, who will be able to advise you on your situation.

I want to pull out of my house purchase because of coronavirus. Can I do that legally?

You can pull out of your house purchase at any time up until the point of exchange – but any fees that you have paid up to that point will be lost and you cannot claim them back. We advise thinking carefully about whether you really want to pull out of your house purchase.

What happens if I become ill on the day of completion?

If your home sale completion is able to continue, you may find that you are ill as you complete. You should discuss this possibility in advance with your solicitor. They will be able to advise you on what to do in these specific circumstances. This may involve having ‘back-up’ accommodation that you can move into should you have to move out of your property.

What happens if my solicitor/conveyancer becomes ill during the process or on the day of exchange or completion?

Your solicitor will have contingency plans in place in case this happens. This can happen outside of the current situation, and your solicitor will be able to advise what their procedure is on this. We suggest that you make a point of finding out exactly what their plan in this case would be before you get to this point.

I’m in the process of buying/selling a house. I’m experiencing delays due to COVID-19 and my mortgage offer is about to expire. Am I able to get an extension?

Many banks have taken action to ensure that mortgage offers don’t expire as a result of COVID-19. For many applicants, if you have a month of less before your mortgage offer expires, you could be eligible for a three-month extension.

To find out how this will work for your application, get in touch with your bank. You’ll probably need to confirm your full name, mortgage application reference number and that your financial situation has not changed since you first applied.

Landlords

If you are a landlord, you will face an entirely different set of challenges than residential home buyers. Find out what your rights are here.

For more information on what you need to do and what you are entitled to, First4Lawyers is here to help.

I’m a landlord. What happens if my tenants are unable to pay their rent in the coming months? Am I able to evict them?

The government has announced a package of measures to protect renters and landlords. As a result, no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home during this difficult time.

In recognition of the additional pressures that this may put on landlords, a three-month mortgage payment holiday is available to all landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties. At the end of the three months, the government is currently saying that it expects landlords and tenants to work together to establish an affordable payment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.

You can keep up to date with the government’s latest advice here.

I’m a landlord and pay an estate agent to manage my property. Now they are unable to carry out physical inspections on my property, am I still liable to pay them?

This will likely depend on your contract with the agent. Contracts are still binding and if you have agreed one with your agent that covers exceptional circumstances such as these, you will still have to pay them.

It’s important to remember that inspections are just one part of an agent’s job. You may still them to carry out various other pieces of work, such as checks on potential tenants or advertising your property.

They will also be the ones dealing with your tenants and their requests during this period. This can include arranging necessary emergency repairs, which are still allowed under current guidance.

Wills

We always advise making a will if you don’t have one. Find out what the latest guidance on having one done is here.

First4Lawyers remains happy to talk you through your options around wills right now, just as we would at any other time.

I don’t have a will. What happens if I die of coronavirus?

Anyone who dies without a will is regarded to have died as ‘intestate’. This means that the state decides on who your estate beneficiaries will be – and this may not necessarily be who you would want it to be.

We would always advise people to have wills in place in any situation. If you don’t currently have a will and would like some advice, please contact our team, who will be able to provide you with support and arrange suitable legal advice for you.

Can I speak to a lawyer and get a will done over the phone?

You can certainly speak to a lawyer about putting a will together. They will be able to advise you on what you’ll need to make a legally binding will.

Many solicitors can help you draft a will over the phone, sending you the completed draft a few days later. You can then make any changes you want. However, some law firms aren’t sending or receiving physical post at the moment to avoid transmission of coronavirus, so it’s worth speaking to your solicitor about this.

You will need two independent witnesses, who are neither beneficiary nor executor, to sign your will. This is something that can’t be done over the phone. Some law firms have suggested that witnesses can attest to the will from another room, while still in the line of sight of the testator. You may also be able to get your neighbours to stand at the end of your drive to witness the signing of your will. Just make sure that everyone involved uses their own pen and stands two metres apart at all times.

The Law Society and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners are calling on the government to relax the rules around will witnessing so check with your solicitor about what they recommend in this situation.

How long will it take to get a will done?

In most straightforward cases, it will take just a few days to make a will. Although there may be some delays due to the current national situation, with the help of a specialist solicitor, you should be able to get your will drafted in a few days.

You may have to wait to get your will witnessed by two independent witnesses. This will depend on your current living situation and whether you are able to get any witnesses. We recommend checking with your solicitor about your individual circumstances.

I want to update my will, but don’t remember where it is. What should I do?

If you don’t have a copy of your will at home, you can contact the solicitor who drew it up for you and ask for a copy to be sent to you. You can then update it according to your new wishes.

Can I just do my own will, and get it countersigned over email/video call with a friend or family member?

No, this would not be a legally recognised document. However, if you would like to arrange for a will to be drawn up and don’t have a solicitor then please contact our team who will be more than happy to put you in touch with a suitable solicitor who will be able to help you.

Employment

Employers and employees should both ensure they are up-to-date with their rights relating to coronavirus. Find out what the government is advising here.

If you require any assistance, whether it relates to unfair dismissal or arranging flexible working, First4Lawyers remains open and ready to help you.

I believe my employer unfairly dismissed me using coronavirus as an excuse and didn’t utilise the government support on offer. Can I raise an unfair dismissal claim?

If you believe you have an unfair dismissal claim, then we would advise you to contact us. You can do this by making an enquiry online or calling our team, who will be able to provide support and guidance and put you in touch with suitable legal advice.

What are the grounds for unfair dismissal?

It’s always ‘automatically unfair’ if you’re dismissed because you:

  • are pregnant or on maternity leave
  • have asked for your legal rights at work, such asked to be paid the minimum wage
  • took action about a health and safety issue
  • work in a shop or a betting shop and refused to work on a Sunday
  • are a trade union member and took part in trade union activities including official industrial action or you were acting as an employee representative
  • have reported your employer for wrongdoing, which is called whistleblowing

If you’ll have worked for your employer for at least two years when your job ends, it’s also automatically unfair if you’re dismissed because:

  • the business was transferred to another employer
  • you didn’t declare a spent conviction

Your employer can still dismiss you if you fit into any of these categories – but it can’t be the reason you’re dismissed.

It may not automatically be clear if your dismissal is for one of these reasons or if it is unfair, so you should talk to a lawyer. Contact our team or make an enquiry online and we will be able to advise you on your rights.

I am self-employed/run a business. Can I take legal action to force people to pay my invoices straight away?

Your business may have contractual agreements with your clients that set out terms of payment. If they have not yet reached the expected date of payment, it is unlikely that you will be able to force them to pay immediately.

If you are waiting for a late payment, however, you may consider taking action. This could include sending bailiffs or making a court claim. We recommend discussing your situation with a solicitor, who will be able to help you work out if you are able to force clients to pay straight away.

I’m unable to work due to coronavirus and whilst the government is supporting businesses by paying employees 80% of their salary up to £2,500 a month my employer has told me they will only pay me 70%. Am I able to claim against them?

The first thing you should do is ask your employer to put you on furlough. This means the government will pay 80% of your salary up to £2,500 a month for up to three months. It is beneficial to your employer as they are then not responsible for paying you.

If they refuse, check the terms of your employment contract. It may include a clause on your remuneration terms, which could either prevent your employer paying you less than your established salary or it could allow them to. If your contract sets out that you cannot be paid less than 100% of your salary, you may be able to take legal action against your employer.

I’ve been made redundant by my employer before they even considered the government’s support package for small business. What can I do?

Even if you were made redundant before the government introduced its coronavirus relief measures, you can ask your employer to rehire you just so they can furlough you, giving you the chance to maintain 80% of your salary up to £2,500.

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is open to all UK employers and it has confirmed that employers can rehire former employees just to put them on furlough.

My employer has allowed me to work from home. I’m not classed as a key worker so I now have two young children at home to look after. This means I’m struggling to fulfil my duties while taking care of my children. Could my employer sack me?

UK schools have shut to most children, except those of designated key workers. This means that most children are at home, potentially making working from home difficult for parents.

But even if you are struggling to fulfil your duties as a result of home commitments and being made to work from home, you can’t legally be sacked. If your employment is terminated as a result of your struggles to fulfil your duties, you can take legal action for your dismissal.

You can ask your employer to furlough you, leaving you with 80% of your salary paid by the government. This will allow you to focus on looking after your children. You could also suggest taking annual leave or taking unpaid dependent leave.

You are also entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each of your children up to their 18th birthday. You can take four weeks of this leave in one year for each child. You are eligible to take this leave if you have worked for your employer for more than one year and you are classified as an employee.

We are currently experiencing exceptional circumstances, so many employers are taking a common sense approach to their employees working from home. It is worth discussing your options with your employer.

I’m in receipt of a new job offer in a new company but due to coronavirus my start date has been delayed inevitably. I haven’t signed a contract and have already given notice to my current employer. What does this mean for me?

If you haven’t signed a contract with your new employer, they are not responsible for your employment. This means they may legally even decide to go back on their decision to hire you.

You may have some options with your current employer, though. You could ask your current employer to extend your notice period. Since they might now find it difficult to replace you, there is a strong possibility that they will agree to this option.

You could alternatively ask if you could take back your notice and remain a permanent employee. If this can’t happen, you could then ask your employer to furlough you, so the government will pay your salary.

In situations like these, you may benefit from speaking to an employment solicitor about your rights and what you can do to help yourself.

I’m a small business owner and I’ve enabled my employees to work from home. One of my employees has expressed his preference to continue working at the main place of work. Would I be liable if he contracted coronavirus or if he was to have an accident?

As an employer, you have a duty of care to your workers. However, they also now have a responsibility to stay at home if they can. Remind your employee of the dangers of coming into work. If you provide the opportunity to work from home, as well as enough soap, sanitizer and signage reminding them of the risks of not doing so, you should have met your duty of care.

However, if your employee has an accident at work because of negligence on your part, you will be liable. Ensure you are carrying out the necessary risk assessments and taking action to reduce the dangers posed by hazards. You should also make sure your workers are fully trained in health and safety procedures, particularly if they are working alone.

I want to put myself forward as an NHS volunteer. What legal protection will I have if I make a mistake which costs a life?

The NHS volunteer scheme has temporarily been paused in order to process the initial 750,000 applications. This means that unless you have already applied, you are unlikely to be accepted.

However, if you have already applied, it is unlikely that you will be carrying out tasks that could end up in a life being lost. Typical NHS volunteer duties include making phone calls to vulnerable people, delivering medicines, driving patients to and from appointments and taking them home after being discharged from hospital.

The NHS has legal protection in place to cover any potential mistakes, though. NHS Resolution has assured NHS staff members placed in different areas to their usual remit and volunteers that “levels of protection and indemnity will continue to be in place through this time”.

I want to put myself forward as an NHS volunteer. Can I ask my employer for paid time off to do this?

This will depend on the terms of your employment contract or negotiations with your employer. The government has allowed certain volunteers time off with the guarantee that they will not lose their jobs, but it is at your employer’s discretion whether you get paid.

You can be compensated by the body you are volunteering for, but your employer is not required to pay you your normal salary for volunteering during the coronavirus crisis.

You will be given a certificate by the Department of Health, the NHS or a local authority, which you will need to share with your employer. Make sure you give your employer three working days’ notice of your intention to take leave for volunteering.

Divorce & Family Law

Families may find the rules surrounding social distancing difficult to understand as they relate to them. Find out how First4Lawyers can help support your family at this challenging time.

We are a split household and share custody of our children. Can I still see them during this lockdown period?

Yes, the government has said that children under 18 may move between households as usual, while taking sensible precautions to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

What do I do if my ex-partner won’t allow me access to my children during the lockdown, despite our custody agreement?

As in cases outside of the coronavirus lockdown, your entitlement to see your children will depend on the custody agreement you have with your ex-partner.

If you’re experiencing difficulties with an existing arrangement, we would advise you to contact your solicitor, or our team, who will be able to put you in touch with suitable legal support.

If either myself or my ex-partner becomes ill, can we make informal changes to our custody agreement?

Yes. Currently, taking care of children will depend on families being sensible and flexible about their own custody arrangements. If you are in agreement, then sensible alterations to agreements during periods of sickness – as you would normally need to do – will usually be fine.

I have just started divorce proceedings. Will they now be delayed because of coronavirus?

Many parts of the legal system are still operating, with solicitors based at home. To find out whether you will be able to continue with your divorce, get in touch with your solicitor, who will be able to give you a clearer idea of the expected schedule.

Can I start divorce proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic?

As many parts of the legal system are operating remotely, you should still be able to start divorce proceedings. To discuss your options, call our team or make an enquiry here.

Motoring Offences

Although most of the UK’s emergency services are focused on coronavirus, the police are still apprehending those responsible for motoring offences.

If you need help with a motoring incident, First4Lawyers is here to help.

I’ve been involved in a road traffic accident during lockdown. Will I be prosecuted for being out of the house?

No, currently those in breach of the government advice may face a fine, but not prosecution. Any fine would be issued at the time, and not retrospectively.

The situation may change though, so we would advise following government advice and only leaving the house for food, medication, work (if you are a key worker or your work has been deemed essential) and exercise once a day.

I’ve been involved in a road traffic accident during lockdown, while going about approved business, but I suspect the other party wasn’t. Can I bring a claim against them?

If you think you have a claim following a road traffic accident, then please contact our team. If the accident was caused by the other party, you could be able to make a personal injury claim against them.

We’ll be able to provide you with support and advice and connect you with suitable legal support if needed. Just get in touch or start your claim online to find out more.

USEFUL LINKS:

GOV.UK

Government advice on what you need to know about coronavirus and what to do to stop the spread.

GOV.UK for employers and businesses

Government advice and guidance to help businesses deal with coronavirus.

NHS

NHS advice about coronavirus, including what to do if you think you have it and how to reduce your chances of getting it.

NHS mental wellbeing

NHS support and guidance on how to maintain your mental wellbeing at home.

World Health Organisation

Latest updates from the World Health Organisation on the global coronavirus pandemic.

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