1. Filings 

Guernsey is currently in Phase 5c of its exit from Lockdown, it officially entered Phase 5 of its exit from Lockdown on Monday 22 June 2020.  From that date the Courts fundamentally returned to pre-covid ways of working.   New processes that had been adopted during Lockdown and which were deemed to be more efficient have in the most part been continued. For example, at the beginning of the year the Royal Court initiated a digital filing trial.  The intervening Covid‐19 pandemic showed beyond doubt the value in digital filing and managed to keep the Royal Court running throughout Lockdown, albeit in a slightly different and/or unconventional format.  Moving forward, the Courts have decided that it would be beneficial to keep the digital filing of papers for the Friday Court in place and to extend it to other Courts in due course.

The Guernsey Companies Registry (Registry) filings, regulatory filings to the Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GFSC) and Court filings were not affected by Lockdown and continue to be filed digitally in accordance with normal practice rules using their respect online portals.

The Courts relaxed some of their rules relating to the filing of hard copy documents during Lockdown and as mentioned above such practices have continued.  The GFSC also issued a statement offering to extend certain filing deadlines and simplifying some filing procedures and requirements. Many of these extensions are also still in place.

At the beginning of Lockdown, the GFSC issued guidance on how to use electronic verification to verify the identity of a natural person through a video call on a smart phone, webcam or similar device.  Again, this guidance still remains in place.  Irrespective of the guidance, a firm must apply a risk based approach when dealing with situations like this and must be satisfied as to the validity and veracity of the identification data used to verify the identity of an individual. The guidance offers six practical steps which must be adhered to, in order to enable firms to comply with the handbook.

These rules include the need to have simultaneous visual and verbal contact over a device which provides a sufficient good quality connection to enable the firm to clearly see the face of the individual and also to be able to see their identity data within the identity document (i.e. the photo and details on the identity details page in a passport) when it is shown to the screen and firms must be able to review this page on the call.

These rules include the need to have simultaneous visual and verbal contact over a device which provides a sufficient good quality connection to enable the firm to clearly see the face of the individual and also to be able to see their identity data within the identity document (i.e. the photo and details on the identity details page in a passport) when it is shown to the screen and firms must be able to review this page on the call.

The individual being identified must have their original identity document with them during the call (not a copy).  The firm must be able to ascertain that the image in the document reflects that of the person on the video call. The firm must be able to undertake checks on the authenticity of the document during the call by reviewing the security features in the original identification document. This can also be automated if the software being used for the video call itself has the capability to carry out authentication checks or by using separate software solutions such as those that check the algorithms used to generate passport numbers. The firm must also keep accurate records relating to the customer due diligence and be able to explain when and how the document was verified and by whom. Electronic copies of the document including screen shots from the call also need to be retained as part of the records.

The GFSC also issued two FAQs on the provision of “wet” signatures on applications. Basically, where a printer but no scanner is available, the paperwork should be printed, the signature box signed and the individual take a picture of the document and email the image to the GFSC.  Where no printer is available, the individual should copy out the signature box statement on a blank piece of paper, sign and date the statement, then photograph it and email it to the GFSC together with a PDF copy of the unsigned final version of the document.

Many firms have continued to allow their employees the flexibility to work from home even after the relaxation of Lockdown.  That been said most offices and the GFSC are open and onsite inspections resumed in June.  All officers working from home should be registered with the GFSC’s online portals to enable them to make online submissions and returns. The GFSC recently issued some guidance for regulated firms to take into consideration where such licensees are continuing some form of working from home model on a permanent basis.

The guidance may found here: Guidance

2. Can searches be conducted?

The Registry remains closed but its staff are working remotely. We would ordinarily conduct a company search online. All searches can be done online and documents can be requested and paid for remotely in the usual way.

3. Certificates of good standing – if and how these are being conducted?

These can currently still be ordered online in the usual way.

4. Other searches – how are these being conducted? 

Litigation Searches

The Greffe has confirmed a return to its normal pre–COVID opening hours (9am- 4pm).

5. Court position

As noted above, the Courts have also returned to pre-COVID normality and have resumed physical hearings.

6. Any travel restrictions – Updated

Guernsey has eight active cases of coronavirus on the island.

The Bailiwick was the first place in the British Isles to be declared coronavirus free and within the Bailiwick, life has resumed to pre-covid normality.  There are no social distancing requirements throughout the Bailiwick as all four major islands have become one large Bailiwick bubble.

Unlike the UK, Guernsey is currently not facing a second lockdown, with the detection several new variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 Guernsey’s Civil Contingencies Authority announced a number of new measures at the end of December 2020 and further measures commencing 14 January 2021. Anyone arriving into the Bailiwick must possess an essential travel permit. Failure to have one could lead to a fine of up to £10,000. Critical workers are not included in this process and must still follow existing channels for permits. What is deemed to be essential travel is defined as travel:

  • For compassionate purposes;
  • For medical treatment;
  • To accompany child or vulnerable person out of the Bailiwick;
  • To undertake an essential business activity that cannot be done remotely;
  • For legal obligations ie attendance in court;
  • To return if they left before 12 January 2021;
  • If in the process of moving to the Bailiwick, (where a property has already been purchased);
  • To take up employment, if such process is already underway.

All people travelling into the Bailiwick are now required to take a Covid-19 swab test on arrival, and to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a day 13 test. If they decline to take a day 13 test they will have to self-isolate for 21 days. Public Health Services in Guernsey are urging anyone self-isolating or living in the same house as someone self-isolating to strictly observe the rules.

The vaccination programme against COVID-19 started on the island on Thursday 17 December 2020. Both the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer/Biotech vaccines have been approved for use on the island.

The States of Guernsey moved into Phase 5c at the end of October. There are now four classifications of countries which depend upon the prevalence of Covid in such countries. The testing requirements for each category are also different. The States have introduced enhanced passive follow-up procedures. For more information on this please see this link.

New safety measures have been introduced by Condor Ferries, including the need for a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of travel. People departing from Guernsey will not need to provide a negative test; however, all passengers booked from the UK and France to Jersey and Guernsey and from Jersey to Guernsey will need a negative result.

In addition to these new requirements, the States have recommended that people travelling out of the jurisdiction should sign up to any official track and trace app used in the countries of travel. This may be a consideration for local businesses to include in their own internal policies.

Travel advice for the Bailiwick is as follows:

  • Face masks are now required on all commercial aircraft landing in the Bailiwick. Social distancing measures are now also required at the arrivals halls at both the airport and the harbour.
  • Where you are required to self-isolate for 14 – 21 days, you must not leave your accommodation and you must not leave the Island.

For more information on these current restrictions please see this link.

7. Implications for economic substance compliance and residency 

Following discussions with the EU Code of Conduct Group, the Guernsey Revenue Service have now published temporary guidance on the impact of COVID-19 on the Economic Substance Regulations (ESR). This official guidance is deemed to be applicable to the whole Covid-19 period of 2020 and is more restrictive than the guidance set out in the note issued by GIBA (see below) in March.

The Guernsey Revenue Service has recognised that public health measures restricting travel have caused concern for companies trying to ensure they meet the ESR and have confirmed that they will take a pragmatic approach when assessing whether companies have met the ESR.

Key points noted in the guidance are as follows:

  1. It is expected that COVID-19 will only impact companies ability to comply with the directed and managed part of the ESR.
  2. Companies should maintain records in respect of their own internal policies around travel and associated restrictions.
  3. Where COVID-19 measures have contributed in a failure to meet the ESR, a Revenue Service inspector will undertake a review on a case-by-case basis.
  4. Where a failure to meet the ESR has resulted in exchange of information with the UK or EU Member States, the company will be required to include information on the impact of COVID-19.

The temporary guidance shows that the Guernsey Revenue Service do not believe that the pandemic and travel restrictions should impact a company’s ability to meet the core income generating abilities (CIGA) part of the ESR.

The temporary framework will remain in place as the pandemic evolves and whilst travel restrictions continue but will be withdrawn once circumstances permit.

The new guidance should help companies review how they have been run over 2020 and consider what the impact of COVID-19 has meant to their compliance with ESR.

To see the Guernsey Revenue Service guidance click here.

Until late November and the issuance of the guidance noted above, there was no official guidance on economic substance issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic in Guernsey. A note “Board Meetings and Economic Substance Requirements Guidance” was circulated by Guernsey International Business Association (GIBA) on 16 March 2020 in relation to what local companies need to do to operate in light of the restrictions on travel, reductions in numbers of face to face meetings and the possibility of persons needing to self-isolate and yet still comply with their obligations under the economic substance rules. GIBA consulted with the GSCCA and the Guernsey Revenue Service to create this guidance (GIBA Guidance) but as such that guidance was not official.

The GIBA Guidance stated that companies should maintain and retain relevant records that show what their policy was in respect of the restrictions on travel for company officers and the period of time for which that policy was in place.  This will ensure that such companies can demonstrate where COVID- 19 restriction measures prohibited the company from holding an adequate number of board meetings in the island or required meetings to be temporarily be held virtually, such as via conference call, video conferencing, Skype or something similar.  It should be noted that the normal protocols for such meetings should be observed as far as possible, and revert back to normal as soon as the threat from the outbreak recedes.

The GIBA Guidance also noted that businesses should give consideration to the ability to appoint alternative directors on island who can attend meetings and thereby address any short – term practical difficulties arising from COVID 19.

Non-Guernsey directors do have the opportunity to come over for a day-trip to attend meetings without isolating (subject to various restrictions) using a business tunnel.  A number of questions have been raised as to whether this means that the guidance issued by GIBA and the GSCCA in March still stands.

The Guernsey Revenue Service has confirmed  that, given (1) the limitations on the scheme (flights will only come from Southampton so directors who don’t live in the Greater London area will struggle to use the scheme), (2) directors may live in jurisdictions that restrict travel more than Guernsey, and (3) many businesses still restrict travel, it will still adopt a pragmatic approach to the directed and managed and CIGA requirements, in that the fact that directors cannot fly in will not  cause a breach.  The Guernsey Revenue Service has stressed that documentation is key so, for example, the minutes of each board meeting where directors cannot attend in person due to travel restrictions should state the exact reasons, and copies of business travel policies should be kept with the minutes.  The Guernsey Revenue Service fully expects that the EU Code Group will raise queries about what happened during the pandemic, and so document retention is key.

The States of Guernsey has launched a loan guarantee scheme to provide additional financial support to local businesses facing disruption as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The scheme has also been agreed in coordination with the Governments of Jersey and the Isle of Man.  The scheme is operating through clearing banks who lend to local businesses in Guernsey.

The States of Guernsey are now actively reviewing the financial support offering in place for the self-employed and sole traders to ensure that the economic measures cover all parts of the local economy

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