Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

The Scottish parliament has passed new additional legislation to enable essential public services to continue to be able to discharge their functions while the coronavirus pandemic continues, as well as providing additional flexibility and support for businesses.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Act (the Act) complements and supplements provisions contained in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, which received royal assent on 6 April.

As was the case with its predecessor, the provisions of the Act are limited for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak and will expire on 30 September 2020. Scottish ministers can extend the legislation for two further periods of six months if necessary, meaning that the legislation may be in place for a maximum of 18 months.

One substantive change to the Act made during the parliamentary process was the restoration of freedom of information (FoI) rights to 20-day response times. The first Act extended this period to 60 days.

Below is a summary of some of the main provisions of the Act.

Student residential tenancy: termination by tenant

The Act contains provision to establish a seven day notice to leave period for those currently tied into a student accommodation contract, and a 28 day notice to leave period for agreements entered while the 2020 Coronavirus (Scotland) Act is in force.

Carer’s allowance supplement

The Act amends section 81 of the 2018 Social Security (Scotland) Act to add an additional £230.10 to awards of carer’s allowance supplement for the period from 1 April 2020 to 30 September 2020.

Bankruptcy

The Act contains powers to make it easier for people to file for bankruptcy if they do not qualify for the minimal asset process (MAP).

It complements the power to extend the period of a moratorium on creditor diligence to six months, as included in the first Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, by increasing the minimum amount that must be owed to a creditor before that creditor can apply to the courts to make an individual bankrupt from £3,000 to £10,000.

The Act also allows for virtual meetings of creditors to facilitate physical distancing.

Care homes

The Act allows Scottish ministers to apply to the sheriff for an emergency intervention order in respect of a care home service registered with the Care Inspectorate if the standards of care in relation to managing coronavirus are not adequate.

It also contains provisions to compel care homes to make a daily report during the emergency period on the number of deaths or suspected deaths from coronavirus, and any other deaths, within seven days. In turn, the Care Inspectorate must report these deaths to the Scottish ministers, who must report to parliament within seven days of receiving the information.

Marriage and civil partnership

The Act requires Scottish ministers, in conjunction with the registrar general, to “take such steps they consider to be necessary” to ensure that it is still possible to marry or enter into a civil partnership during the period the legislation is in force.

Justice

Criminal proceedings: extension of time limits

The Act contains provisions to extend certain statutory time limits contained in the 1995 Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act relating to criminal proceedings.

Proceeds of crime

The Act contains provisions to allow that, in circumstances where confiscation proceedings have been postponed or otherwise affected by coronavirus, the permitted period can be extended.

It also enables someone to apply for an extension to a confiscation order if the court is satisfied that they are unable to pay due to an issue related to coronavirus.

Intimation of documents

The Act provides an alternative means of ensuring that documents are made available to the public where display on the walls of court is currently either a requirement or an option. It permits these documents to be displayed on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service website.

Reports, accounts and other documents

Climate change

The Act contains powers to extend by six months the deadline in section 8A (1) of the 2009 Climate Change Act for the creation of a nitrogen balance sheet.

It also adds flexibility to the conclusion of the citizens’ assembly on climate change, in light of the restrictions on large gatherings.

Extension of deadline for accounts of registered social landlords

The Act extends the statutory timescales for registered social landlords to submit audited accounts to the Scottish Housing Regulator to protect them from prosecution.

Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act duties

The Act amends the previous Act to allow amendments to be made to the 2000 Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act in respect of the periods most likely to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, as part of the response to the accounting timetable disruption caused by coronavirus.

Housing (Scotland) Act duties

The Act extends by six months the 12 month deadline for preparing and publishing the statement on the circumstances and criteria for exercising the power in section 33A of the 1987 Housing (Scotland) Act.

Extension of period of consent for listed buildings and conservation areas

The Act extends the limit of duration for Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas and Conservation Area Consent that are due to lapse during the emergency period.

Electronic registration of inhibitions and judgments

The Act contains provisions to allow the Keeper to accept registrations in the Register of Inhibitions and the Register of Judgments, as well as all documents or copies that are submitted, electronically while the Keeper's office remains closed.

Land and buildings transactions tax

The Act extends the period within which a previous main residence can be sold by nine months to 27 months, ensuring taxpayers are still eligible for repayment of the additional dwelling supplement.

Non-domestic rates relief

The Act amends section 153 of the 1994 Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act to allow Scottish ministers to retrospectively apply non-domestic rates relief.

It also contains provisions to give newspapers the same rates relief support as businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.

Freedom of information

The Act amended the previous Coronavirus (Scotland) Act to repeal restrictions on FoI requests.

Written by Scott Wright, a public policy expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.