Work from home, again, tops new list of covid-19 restrictions for England

The covid-19 ‘work from home if you can’ order was reissued by the government yesterday, to help stop the spread of coronavirus and to “avoid graver consequences later on”.

Although it is yet to feature on the .gov coronavirus hub, the order came direct from prime minister Boris Johnson, initially at midday to MPs and then last night in his televised address.   

Households in England were told that those of them who work in offices should work from home again, if they can, in the first of six new measures to “fight” the pandemic, the PM said.

'Perhaps six months'

Scheduled to remain in place for as long as “perhaps six months,” the WfH order does not apply to construction workers, retail workers and those in “key public services.”

But seeming to undermine his own order, Mr Johnson added later that people should keep attending their workplace if it is important to their job, their mental health or their wellbeing.

The CBI, the employers’ organisation, says the reissued order to work from home “comes at a serious price,” as it will keep town and city centres under “great economic pressure.”

'Not a surprise to contractors, or a problem'

But the tiniest of employers, such as contractor limited companies, will take the WfH order in their stride, suggests the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed.

“For many freelancers, the government urging them to work from home again will be not be much of a surprise -- or a problem,” IPSE’s Andy Chamberlain told ContractorUK.

“It will just be more of the same. However, for…[those contractors] who have to work face-to-face or in other people’s homes, this will be a blow to their business”.

'No change for me'

More in line with the ‘business as usual’ verdict, a change manager running her own PSC reflected: “I have been in the office since [the] end of February, so no change for me.”

Another contractor, a UC techie, confirmed: “I’ve been WfH since March. However the client was starting to have people back into the office. But I guess that’s now down the pan.”

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), implied that such a waste of investment, and time, will hurt her member companies.

““Businesses have bent over backwards to make their workplaces COVID-secure,” she said. “[They were] ready to welcome staff back”.

'Large sums spent ensuring covid compliance'

Steve Mason, a licensed insolvency specialist, asked in an online post how firms are feeling at the order, having forked out “large sums ensuring covid compliance.”

But at IPSE, the financial concern is around the many sole-person businesses that it says were left out in the cold when the first coronavirus lockdown (and WfH order), hit.

“[For some contractors] this will be an unwanted reminder of the financial catastrophe that befell much of the self-employed sector”, Mr Chamberlain said of yesterday’s new order.

“In the first full lockdown, [their] incomes were devastated and 1.5 million freelancers found themselves shut out of government support.

“If the [new] call to work from home is a forewarning of another full lockdown, the government must be prepared to do better for the self-employed this time round.”

'Greater firepower'

In his House of Commons address, Mr Johnson said the WfH order, plus the five other measures, “by no means” amounted to a “return to the full lockdown of March.”

But later the PM added a warning: “We reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions.

“I fervently want to avoid taking this step…but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behaviour changes.”

Alongside the work from home order, those measures are:

  1. Compulsory table service at restaurants and bars, which must all be closed by 2200.
  2. The mandating of face coverings for retail workers, taxi users, and, other than when seated at a table to eat or drink, all hospitality customers/users, and staff.
  3. Requiring, in law, the government’s covid guidance to be implemented in the retail, leisure and tourism sectors.
  4. A new 15-person limit for all weddings, and the rule of six extended to indoor sports.
  5. Not reopening business conferences and exhibitions, as was scheduled from October 1st.

'Perilous'

Reflecting on the UK reporting more than 4,900 new cases of covid-19 (representing the highest daily infection rate since early May), and 37 deaths (the highest since July), Mr Johnson said the UK had reached a “perilous turning point.”

To ensure the six measures are followed and that a “stitch in time saves nine,” as the PM said, fines of £10,000 currently reserved for people who refuse to self-isolate will become issuable to businesses “breaking covid rules.”

Mr Johnson also promised that a greater police presence on England’s streets, with the option to draw on military support to free up police, would accompany tougher fines for failing to wear a mask or for breaking the rule of six -- £200 for a first offence.

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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