Legal changes – what businesses should expect in 2018

In December last year, we provided some New Year’s resolutions for employers. But it’s not just employment law that changes. Here we outline some of the other key legal changes we’d suggest you prepare for.

Failing to prevent tax evasion

This new offence came into force on 30 September 2017, and makes businesses vicariously liable for tax evasion by employees as well as the business’s agents and others providing services. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not you were aware of what was going on. However, it is a defence if you can show that you have in place reasonable prevention procedures.

The HMRC finalised guidance on the new offences last September, and included a section aimed at SMEs. They suggest, for example, conducting a risk assessment, providing training in tax evasion and having robust whistleblowing reporting procedures. Exactly how extensive should your procedures be? It’s hard to say until we have evidence of HMRC’s prosecutions, but we’ll endeavour to keep you informed.

Small Business Commissioner’s complaint handling service

According to the Government, a third of payments to small businesses in the UK are late, and a fifth of small businesses have encountered cash flow problems as a result. For this reason, on 20 December 2017 the Government launched this complaint handling service with the aim of helping small businesses to deal with late payments.

Ban on surcharges

If you’re a retailer, perhaps in the past you charged customers more for payments made using credit or debit cards. Well that became unlawful on 13 January 2018.

If you’ve just paid your tax bill, you may have noticed one high-profile effect of this law: HMRC used to charge 0.5% for credit card payments, but it no longer accepts them at all. The Federation of Small Businesses has warned that small businesses may not be able to absorb the extra costs so may stop accepting such payments. Note that you can continue to set a lower limit on card payments.

Open borders for online content

This update is likely to affect you as customers, but if you provide online services it also may require that you make changes.

From 20 March 2018, providers of paid-for online content in their member state (e.g. the United Kingdom) must be allowed to access and use their home subscription while ‘temporarily present’, e.g. on holiday, in another member state. This means that whilst on a business trip, you’ll be able to watch Netflix on your home subscription.

In addition, the European Commission has announced agreement on legislation to end ‘geo-blocking’, restricting traders’ rights to block access to websites or redirect them to another website. This legislation is expected by the end of the 2018.

Energy efficiency standards

As of 1 April 2018, nearly all landlords of both domestic and business properties will have to ensure their properties reach an Energy Performance Certificate rating of at least E before granting new tenancy agreements, whether to new or existing tenants.

Gas safety and chemical registration

The EU’s new Gas Appliances Regulation will be enforceable from 21 April 2018. As a ‘regulation’ (as opposed to a ‘directive’) it will come into force immediately on that date throughout the EU. Amongst other things, this regulation brings more products into its remit and requires that manufacturers conduct risk assessments for their gas appliances and fittings.

The final deadline under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is fast approaching – by 1 June 2018, if you manufacture or import (from outside of the EU) just 1 tonne/year of chemicals, you’ll have to register with the European Chemicals Agency, which is based in Helsinki.

Data protection

We covered the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into effect on 25 May 2018, in our previous article. Whilst we don’t wish to summarise it again, the GDPR remains the biggest item on the legal agenda. It requires, for example, extra scrutiny of the personal information you hold and your reasons for holding it, and the communication of considerably more detailed privacy notices than was previously required.

Brexit?

You’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what the legal landscape will look like after Brexit, with some politicians demanding full-scale burning of the rule books, other suggesting subtler changes. But don’t worry, we’ll be updating you and our legal documents as the need arises.

Raphael Prais is a content lawyer at Epoq Legal Ltd.

If you would like more information about our legal advice and document services for SMEs, please email us or call on 020 8731 2424.