For home and property owners, Scotland’s lockdown restrictions entail ongoing constraints to residential construction and renovation. It is beneficial to be mindful of the limitations, practices, and approaches when contracting or completing work on your home or building during lockdown.
With Scotland set to remain under an extended lockdown until mid-February, following new guidance from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, many may be unsure of what exactly they can and cannot do under current Coronavirus restrictions. For those planning to contract or perform residential construction on a property, it is important to be aware of the impact which lockdown restrictions may have on the completion of your work. Similarly, if you are a property owner who has contracted a trader to perform residential construction which has been subject to delay or setback, knowing your rights may help you to mitigate the risk of financial loss or other detriment.
Residential Construction and Renovation Regulations
Under new 2021 lockdown regulations, construction has been permitted to continue in Scotland. However, there are restrictions, limitations, and codes which contractors must follow. According to the Scottish Government, employers in the construction sector are obligated to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment before physical work can commence, enforced by Scottish Health and Safety Authorities.
This is a necessary step to protect employees and consumers alike from the risk of Coronavirus, ensuring that the work-place remains a safe area for construction to be carried out. These risk assessments should be conducted cooperatively with a union health & safety representative – which can be requested if the workplace does not have their own representative – who will offer support and guidance in completing the assessment.
Guidance from the Scottish Government emphasises the importance of ongoing risk-based assessment in construction work-places, with consistent input from trade union or workforce representatives, to maintain a safe working environment. This includes regular and comprehensive reviews of the safety and preventative measures in place to mitigate on-site COVID-related risks.
In a statement given on January 4th, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed gratitude for the ‘tremendous capacity to adapt’ demonstrated by businesses during the pandemic thus far, but also stressed the importance for them to ‘consider their options again, as we all work together to reduce transmissions.’ Earlier this week, Sturgeon announced that lockdown measures would remain in place ‘until at least the middle of February’, requiring businesses not able to work from home to comply with guidelines to continue operating safely.
Impacts of Coronavirus on Workplace Practice in Residential Construction
Regulations and Limitations
- The Scottish Government state that any person responsible for providing a service must ensure that a 2-meter distance is maintained between all persons on the premises, except members of the same household, or those assisted by a carer and the carer themselves.
- The workplace must only permit a number of people to the premises which make it possible to maintain the 2-meter physical distance. Further, the same physical distance must be maintained between people waiting to enter the premises (with same-household members and carers excepted, again).
- Close-range tasks which require personal protective equipment (PPE) must be limited and adapted, where possible, to allow for physical distancing. Where PPE is deemed necessary, employers must ensure that an adequate supply is readily available for the protection of staff and clients.
- Companies should make sure that employees, health & safety professionals, and representatives are equipped with adequate knowledge, training, and skills to allow for a solid understanding of the risks associated with working during COVID-19. Where informative resources are not available in-house, workforces should collaborate in seeking external support and guidance, to ensure that all staff are capable of working in a safety-conscious manner, to mitigate risks and protect themselves and others during this pandemic.
- All members of the workforce should follow the NHS Inform guidance on self-isolation if they or a member of their household shows symptoms of coronavirus, in line with Test & Protect.
Consumer Rights: delays and failures to meet contract requirements
If you hired a trader or company to perform residential construction (or a similar domestic service) on your home or building but found the service disrupted due to lockdown measures and restrictions, there are a few ways to mitigate the risk of financial loss or personal costs caused by delayed or unfulfilled construction:
- The best place to start is to check the terms of the contract agreed upon by you and the trader: COVID-19 has not changed any rules regarding the responsibility of a contractor to mitigate potential risks by taking reasonable steps to prevent or diminish delays. However, coronavirus-related circumstances such as a self-isolating workforce, delays in supply-chain, or necessary risk-assessment procedures can be unavoidable and, as such, can give rise to different entitlements for contractors. This is often referred to as ‘force majeure’ and, if included in the agreed contract, can allow provisions for unexpected delays caused by exceptional or unpreventable circumstances.
- COVID-19 rules alone do not justify the delay or halting of a contracted construction service and in this case, the contractor must account for the delay. If you believe that a contracted service has been delayed or disrupted for negligent reasons (not in relation to any unavoidable or exceptional COVID-related circumstances) and wish to terminate the contract, you should inform the trader or contractor (in writing) that you no longer wish for them to complete the service. If the service was partially completed, you should pay the trader for this work, although a discount or reduced fee may be negotiated – this should be discussed and agreed upon between you and the trader.
- If you paid a deposit or ‘up-front’ cost and feel that the figure is too high to account for the work which was completed, you should inform the trader and attempt to reach an amicable resolution. If an agreement cannot be reached between you and the trader, your concerns should be raised to the contractor in the form of a formal letter of complaint. For more tips and advice on dealing with inadequate service from a trader, visit our full advice page on problems with work completed in the home or garden.
- Further, if a firm deadline was set by you in writing and agreed upon by the trader (who then fails to meet this deadline), you may be able to hold them in breach of contract, allowing you to pursue a claim for a full refund; if no physical work has commenced, this may be in the form of damages. You may also be entitled to seek compensation from the trader to cover any additional costs which may have arisen from the breach of contract.
- Traders and contractors can visit your property to complete domestic/residential construction under current Scottish lockdown regulations, but must enforce safety measures such as risk-assessment, physical distancing, limited on-site numbers, and use of PPE. If possible, traders should be sought only for necessary services (as opposed to ‘cosmetic’ work , like redecorating) and if you or a member of your household is self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms or is a member of a high-risk group, contractors should only be contacted if your issue is an emergency.
- If you’ve faced delays or disruption to residential services or construction and can provide evidence that this was not due to exceptional or unavoidable circumstances, you may be able to pursue a full refund, cover for damages, compensation, or waving of deposits or upfront costs paid at the time of contracting the trader.
- For additional information about restrictions and regulations for construction services, visit the Scottish Government website for guidance.