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Electronic Insurance Regulations Issued

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Insurance Authority recently published the Insurance Authority Board of Directors’ Resolution No. 18 of 2020 on Electronic Insurance Regulations dated 27 April 2020 (“the Regulation”). The first draft of these regulations was published in January 2019, and after public consultation and discussion, a revised draft was published in December 2019, which has now been finalised. The Regulations and the timing of it are very relevant in the current circumstances, i.e. the impact of COVID-19 and the social distancing measures by the government, marketing, and solicitation of insurance by physical means is at an all-time low.

The term electronic has been widely defined as anything relating to technology having electrical, digital, magnetic, wireless, visual, electromagnetic, automated, optical or similar capabilities. The scope of the Regulations extend to all electronic and smart insurance operations carried out on the internet address of the company, social media such as Facebook, Linkedin, multimedia such as YouTube, Instagram, blogs, applications such as google doc, Wiki, AI-based systems, text messages, instant chat channels, smart applications, etc.

All insurance companies and related businesses such as insurance agents, actuary, broker, surveyor, insurance consultant, carrying out operations through electronic mode, require prior approval from the Insurance Authority. The application for such approval must be accompanied by an action plan for electronic operations, approved by the Board, and contain analysis of the risk, projected volume and contingency plan for the electronic operations.

Life insurance policies with investment components cannot be transacted online, while the sale of life insurance policies with standard underwriting (less the investment component), such as term life is allowed. Health and general lines of business on property and liability risk, including marine cargo insurance can all be sold online and are subject to the Regulations.

The website of the insurance companies must be maintained by the IT department of the company, but if the management of such a website is being outsourced to a third-party, then prior approval of the Insurance authority must be obtained in this regard. Insurers currently use multiple online platforms for online marketing and selling, often procured through third-party entities. The intent of the Regulations is to capture and regulate, where possible all such third-party entities who are engaged in insurance distribution.

The Regulations also put much impetus on provisions of information security and also requires that storage of data must be in the UAE. It is however not clear whether the Regulations require any Cloud server to be based within the UAE.

In addition, the Regulations recognise that the electronic platforms and systems of the companies may not be developed enough to carry out these operations and hence allow outsourcing of electronic operations for this purpose. The Regulations also allow usage of third-party websites for sale of insurance but require the prior consent of the Insurance Authority to be obtained for any such arrangements.

The Regulations also recognise, for the first time, the “Price Comparison Websites” and interestingly state that only an insurance broker can deal with a price comparison website. The Regulations also require Price Comparison Websites to be registered with the Insurance Authority and a copy of the agreement signed between Insurance Broker and Price Comparison Websites must be shared with the Insurance Authority. The prerequisites for registration of Price Comparison websites has also been listed in the Regulations but state that the application for registration must be made in accordance with the applicable regulations, implying that the Insurance Authority may be issuing further regulation on Price Comparison Websites shortly.

The Regulations state that the provisions shall apply from the date of publication of Regulations in the official gazette, but also allow insurance companies and insurance-related professions a time period of 6 months from the date of publication in the official gazette to align their position and operations with the Regulations.

While the recognition of Price Comparison Websites is a step in the right direction from the UAE Insurance Authority given the global trends in this regard, the requirement for a Price Comparison Website to deal only through a broker creates an extra layer of regulatory requirement and therefore unnecessary costs, the benefit of which could have been passed on to end customers in the absence of such requirement. Nonetheless, insurance markets globally have noticed a surge in demand for insurance policies through online mode and therefore this Regulation brings much-needed clarity, which will help in further growth of the UAE insurance market.

Extension granted for filing of VAT returns with FTA

The Federal Tax Authority (FTA) has issued a directive extending the filing date for their VAT Return for the Tax Period ending 31 March 2020, from 28 April 2020 till 28 May 2020. The payment of the VAT due for this Tax Period will also only be payable on 28 May 2020. This extension should provide an extended period for Taxable Persons to collect payments for Tax Invoices due to them to allow them to meet their VAT obligations to the FTA.

The FTA further announced that the extension will also apply to Taxable Persons that lodge monthly VAT Returns and that the VAT Return and payment of the VAT due for the Tax Period from 1 March 2020 till 31 March 2020 will also only be due on 28 May 2020.

The abovementioned directive from the FTA will only pertain to VAT Returns for the Tax Periods that ended on 31 March 2020, and does not affect any other Tax Periods where the deadline for filing Tax Returns and settling of payable taxes does not fall in April 2020.

Tax period extended for excise tax registrants

In an effort to support Excise Tax Registrants during the difficult circumstances caused by COVID-19, the Federal Tax Authority has decided to extend the tax period for businesses registered for Excise Tax, which commenced on 1/3/2020 for one month on an exceptional basis, to end on 30/4/2020. The tax period shall now respectively cover the months of March 2020 and April 2020, allowing registered businesses sufficient time to fulfil their tax obligations before the deadline.

Excise Tax Registrants must fulfil the following obligations:

  • file two separate tax returns, one for March 2020 and one for April 2020, by no later than Sunday, May 17, 2020; and
  • ensure that the Federal Tax Authority has received the tax payable for the tax periods as reported in the March 2020 and April 2020 tax returns by no later than Sunday, May 17, 2020.

Our expert tax lawyers are available to assist with this and all your tax needs during these difficult times.

24-hour curfew in major Saudi cities announced

Saudi authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew in most Saudi cities, the capital Riyadh as well as in Jeddah, Dammam, Al-Khobar, Tabuk, Dhahran, Al-Hofuf, Ta’if, Al-Qatif.

Residents can only leave their homes to get essential needs within their neighbourhoods between 6am and 3pm.

Only two passengers, including the driver, may be allowed inside vehicles.

Travel between cities is prohibited.

The curfew decision excludes essential workers in public and private sectors such as medical facilities and pharmacies, grocery stores, gas and oil stations, banking services and maintenance and operation, plumbing, electrical and air conditioning technicians and water delivery services and sewage tanks.

Economic Relief Measures for the UAE during COVID-19

The UAE government has introduced certain measures that will offer economic relief to UAE businesses suffering under the strain of COVID-19 ramifications.

Although the UAE has not announced any direct relief from tax payment obligations similar to those introduced in KSA, the governments of both the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have introduced financial assistance measures due to the current COVID-19 crisis.

The Emirate of Dubai

In the Emirate of Dubai, the government has introduced the following measures:

  • An AED1,5 billion business stimulation package involving the reduction in fees payable by businesses for three months
  • Dubai Customs introduced the following measures which will be in place from 15 March 2020 till 30 June 2020
  • A refund of 20% of all Customs Duty paid on goods at 5% which have been sold locally
  • The revokation of the AED50,000 cash or bank guarantees required to conduct customs broker activities and the refund of existing guarantees held to these brokers and clearing companies
  • The exemption from berthing fees as well as direct and indirect loading fees for boats that qualify as traditional wooden commercial boats registered in the UAE at either Dubai Creek or Hamriyah Port

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi

In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the government has introduced:

  • With effect from 16 March 2020, a 16 point stimulus plan involving fee exemptions, fine waivers, SME support initiatives
  • An AED 5 billion water and electricity subsidy scheme
  • An AED 3 billion SME credit guarantee programme
  • The establishment of a AED 1 billion market maker fund to sustain a balanced supply and demand balance for stocks
  • The suspension of performance bonds for bidding procedures
  • A 25% reduction on new industrial land leasing fees
  • The waiver of industrial and commercial penalties
  • Cancellation of individual and commercial real estate registration fees
  • The payment of government approved invoices within 15 days
  • The suspension of Tourism and Municipality Fees for the tourism and entertainment sectors for 2020
  • Waiver of performance guarantees for start-ups for projects up till AED 50 million

In addition to the government’s measures the private sector has also stepped up to the plate and numerous of the large property leasing companies have offered reduced and even exemptions from rental payments for commercial tenants that have had to shut down their businesses due to COVID-19. Various banks, property developers and even utility suppliers have also offered payment holidays and have deferred evictions and legal collections in the light of the current situation in the UAE relating to COVID-19.

Should you be experiencing financial pressures and would like to take advantage of any of the above measures, BSA is ready and eager to assist.

Attorney General announces fines to prevent spread of COVID-19

The UAE Attorney General has issued resolution No. (38) of 2020 following Cabinet Decision No. 17 of 2020 regarding the implementation of regulations for spreading communicable diseases. The resolution covers 15 penalties, ranging from AED 500 to AED 50,000, which aim to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the UAE.

The Attorney General has clarified that the fine for not wearing medical masks in closed places can only be imposed on patients suffering from chronic diseases and on people who are suffering from symptoms of flu and cold and fail to maintain social distancing while among other people.

The following are the violations and associated fines as issued under the Attorney General’s resolution:

  • Fine for not complying with instructions of home quarantine and/or not following the guidelines under the Home Quarantine Guide– AED 50,000
  • Fine for patients who refuse mandatory hospitalisation or fail to take the prescribed medicines despite being alerted – AED 50,000
  • Fine for violating administrative closure of public places like shopping centres, malls, outdoor markets, gyms, public swimming pools, cinemas, clubs, parks and restaurants – AED 50,000 (Additionally, there is a fine of AED 500 for people caught visiting these public places)
  • Fine for organising social gatherings, meetings and public celebrations – AED 10,000 (Additionally, there is a fine of AED 5,000 for people attending the social gatherings and events)
  • Fine for not conducting a medical test upon request – AED 5,000
  • Fine for violating precautionary measures set by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention by people coming from nations affected by communicable diseases – AED 2,000
  • Fine for failure to observe health measures regarding regulation of roads, markets and other public places exempted from temporary closure – AED 3,000
  • Fine for failure to dispose of clothes, luggage or any temporary structures proved to be contaminated, which can’t be disinfected by the standard established methods – AED 3,000
  • Fine for unnecessary visits to hospitals and other health facilities – AED 1,000
  • Fine for exceeding the maximum number of allowed persons in a car (i.e. more than 3 persons in car) – AED 1,000
  • Fine for not wearing medical masks indoors and failure to maintain social distancing by persons suffering from chronic disease or having symptoms of flu and cold – AED 1,000
  • Fine for leaving home unnecessarily and without reason, except for important work or a genuine reason (purchase of essentials, medicines, etc.) – AED 2,000
  • Fine for violating provisions of the law when burying or transporting the body of a person who died from a communicable disease – AED 3,000
  • Fine for drivers failing to maintain hygiene and following sterilisation procedures in public transportation – AED 5,000
  • Fine for failure to take precautionary measures, failure for the crew of ships from the captain or shipping agent, as the case may be – AED 10,000

The National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Federal Prosecution has been entrusted with the task of implementation of the resolution and may seek assistance from local and public authorities as required.

The penalties shall be doubled in amount for repeat violators and if the violator commits a third offence, he will be referred to the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Federal Prosecution for appropriate action. Further, the violator must also bear the costs of any repairs for damages occurring due to the violation.

The resolution is a part of the government’s measures to combat the spread of coronavirus and to protect the health of citizens and residents of the UAE by curbing unnecessary gathering and outings.