Can Home Businesses Continue to Operate During CB?

An advisory that was recently published by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has left owners of home-based businesses confused as to whether or not they can continue to operate, even from home.

This brief advisory states that, during the Circuit-Breaker period, home-based businesses must comply with all Circuit-Breaker measures in order to continue running. These measures refer to those found in the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 – a bumper law that the Government has enacted to deal with varying aspects of the Covid-19 situation, e.g. movement control, social-distancing, rent relief etc.

One of the key measures under the Act is the suspension of businesses except essential services (e.g. grocers, banks, transport etc). If you don’t fall under these essential services, you cannot operate. This purpose of this measure is to reduce the number of people commuting and gathering at workplaces.

The question some home-based business owners then have is this: I don’t have to travel to an office to work; I can essentially run the business from home. Can I continue to operate?

The answer is: it depends on what kind of business you run.

There are different kinds of home-based enterprises. Some prepare and sell baked goods on a small scale. Some provide hairdressing or sewing services in their homes. There are the tuition teachers who conduct small group classes. Or perhaps graphic or web designers who can function entirely online and from home.

If you’re a home-based business, whether or not you can continue to run depends on the nature of your business. Hairdressers will most certainly not be allowed to operate now. Likewise, tuition teachers will not be permitted to conduct physical classes, but if they can teach virtually over the Internet, continuing to operate online shouldn’t be a problem. That much is clear.

However, a large part of the ongoing confusion arises over businesses that sell a physical product, e.g. a home baker.

Ordinarily, these businesses will either have their customers come by the owner’s home to collect the goods. Alternatively, the owner or her family member may deliver the goods to customers. More recently, home businesses have taken to enlisting third-party delivery services to send goods to customers.

However, according to the Covid-19 bumper law and the latest URA advisory, all these modes of passing over goods are no longer permitted:

Self-collection by customer and delivery by the owner/family members will breach Covid-19 movement restrictions measures. Remember, we’re only supposed to leave home if we work in an essential service, to buy groceries, or for exercise. Picking up goods from someone else’s home or sending goods to a customer’s home do not fall under these permitted activities. Moreover, the URA advisory makes it very clear that business owners and staff are not to leave their homes at all.

The URA advisory also specifically prohibits anyone from collecting goods at the business owner’s home. This includes third-party delivery personnel or the customers themselves.

Does this invariably mean that a home baker, craftsman, or seamstress has to then shutter his business until the Circuit Breaker is lifted? After all, such businesses cannot possibly run if customers cannot receive the physical product.

The answer is very likely a yes.

This is so, given how the Covid-19 bumper law and the URA advisory are clear about how self-collection, personal delivery, and the use of courier services are all disallowed.

Business owners are then asking: what if I leave the goods at my door for customers or delivery personnel to pick up without me meeting them, i.e. a contactless delivery?

That seems to still be illegal:

  • First, the URA advisory does not distinguish between contactless and non-contactless pickups/deliveries. It broadly states that all forms of pickups and deliveries are prohibited.
  • Second, leaving the home to make a contactless delivery or pickup is still considered leaving the home for a non-essential purpose. That goes against the movement restrictions under the Covid-19 bumper law.

Until the Government clarifies its position further, the bottom line for home-business owners is this:

  • If your business can function entirely online without the physical passing over of goods, you can continue to function.
  • If you need to receive people into your home or pass goods to anyone (customers, deliverymen etc), you should not be operating.

Anyone breaching these rules risks a $1,000 fine.

 

This article is written by DC Law LLC. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice. If you would like to consult us, we are contactable by email at info@dclaw.com.sg or by phone at +65 6589 8118.

Write a comment