Practical steps and Government reliefs for the construction sector

Following the prime minister’s statement on 10 May, construction workers are being actively encouraged to return to work from Wednesday 13 May. This is only practicable if, as the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) set out on 25 March, effective social distancing can be maintained. Those sites that cannot satisfy the CLC criteria for staying open should not remain open.

The Government have published guidance for employers on how to create a safe construction sector workplace. It is strongly recommended that a comprehensive worker safety risk assessment be undertaken immediately. The results of this risk assessment must be shared with the employer’s workforce and all employers of more than 50 workers are strongly encouraged to publish the assessment results on their website.

The Government guidance addresses eight key areas to maintain a safe workspace:

      How to approach a risk assessment
      Who should go to work
      Maintaining social distancing
      Managing your customers, visitors and contractors
      Cleaning the workplace
      Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings
       Managing your workforce
       Inbound and outbound goods

Read the Government guidance for working safely during coronavirus at the gov.uk website.

Maintaining social distancing on-site

Advice from the Department for Health has stated that workers are able to go to their job if they cannot work from home. As highlighted above, if construction site workers can work safely on site, while ensuring safe social distancing of two metres or more, they are able to continue operations. The construction sector faces unique challenges with implementing social distancing procedures, but many sites have remained open during the crisis and work continues to be carried out safely across the country.

Managing off-payroll workers

For off-payroll workers, the Government has postponed proposed amendments to its IR35 reforms until April 2021. The delay has bought many firms precious time to focus on the short-term workforce challenges ahead.

To further support self-employed workers, the Government has committed to pay 80 per cent of profits up to £2,500 per month, based on the last three years of declared earnings. This support scheme is more complex than the scheme for payroll workers, due to various operational and wider tax complexities. Consequently, there are various restrictions in place on who can make claims for this support. 

Read our guide on income support for the self-employed.

Read our guide for employers on managing your people during coronavirus.

Delay penalties

As projects get delayed, significant costs will be incurred which one of the main contracting parties or sub-contractors will be liable for. It is vitally important that all parties with potential liability for the delays, disruption and associated liquidated or delay damages take steps to protect their interests.

A full contract review across your supply chain is highly recommended. Understanding your liabilities should part of your supply chain become unavailable to you will inform cash flow forecasting. If force majeure clauses have been excluded from contracts or cannot be applied as coronavirus site precautions can be implemented, but the contractor choses to mothball the site, this may leave the contractor open to breach of contract claims and enforceable penalties. This will likely result in a drawn-out period of final account litigation. 

Read our guide to keeping the supply chains moving.

Build UK, the national membership organisation for the UK construction sector, continues to lobby for further clarity and measures. You can find ongoing updates for industry members on the Build UK website.

For more information, please contact Howard Freedman.

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