When is transfer of undertakings (TUPE) applied?

Last updated: 05 Mar 2020

The regulations apply where an undertaking, or part of one, is transferred from one person or organisation to another, or where there is a change of service provider.

An undertaking

The first factor in determining whether TUPE applies is to identify the undertaking. The regulations define an undertaking as including any trade or business. Case law has given this a broad interpretation and most forms of employment are covered.

TUPE applies equally to the public and private sectors and an undertaking can be part of a private or public sector organisation.

To be covered by the regulations, the undertaking must be situated in the UK immediately before the transfer. Members should seek advice if there is an international dimension to the transfer.

A transfer

The second test is to determine whether there has been ‘a relevant transfer’ of the undertaking.

The transfer can be by ‘sale, some other disposition, or by operation of law’. For example, ‘some other disposition’ would cover contracting out, and a privatisation may be enacted by law.

TUPE does not apply where there is a transfer by share acquisition – ie where shares change hands in a limited company.

TUPE applies regardless of the number of staff involved. For example, in one case TUPE applied when a bank contracted out the cleaning of one branch which was previously done by one person. The European Court of Justice ruled that TUPE applied, even though there was only one employee.

When TUPE applies

The transfer may consist only of the provision of services and need not necessarily involve a transfer of assets, such as buildings or equipment. For example, TUPE applied when a car dealership passed from one franchisee to another, even though no assets were transferred.

TUPE will usually apply in the following circumstances:

  • privatisation
  • contracting out
  • management/employee buy-outs
  • change of a contract for service provision
  • second round contracts
  • contracting back in-house
  • change of lease or license
  • commercial purchase.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that a relevant transfer is a transfer of staff or a transfer of tangible or intangible assets (such as goodwill or know-how).

Service provision changes

TUPE will usually apply in situations where a contract for a service expires and it is either contracted back in house or transferred to another contractor.

TUPE regulations apply in the following situations:

  • a client outsources to a contractor
  • a new contractor takes over activities from another contractor
  • a client takes activities back in-house from a contractor.

These types of transfer are called service provision changes.

The 2014 regulations state that for TUPE to apply, the activities being done before and after the transfer should be ‘fundamentally the same’.

For there to be a transfer of a service provision, there must be no change to the identity of the client commissioning the services before and after the change in service provider.

Knowledge of the transfer

TUPE will apply even if the individual employee does not know that the transfer has occurred.

Retaining identity

The decisive factor in determining if there has been a relevant transfer is whether the entity in question retains its identity after the transfer. Factors to be considered include:

  • the type of undertaking or business involved
  • the transfer or otherwise of tangible assets such as buildings and stocks
  • the value of intangible assets (including goodwill)
  • whether or not the majority of staff are taken on by the new employer
  • the transfer or otherwise of the transferor’s customers
  • the degree of similarity between the activities carried on before and after transfer
  • the duration of any interruption of those activities.

Not all these factors have to be present. The courts have stressed that the existence or absence of any one or more of these factors is not conclusive either way.

A helpful question to determine if there has been a relevant transfer is whether the jobs previously done by the group of employees still exist. If the answer is yes, and there has been a transfer of staff or assets, the undertaking is likely to have been transferred.

TUPE does not apply in all situations, and its application is determined by the courts. For example, a contract to finish work on a company canteen building was held not to be covered by TUPE because it did not involve the transfer of a stable economic entity and was limited to finishing one piece of work.

Who is transferred?

All those employed ‘immediately before the transfer’ are protected by TUPE.

Employees dismissed for a reason connected to the transfer will also be covered by TUPE.

Assigned to the work

Once a relevant transfer is identified, all the employees are covered by TUPE and should transfer with their work. Problems can arise where only part of an organisation is being transferred and the employee is not dedicated solely to one part or the other.

Employees often work in different parts of an organisation – one that is being transferred and one that is not being transferred. The courts have said that those employees ‘assigned’ to the work being transferred will be covered by TUPE.

Working abroad

The regulations cover employees who ‘ordinarily work outside the UK’ to the extent that their contracts of employment will transfer. Such employees will not, however, be covered by the provisions relating to unfair dismissal and the employer’s duty to inform and consult representatives.

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