2021 is expected to be a year of wide-ranging change in legislation terms as the UK manages the end of the Brexit transition period, the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the normal programme of legislative change that is still able to be progressed. Given that Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have created unprecedented obstacles to the regular legislative process, there is perhaps more of an open-ended feel to the legislative calendar for 2021, with more statutes than normal without a definitively expected date. However, we are still able to roll out a clear and practical schedule of what legislative change is expected in the coming twelve months.

Legislative change due to Brexit in 2021

The rules on trade, travel and business for the UK and European Union are still being negotiated, and this will continue to be the case right up to the end of the transition period on January 1st 2021. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 effectively ended the supremacy of EU law over the legislation passed by the UK Government. But there is still a mechanism in place to retain the “corpus” of EU law which presently applies in the UK. Therefore, EU law will to a large extent be copied over into the UK’s post-exit statute book from January 1st 2021. This will be called “EU retained law”, but of course the UK Government can then amend this legislation as applicable.

  • January 1st 2021 – New Immigration system

One piece of legislation already in place is a new points-based immigration system for the UK post-Brexit. This will apply to both EU and non-EU workers in the UK and applications to live and work in the UK after January 1st 2021 opened on December 1st 2020. The main changes are:

  • Creating a Skilled Worker route which requires a job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from an approved sponsoring employer. This replaces the previous Tier 2 General category.
  • Maximum six-year stay for workers in this category is scrapped.
  • A gross basic salary must be £25,600 or over to apply.
  • The skill level for the position must be equivalent to A-levels.
  • The applicant must be able to communicate in English to an intermediate level.

If a business intends to take on foreign workers from the beginning of 2021, then they will need a licence, which they can apply for now, and therefore, must apply for as soon as possible. Contact our immigration solicitors for advice.

  • January 1st 2021 – GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulations will no longer directly apply in the UK at the end of the transition period, but businesses will still need to comply with the requirements, as they are covered by the Data Protection Act 2018.

  • January 1st 2021 – Working Time Directive

In most cases there will be no change in the requirements of businesses towards the working time directive at the end of the transition period. UK employees will continue to be protected and can avoid working more than 48 hours on average in a week, unless they opt out of the scheme.

  • January 1st 2021 – EU Trademarks

If the UK ends up leaving without a deal on 1st January 2021, European Union trademarks (EUTMs) will only apply within remaining EU member states, not in the UK. Therefore, UK holders of an EUTM will be provided with a comparable UK trademark by the end of the transition period.

  • Expected in 2021 – CE marking

It is expected that specific guidance and legislation relating to the continuing use of CE marking on products will be introduced during 2021.

Other legislative changes due in 2021

  • April 6th 2021 – Extension of IR35 to private sector

Responsibility for applying IR35 tax and national insurance rules switched from contractors to employers in April 2017. This meant employers had to assess contractors working in the public sector and whether IR35 rules applied to them. This is now extended to apply to private sector employers where a business has:

  • more than 50 employees
  • an annual turnover over £10.2 million
  • a balance sheet worth over £5.1 million

This change was due to take effect from April 2020, but was delayed by the COVID-19 crisis.

  • April 30th 2021 – Job retention scheme ends

The job retention (furlough) scheme introduced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has already been amended in terms of the employer’s financial commitment. This scheme was extended in November 2020 to the end of March 2021, and most recently to the end of April 2021, whereupon the scheme will close and employers should therefore plan for steps they are going to take to retain employees without this Government support. Any plans for redundancy need to be started now to ensure a fair and legal process can be introduced where necessary.

  • Expected 2021 – Extending pregnancy protection from redundancy

Currently, pregnancy protection against redundancy ends when the person returns to work. It is expected that the Government will extend this protection to include a pregnant person from as soon as they inform their employer of their pregnancy, and from when that person returns to work from maternity leave for a period of six months afterwards. This protection will also include parents on shared parental leave and on adoption leave.

  • Expected 2021 – Return of gender pay gap reporting

The compulsory reporting of gender pay gap statistics was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is expected to return in 2021, so organisations with at least 250 employees will again be obligated to return a report.

  • Expected 2021 – Modern slavery statements

It is expected that the criteria of organisations required to produce a modern slavery statement will be increased in 2021, certainly to include any organisation with a budget of at least £36 million. This statement should outline steps the business has taken to prevent modern slavery in their own operations and in its supply chain.