Guernsey entered stage 3 of its release from lockdown on 22 March 2021. This means that within the Bailiwick of Guernsey (including the islands of Alderney, Sark and Herm) there are no longer any social distancing requirements or restrictions. For full details please see the Bailiwick Blueprint.
Non-essential travel is now allowed out of the Bailiwick but anyone returning or entering the Bailiwick will be subject to stringent self-isolation restrictions for the time being.
On 23 January 2021 Guernsey entered its second lockdown. This came as a shock to the population as the Bailiwick had effectively been in Phase 5c of its exit from the first lockdown since June 2020 and had been living in a Bailiwick Bubble with the freedoms of a pre-Covid life with the exemptions of a stringent border control policy. The first lockdown put the island in good stead, policies and procedures for a second lockdown were already in place from a governmental, local business and administrative perspective. Thankfully the Bailiwick has returned to its Bailiwick Bubble after two months of lockdown.
1. Filings – updated
In the last week, life has returned the Bailiwick Bubble we experienced for most of 2020. The courts have returned to business as usual. New processes that had been adopted during the first 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 the first 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 respective online portals.
The Courts relaxed some of their rules relating to the filing of hard copy documents during the first 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 the first 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. The individual being identified must have their original identity document with them during the call (not a copy). 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 has been closed to visitors since the first lockdown and its staff is continuing to work 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. Indeed the Registry has advised that its telephone lines are unmanned and that its post is being held at the post office so if you wish to contact the Registry for any reason, please use the following email address at this time: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The only impact of the new lockdown is in relation to Charity and NPO renewals which were due on 31 January 2020. The Registry is looking to formally extend this filling deadline.
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? – updated
The Greffe has confirmed that the Strong room will be manned and that attendance in person has resumed. Appleby can still get litigation searches for our company searches but we need to request them in good time for a same day response. There will also be an additional charge for such searches where these are carried out by the Greffe staff.
We are awaiting confirmation of when the Greffe will resume full pre-lockdown activities; we expect this to be published shortly.
5. Court position – updated
We are currently awaiting full guidance as to when the Courts will resume full pre-lockdown activities but this should be available shortly. As noted above all social distancing restrictions ceased on Monday 22 March 2021. Non-essential travel has also recommenced however, anyone entering the island is still subject to 14 day self-isolation requirements so attendance in person is still limited for persons who are currently outside of the jurisdiction.
The Court will have a staff member covering the Greffe enquiry desk from 9am-10am each day to cater for urgent matters only. If documents need to be urgently legalised they can be dropped off at the security desk between the appointed times and collected 24 hours later.
We are still awaiting confirmation of when the Greffe will resume full pre-lockdown activities.
These can be dropped off between 9am and 10am for registration, confirmation of registration will be sent out separately. Again, we are still awaiting confirmation of when the Greffe will resume full pre-lockdown activities.
6. Any travel restrictions – Updated
Guernsey has (at the time of writing this article) 1 active case of coronavirus on the island. It entered Stage 3 of its exit from lockdown on 22 March.
Guernsey entered Stage 2 of its exit from lockdown on 8 March. All schools, colleges and early year providers re-opened from this date. Household ‘bubbles’ were also extended. In Stage 1, two households could join to form a bubble. In Stage 2, this was extended to four households, that could join together to form a single, exclusive bubble.
Outside of household bubbles, social gatherings are permitted with a limit of 20 people indoors or 30 people outdoors.
Non-essential retail and some hospitality businesses such as cafes and restaurants could also reopen in Stage 2.
Face coverings are no longer a requirement in Stage 3 but are still recommended for indoor public places and public transport.
Guidance for Stage 3 of the exit from lockdown may be found here.
Stage 3 has seen a return to a normal level of activity within the Bailiwick, with social, recreation and business activity able to take place.
There will be no requirement for social distancing or face coverings however this will continue to be recommended for vulnerable individuals.
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.
Travel is permissible within the Bailiwick.
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.
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.
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;
- 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.
Non-essential travel to and from the Bailiwick will be allowed subject to strict self-isolation requirements on return to the Bailiwick. These will remain in place until at least 30 April when there is a proposal to review the situation and reintroduce regional or countries specific requirements.
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:
- It is expected that COVID-19 will only impact companies’ ability to comply with the directed and managed part of the ESR.
- Companies should maintain records in respect of their own internal policies around travel and associated restrictions.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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 Revenue Service has recently sent out a briefing advising people who have chosen to temporarily work for their UK employer from Guernsey during the pandemic that basing themselves in the Island may have implications for their personal tax situation. It may be found here.
8. Co-funding Payroll Scheme
The Policy & Resources Committee has agreed to reinstate the payroll co-funding scheme to support businesses not able to work or trade during the second lockdown, and the hardship fund for individuals facing financial difficulties as a result of the lockdown.
The States of Guernsey 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.
The Policy & Resources Committee has reviewed and agreed the business support measures it will provide going forward. For further details please see here.