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Legislative changes in view of the Covid-19 pandemic (in some countries there are changes to insolvency law, tenancy law, law on consumer contracts and corporate law)

Legislative changes in light of the Covid-19 pandemic are outlined below.

Health Act 1956: on 30 January 2020, ‘novel coronavirus capable of causing severe respiratory illness’ was listed on the schedule of the Health Act 1956. On 11 March 2020, the schedule to the Act was updated so that both ‘novel coronavirus’ and Covid-19 were also designated as quarantinable infectious diseases. This allows Government officials to require any persons believed or suspected to have novel coronavirus or Covid-19 on board an aircraft arriving in New Zealand to be examined, to provide bodily samples and to supply information, and to have such persons to be kept under surveillance.

Residential Tenancies Act 1986: on 23 March 2020 the Government announced a freeze to residential rent increases and greater protections for tenants against having their tenancies terminated. This has been applied as law through the Covid-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Amendment Act.

The key changes for landlords and tenants to be aware of are that 1. There is now a freeze on rent increases; 2. A rent increase notice from a landlord will not have the effect of increasing a tenant’s rent, unless the rent increase has already taken effect; 3. Tenancies will not be terminated during the lock-down period, unless the parties agree, or in limited circumstances, regardless of when notice was provided; 4. Tenants will still be able to terminate their tenancy as normal, if they wish; and 5. Tenants will have the ability to revoke termination notices that they have already given, in case they need to stay in the tenancy during the lock-down period.

These new changes take effect by 26 March 2020. The rent freeze applies for an initial period of six months. The protection against terminations will apply for an initial period of three months. At the end of both initial periods, the Government will evaluate whether they need to be extended. Where a tenant has symptoms of Covid-19, or is tested positive, this is not grounds for a landlord to terminate a tenancy. Nor is a tenant required to notify their landlord if they test positive for Covid-19.

Changes to tax law: the Covid-19 Response (Taxation and Social Assistance Urgent Measures) Act 2020 was passed under urgency by Parliament and received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020. This Act introduces taxation and social assistance measures to alleviate the economic impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak. The amendments fall under three main categories:

Income tax: these measures include restoring depreciation deductions for non-residential buildings; increasing the low-value asset write-off threshold; increasing the provisional tax threshold; and bringing forward the application date for the broader refundability rules for R&D tax credits.

Tax administration: these measures include enabling Inland Revenue to remit use of money interest for taxpayers affected by Covid-19; and allowing Inland Revenue to share information with other Government agencies to assist those agencies in their response to Covid-19. 

Social assistance: these measures include removing the hours test eligibility requirement for the in-work tax credit; ensuring GST does not apply to payments of the Covid-19 wage subsidy and leave payments; reduring the winter energy payment rates to their current levels from 2021 after a temporary increase in 2020; and allowing people on a temporary visa to qualify for Working for Families if they are receiving an emergency benefit.

Education Act 1989: temporary changes to the Act were made in the Covid-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Legislation Act, which means that all schools and education providers, whether they are public or private, are now controlled by the Government (Secretary for Education) in an attempt to break the chain of Covid-19. The Government can direct how education facilities operate and direct them to provide education in specific ways, for example, online learning.

Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006 contains powers which are invoked if the Prime Minister issues an epidemic notice. There is a provision in the Act that allows Judges to modify rules of court during an epidemic. This provision has been amended to include District Court judges to the list of those who can modify a rule of court if necessary in the interests of justice to take account of the effects of the disease stated in the notice.