How can business owners keep their contracts up to date?

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Ed Rimmell, VWV

As advisers to a broad range of businesses in the region, we find it surprising how regularly companies overlook the need to keep their ‘stock’ contracts periodically updated to reflect current rules and regulations.

Documents, customer terms and conditions, supply contracts, often underpin your business and – because they tend to be used on a repeat basis – the effect of mistakes in those documents can be magnified.

We look  at a few recent developments which you should  check against your current contracts to avoid any pitfalls.

Brexit

We don’t suggest that you try to second-guess the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, but we do recommend that your contracts give you the flexibility that you need to be able to deal with changes that Brexit might bring – particularly where you have EU based customers or suppliers.

Are your contracts clear where the risk of the imposition of tariffs might sit?  Do you have the ability to re-visit contract terms if circumstances change?  Particularly for long term contracts that might straddle our departure from the EU, you should think about whether they give your business the flexibility that it needs.

General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)

These new rules are likely to mean that the terms of your relationship with consumers needs to be updated.  Iin particular to reflect the new more stringent rules on seeking consent to process personal data.  They will also affect B2B contracts under which personal data is processed.

The increased powers of the regulator in this area, and its ability to levy very significant fines, have focused the minds of most businesses on ensuring that your contracts and systems are compliant.

Modern Slavery

If you are required to comply with the Modern Slavery Act (ie your turnover exceeds £36m) then including appropriate provision in contracts with your supply chain helps to demonstrate your compliance.

Even if you aren’t caught directly by the Act though, your customers may well be.  They will look to impose obligations on you as part of their own compliance processes.  Including terms in your standard contracts which you are comfortable with, and which pre-empt the requirements of your customers should be low-risk, will be positively viewed by your customers, and will limit the need for negotiation.

Consumer Rights Act

Although now a couple of years old (implemented in 2015) many consumer-facing businesses still operate on non-compliant terms and conditions.  Getting this wrong can result in your contracts not being enforceable in the manner in which you expect them to be, as well as potential censure from regulatory bodies and the reputational risk that goes with that.

Our experience, as advisers to businesses of all sizes in the region, is that keeping your key documents up to date helps to avoid future disputes, and is a good indicator to your customers and suppliers of a well-run business.

Ed Rimmell is a partner at national law firm VWV.  Ed, who is based in the Bristol office of VWV can be contacted on 0117 314 5232 or at erimmell@vwv.co.uk.

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