I have a scaffolding license with my neighbours which permits me to scaffold in their garden for an agreed period for an agreed price. The issue is that my construction work has stopped due to the UK lockdown and I would like my license to be paused. I don't have a force majeure clause in the contract and I don't want to keep paying the neighbours whilst no work is going on. What should I do?
Negotiate with your neighbour
Force Majeure in English law only exists if it is detailed in the contract. There is no general legal concept like there is in civil law jurisdictions. Further, even if there was such a clause, it would need to capture Covid-19 within the definition of Force Majeure either by defining it sufficiently broadly or by naming “pandemics” a one type of Force Majeure event.
English law has the much narrower doctrine of frustration but that requires that the supervening event becomes impossible, not just more onerous or expensive. It doesn’t apply here.
It’s also possible for a contract to have a change of law clause - this would probably apply to Covid-19 since the proximate reason for your work stopping is likely a government regulation. However, these are generally worded to allow the payee to recover additional costs of complying with the law, not to reduce the payer’s obligations. Notwithstanding, I’m guessing that your contract doesn’t have one of these either.
In your case you are required to keep paying and the have the scaffold removed before the deadline or you will be in breach and liable for damages. Under the terms of your contract, you took the risk of pandemics even if you didn’t know you were.