Monitoring post during any period of lockdown
As many businesses prepare to shut their doors for a period of home working or temporary closure in response to coronavirus it is important to give some thought to how your business will monitor post during this period.
You may receive property notices or court papers that require a response within a specified period. For example, you must acknowledge a claim form within 14 days or you may lose the right to defend it. A notice may be validly served on you even if you do not receive it. Many property notices are not validly served if sent by email alone.
Where possible, businesses should put in place arrangements to continue to collect post during any period premises are closed, even if this is temporary. This applies in particular if your business address is also your registered office address at Companies House, or the address for service given at Land Registry for any property you own or lease This is likely to be the address you receive important property notices or court papers. If your company registered office is the address of a third party you should enquire how post to that office is being monitored in the event of a closure to ensure your interests are protected so far as possible.
We set out below some options businesses may wish to consider in the event their workplaces are closed in the coming weeks.
Continue mail collection during a period of lockdown
If it is safe to do so the best course of action is to appoint an individual to collect post delivered and circulate this by email to the relevant employees. It is important to ensure a continuity plan is in place in the event the elected person/persons are unable to fulfil this role.
The ability to visit the office to collect post is subject always to the government guidance in force at any time.
Instruct royal mail to redirect post
The Royal Mail redirect service allows businesses to instruct the Royal Mail to redirect mail received to another address, for example a home address.
We understand mail redirection will take up to five days to put in place so if you elect to use a mail redirection service you will need to ensure post is monitored by other methods until the redirection comes into effect. It should be expected that given the potential scale of demand for redirections they may take longer than usual to come into effect. Whether redirection is practical for your business will depend on the scale and nature of your operations.
Check if your contracts allow you to provide an alternative address for service
Some contracts allow the parties to notify each other of alternative addresses for service. If your contract allows you to do this you should give notice of an alternative address as soon as possible.
Even if your contract does not contain a specific provision allowing you to change the address for service by giving notice, it may be a helpful practical measure to inform parties of an additional address at which you can receive notices in the event your place of business is closed. However, you may not be able to insist notices be served on the new address if your contract does not provide for this.
Formally vary contracts for a temporary period
It will not be practical to formally vary all of your contracts for a temporary period, but if you have a concern about a particular contract where time-sensitive notices are likely to be served in the coming weeks (for example an option agreement) you might consider varying those contracts to either
- change the address for service to an individual’s home address;
- provide for multiple addresses for service (with all addresses having to be served); or
- permit service by email.
Variations to property contracts must comply with certain formalities in order to be valid and you should take advice on how to effectively vary your contracts.
The rules which apply to the service of notices are case-specific, and what you need to do in every case will vary. The considerations outlined here will apply to a wide range of commercial contracts and are not restricted to property contracts. How the courts will interpret disputes where notices have been served on businesses whilst their premises are closed on public health grounds remains to be seen, but until more is known businesses should take steps to ensure notices are correctly served as far as possible. If you need to serve a notice or expect to receive one during a period of business interruption we would recommend seeking advice to avoid disputes over the effect of the notice in the future.
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