Please note: This information is correct as of 23/03/2020. As the coronavirus situation continues to develop, guidance is subject to change. While we will do our best to give you up to date information, it is always advisable to speak with a solicitor for specific advice.
At 2pm on 21st March 2020 the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force. These Regulations were introduced in order to impose restrictions and requirements proportionate to the public health threat posed by Coronavirus.
The first impact of the legislation was announced during the Prime Minister’s briefing at 5pm on the same day, requiring the closure on the same day of:
1. Restaurants, including restaurants and dining rooms in hotels or members clubs.
2. Cafes, including workplace canteens, but not including—
(a) cafes or canteens at a hospital, care home or school;
(b) canteens at a prison or an establishment intended for use for naval, military or air force purposes or for the purposes of the Department of the Secretary of State responsible for defence;
(c) services providing food or drink to the homeless.
3. Bars, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs.
4. Public houses.
Regulation 2(1) of the legislation requires that anyone who is responsible for carrying on a business within that list must:
(a) during the relevant period—
(i) close any premises, or part of the premises, in which food or drink are sold for consumption on those premises, and
(ii) cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises; or
(b) if the business sells food or drink for consumption off the premises, cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises during the relevant period.
The Regulations excluded food or drink sold by a hotel or other accommodation as part of room service but extended to areas adjacent to the premises of businesses where seating is made available for customers to the consumption of food and drink.
The Regulations also apply to:
- Bingo halls.
- Concert halls.
- Museums and galleries.
- Betting shops.
- Massage parlours.
- Indoor skating rinks.
- Indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres.
How Long Will They Be Required to Close?
Regulation 2(6) requires the Secretary of State to review the restrictions imposed by this regulation every 28 days, with the first review being carried out before the expiry of the period of 28 days starting with the day after the day on which these Regulations are made i.e. 18th April 2020. In any event, Regulation 5(1) states that the Regulations will expire at the end of six months beginning the day on which they come into force.
What If a Premises Doesn’t Close?
Regulation 3 states that anyone who does not close their business in accordance with Regulation 2, without reasonable excuse, commits an offence under the Regulations. The penalty for committing an offence under the regulations is a summary conviction by a fine, which we understand is unlimited.
In addition to the penalties for contravention of the Regulations, “A person, designated by the Secretary of State, may take such action as is necessary to enforce a closure”. Enforcement of the Regulations can be carried out by those designated by the Secretary of State to do so. This will likely include the Police and Environmental Health officers but at the time of writing there is insufficient guidance on this particular issue to provide a definitive list, so could extend to Licensing Officers for licensing premises and Trading Standard Officers).
It is likely that enforcement of the Regulations will be carried out using existing legal mechanisms. Prohibition Notices are likely to be issued to businesses breaching the Regulations, under Section 22(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. We may also see the use of Closure Notices under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 if the use of a particular premises in breach of the Regulations is deemed to be a nuisance to members of the public. Again, at the time of writing there is insufficient guidance available on this particular issue to be certain as which powers will be used in order to enforce the Regulations.
With reference to businesses with Premises Licences though, we believe it is safe to assume that a breach of the Regulations will give the licensing authorities sufficient reason to carry out a Licence Review, which could result in the Premises Licence being revoked. Whilst we have yet to see any examples, it would not surprise us if licencing authorities are far less understanding of breaches of the Regulations than say, for example, accidental sales of alcohol to minors.
The best advice we can therefore give to all our clients affected by the Regulations, whether they have a Premises Licence or not, is to observe the Regulations to the letter. If you need advice on how you can ensure your business is complying with the Regulations, contact our Licensing team today on 0845 287 0939 or contact us by email.