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How are regulators responding to COVID-19?

Carina May
In the current COVID-19 crisis there is close scrutiny of how regulators are responding to the needs of those they regulate, and the wider public. Regulators are faced with the challenge of making urgent changes in stressful conditions, which must deliver upon their objectives and also be proportionate, reasonable and lawful. Whilst every regulator is responding in its own way, there are some common themes to the changes being made.


Adapting rules to implement legislative changes

The Coronavirus Act 2020 and other new legislation has resulted in changes to the functions, powers and duties of many regulators. Regulators have been reviewing their own rules in order to implement these changes and to facilitate an effective response to the crisis.

For example, healthcare regulators have introduced new rules to enable temporary registration of healthcare professionals and the Competition and Markets Authority has set out how legislative changes will be applied to allow greater scope than usual for businesses to co-operate in the COVID-19 cause.

As with any rules, regulators will be deciding on a case-by-case basis how they will be applied. However, given the absence of time and consultation before these changes, there may be more questions and unknowns than would normally be expected.

Therefore it is particularly important for regulated communities to ensure that any actions they take under new rules are necessary and proportionate. Decisions should be properly recorded so as to reflect the rationale and any potentially extenuating circumstances afforded by the crisis. 

Guiding the regulated community 

Alongside the rule changes that have been made, regulators have been issuing directions, guidance and statements to their regulated communities. These range from a Statutory Direction by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and joint statements by the healthcare regulators, to guidance from the Regulator of Social Housing and Q&As from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Many regulators have informed their regulated communities that they will take into account the current mitigating circumstances when monitoring and enforcing their standards and rules. The Information Commissioner's Office has gone as far as to say that it will not penalise organisations that it knows need to prioritise other areas or adapt their usual approach during this period.

Deferring non-urgent deadlines

Regulators are recognising that individuals and businesses are currently under huge pressure. They are generally seeking to strike a balance between maintaining regulatory standards and being flexible where possible.

For many sectors and professions the need to file annual reports, returns and revalidation information has been postponed.

Tribunals, training and consultations are on hold in order that regulators can streamline resources where they are most urgently needed.

Where regulated entities and individuals are struggling to meet other deadlines because of COVID-19, early engagement with the regulator may enable a satisfactory resolution to be agreed. 

Assisting the public 

Regulators are playing their part in trying to protect and assist the public. This includes steps taken by the Financial Conduct Authority to support consumers struggling with debt repayments, action by other regulators to deal with virus-related scams and advice issued to the public on keeping their money safe.

The wide range of measures reflect the public interest objective at the heart of regulatory functions across sectors and industries. Regulators will be especially concerned about members of society who may be particularly vulnerable at this time and will need to ensure that their communication strategies reach those who are most in need. 

The regulatory changes we have seen so far are only the start of the response to COVID-19. There will be many more to come as the crisis evolves and eventually a time when regulators begin to unwind the temporary measures that have been put in place.

The regulatory team at Fieldfisher is already assisting regulators and businesses to navigate these changes and plan for the future.

If you think that we may be able to help you as a regulator or a regulated entity during this difficult time then please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

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