Date Published 11/05/2020
In response to the outbreak of Covid-19, new legislation titled Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 (the “2020 Act”) has been implemented in order to legislate areas of society likely to be effected by the pandemic.
The Act includes provisions relating to: the termination of tenancies and licences during the emergency period, rent increases, and the provision of financial assistance in the form of temporary wage subsidies to employers who are no longer in a financial position to pay their staff their normal wage, the extension of certain time periods under the Planning and Development Act 2000 and amendments to regulations governing certain health and social care professions.
A more radical intervention by the Oireachtas is seen in the form of the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A – Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 (the “2020 Regulations”). The 2020 Regulations have imposed restrictions on movement, the holding of events, and the conduct of business in the State.
Part 2 of the 2020 Act implements modifications to the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. One of the most impactful modifications introduced is the prohibition on a landlord/licensor serving a notice of termination during the emergency period. In the event that the notice of termination was served before the emergency period, section 5(6) defines the “revised termination date” of that tenancy/licence as “…the date immediately following the expiration of a period that consists of the aggregate of the period of notice that remains unexpired on the commencement of the emergency period, and the emergency period”.
The 2020 Act does not expressly provide that this provision applies exclusively to residential tenancies. Section 5(7)(a) of the 2020 Act expressly states that ‘all proposed evictions in all tenancies in the State, including those not covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, are prohibited during the operation of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020’.
Part 2 of the Act also deals with the prohibition on rent increases and the entitlement of tenants to remain in occupation of a dwelling during the emergency period. Section 6 of the 2020 Act states that an increase in rent under the tenancy of a dwelling, which would otherwise have taken effect during the emergency period, shall not take effect during that period. It also provides that an increase in rent shall not be payable during any period falling within the emergency period.
Section 8(1) of the 2020 Act is of relevance to tenants who were served a notice of termination before the commencement of the emergency period, but remained in occupation of the dwelling from the expiration of the termination notice until the start date of the emergency period (with or without the consent of the landlord). Section 8(1) provides that a tenant falling within that category will be entitled to remain in occupation of the dwelling until the expiration of the emergency period subject to the terms and conditions of the tenancy. Section 8 provides that this protection does not apply where the tenant is required to vacate the dwelling in accordance with the determination of an adjudicator or Tenancy Tribunal.
Sections 10 to 14 of the 2020 Act provides guidance to those who wish to re-register in the following occupations:
- Health and Social Care Professionals.
- Medical Practitioners.
- Nurses and Midwives.
The 2020 Act also inserts a new section 53A(1) to the Defence Act 1954 to provide guidance on formerly enlisted members of the Defence Forces wishing to re-enlist. This section may only be utilised where the Minister believes that there is a deficiency in the Defence Forces which cannot be met by existing personnel resources.
Section 28 of the 2020 Act sets out the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme which has been implemented to assist businesses by paying a portion of their employees’ salaries for the duration of the emergency period. The employer must show that their business will be adversely affected by Covid-19, resulting in at least 25 per cent reduction in turnover or customer orders between 14 March 2020 and 30 June 2020.
The assistance available to employers varies depending on the net salary of the employee. Net weekly pay of not more than €586 will result in a temporary wage subsidy of not more than 70 per cent of the employees net weekly pay. The amount of wage subsidy for an employee in receipt of net weekly pay in excess of €586 will be determined by the Minister for Finance. A temporary wage subsidy will not be paid to an employer where an employee earns a net weekly pay in excess of €960.
The 2020 Regulations set out the temporary measures which the government have implemented in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. The regulations restrict the movement of persons from their homes, the holding or attending of events, and requires the closure of non-essential businesses. According to the restrictions, a person must have a reasonable excuse for leaving their home. Examples of reasonable excuses include:
- Providing an essential service.
- Travelling to an essential retail outlet.
- Attending a medical appointment.
- Seeking veterinary assistance.
- Exercising within a 2km radius of your place of residence.
The time period for these restrictions has been extended until 18th May, after which the implementation of the five phase plan for lifting the Covid-19 restrictions will commence. Beginning on the 18th May, the five phase plan will slowly allow businesses to re-open, small social gatherings to take place, and eventually the re-opening of schools and universities.