12.One instrument relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/592), is drawn to the special attention of the House in this report (see pages 1 to 4 above).
13.These draft modifications further develop the regulatory framework to support the roll-out and operation of smart meters in Great Britain. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) says that under the current regulatory framework, electricity and gas suppliers have an obligation to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to install smart meters in all homes and small businesses in Great Britain by 31 December 2020. As of 31 March 2020, there were 21.5 million smart and advanced meters, covering 39% of all homes and small businesses. According to BEIS, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the way energy suppliers operate and, in line with Government and Ofgem pandemic guidance, almost only emergency smart meter installations have been carried out since mid-March 2020. BEIS says as it wants “to provide certainty on the regulatory framework so that the rollout can regain its momentum as soon as possible”. These draft modifications, amongst other changes, therefore extend the ‘all reasonable steps’ obligation by six months, to 30 June 2021, to take account of the current disruption during the pandemic. The draft modifications also create a new four-year framework for the period from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2025, to apply after the ‘all reasonable steps’ obligation ends. The new framework will require energy suppliers to meet annual meter installation targets which aim for market-wide rollout subject to an annual tolerance level. The Secretary of State will set out the annual tolerance level or methodology following consultation in the autumn.
14.This instrument allows the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to adapt its current operating procedures to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and will be a permanent change to align with its broader aim on better use of technology. Instead of using registered post, the instrument will allow the GOsC to contact registrants by email when a fitness to practise or professional conduct allegation is made against them or in connection with their registration or fees.
15.This instrument further extends the temporary delay on the seizure of goods and property set out in the Taking Control of Goods and Certification of Enforcement Agents (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/451). That instrument increased the minimum amount of net unpaid rent that must be outstanding before commercial rent arears recovery (CRAR) may take place from seven days to 90 days; this instrument further increases it to 189 days’ rent. Secondly, this instrument prescribes 23 August 2020 as the date on which the various temporary provisions expire: for example, the automatic renewal of enforcement notices and of enforcement agents’ certificates. Appointing a specific date aims to prevent the English and Welsh restrictions becoming dislocated. Setting 23 August as the date on which restrictions end on bailiffs taking control of goods on the highway or at residential premises also brings the provisions in line with Civil Procedure Rule Practice Direction 51Z which ends the stay on possession proceedings across England and Wales on the same date.
16.The annual canvass period in England, Wales and Scotland typically runs from 1 July to 1 December, at which point Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) are required by law to publish a revised electoral register for their area. These Regulations move the date by which an ERO must publish the revised parliamentary electoral register (in England, Wales and Scotland) and the local government electoral register (in England) following the 2020 annual canvass, from 1 December 2020 to 1 February 2021. This is to allow EROs an additional two months to complete the 2020 canvass in recognition of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on local authorities.
17.This instrument extends the moratorium during which landlords of commercial properties may not evict tenants due to non-payment of rent, by three months until 30 September 2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says that the current three-month moratorium, introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020, will end on 30 June 2020 and that there is a high risk that without the extension businesses that would otherwise be viable would be unable to pay their rent and be evicted, particularly as some sectors will not be able to re-open by 30 June and will continue to have reduced or no income due to the restrictions that were imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. MHCLG emphasises that the moratorium is not a rent holiday and that tenants remain liable for payment of any rent arrears. MHCLG has worked with the sector to develop a Code of Practice which is to help ensure that the impact of the moratorium is mitigated and landlords are treated fairly, for example by encouraging businesses that can pay rent to do so. MHCLG also says that the Government have been working with lenders to ensure that flexibility is being shown to commercial landlords and that programmes that support business lending through grants and government-backed loans are available to landlords in distress. According to MHCLG, the Code of Practice sets out a range of options that landlords and tenants may consider when coming to an agreement, including rent deferrals, rent reductions across a portfolio and sharing of losses while businesses were unable to operate.
18.This instrument relieves head teachers of maintained schools of their obligations to include in their annual report to parents or adult pupils for the school year 2019/20 information on a pupil’s attendance in that school year and certain information connected to assessment and attainment at Key Stages 1 and 2. According to the Department for Education (DfE), the temporary changes address the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ attendance in the current school year in line with wider changes that the Department has made to ensure that there is flexibility in the school attendance system during the pandemic, as well as the lack of assessment information following the cancellation of statutory assessments at Key Stages 1 and 2. DfE emphasises that head teachers will still be required to provide information on pupils’ progress and achievements in annual reports so that parents will continue to receive information about their children’s education, and that the changes do not prevent staff at schools from raising any concerns they may have about a pupil’s attendance with the child’s parents. DfE will issue updated guidance to support schools in producing this year’s reports.