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COVID-19: advice for licensed premises in the night time economy

13 Mar 2020

Last updated on 1st April 2020

Unprecedented steps are being taken to slow down the spread of coronavirus across the UK and therefore reduce the pressure on our health service. As of the 23rd March the UK governments announced a raft of new instructions these are:

  • You must only go out when absolutely necessary for food, medicine, work or daily exercise
  • Always stay 2 metres apart when doing any of the above
  • Do no meet others outside your household, even friends and family.

This builds on the instructions as of 20th March where the government declared that all cafes, nightclubs, theatres, bars, pubs and restaurants to close, which was further extended on 23rd March to require all businesses except supermarkets, food delivery, chemists, essential services to close. The full list is here. This will be reviewed on a monthly basis. It seems that we are now in this for the long haul and should be planning for months of social distancing, rather than weeks.

Approximately 40% of people indicated that they will swap going out for ordering in, so if you have a food delivery service make sure it’s well advertised (see below), and that you put precautions in place to protect your workforce, delivery drivers and customers.

So how can you best prepare and protect your business, staff and customers? Here we bring together the latest advice for pubs, bars and restaurants:

1.     Business contingency planning

Cut-backs
Looking at your budgets and cutting out any unnecessary spending straight away should be your first port of call.

Call all of your suppliers have a discussion with them and cancel or put on hold anything you can, this might include Sky, PPL, rubbish collections, ID scan, telephone, broadband, Epos, newspapers and PDQ rentals.

In your planning, prepare for three different scenarios:
– move to a delivery model
– Closure for 3 months/twelve weeks
– Closure for 6 months/twenty-four weeks

Review all of your fixed overheads to see how you can reduce costs. Ideas follow, and if you’re worried about paying staff then see the section on government support below for details of the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme, where the government will underwrite 80% of staff wages up to £2,500 per calendar month.

Closing down your venue

The New York Hospitality Alliance has shared a checklist for closing down your venue. Although it’s American it’s still relevant for the global market and can easily be modified to suit your needs. It can be found here

Mortgages, rent and loans
If you rent your premises, talk to your landlord about a rent reduction or rent holiday – hopefully they will be sympathetic in these extraordinary times. You could suggest terms which could include repaying the shortfall over a period of time once footfall increases, or paying monthly instead of quarterly. If you have loans or mortgages, put in a call to your bank or building society. If you haven’t had a loan or mortgage repayment break before, now might be a good time to ask for one, the government has announced that the banks have agreed to a 3 month interest-free mortgage repayment holiday for both domestic and commercial.  

Alternative business models
a) Delivery is your only method of trading now. This is supported by the government who relaxed planning regulations temporarily to allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to operate as takeaways of hot food and non-alcoholic drinks, and if your licence allows it, you can also sell alcohol as a takeaway. Don’t forget to follow your normal age verification procedures when selling alcohol via delivery.

CAMRA and SIBA have launched Pulling Together, publicising the innovative steps that pubs are taking to maintain their business. If you are offering a delivery service or have diversified in another way, you can submit your details online and they will promote what you are doing. If you are a member of a Business Improvement District, contact them to see if they can promote what you are doing, too.

b) You can sign up for a new initiative called MyPubShop, which enables pubs to trade as food shops offering essential items such as bread, eggs and milk and could give you a valuable income stream. It is powered by e-commerce trading platform StarStock and all surplus income after trading costs are taken out will be donated to the NHS. Greene King, St Austell’s Brewery and Admiral Taverns are the first breweries to sign up to the initiative but individual pubs can register their interest to be involved, too.

c) You could sell gift vouchers for people to use when things have returned to normal, or try selling popular menu items as menu boxes.

d) We advise sitting down with your team (via video conference of course!) and thinking of alternative ways that you could sell your services or agreeing that now is the time to mothball your business until the virus passes, and planning for your grand reopening.

Utilising your resources
If you have employees on permanent contracts, rather than sending them off sick or on holiday, start to think about how you can use these resources differently. Could they be planning for the future, designing new food and drink menus, planning marketing and social media for later in the year, training, cleaning, upgrading the venue? This is being supported by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (see below).

Free support
CPL Learning are offering free online training which supports you to make contingencies for your hospitality business, as well as how to spot the symptoms of the virus and provides the most up-to-date hygiene advice.

Pernod Ricard UK has partnered with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) to offer free online training for hospitality professionals affected by the current crisis. 2,000 bartenders over the age of 18 will be able to sign up to take WSET Level 1 Spirits courses which will last approximately four weeks. To sign-up visit www.prukbeat.com.

HR
Ensure your HR files are up-to-date with staff contact details and that emergency contact numbers are correct. You should also check you have a records of any staff health issues on file, as well as emergency contacts.

Check managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes. For example, sickness reporting, sick pay and procedures, in case someone in the workplace develops the virus.

Plan for staff absences, as current suggestions indicate that a fifth of your workforce could be off ill at any time.

Keep up to date with advice on the ACAS website.

Provide clear advice so that any employee presenting with symptoms knows what to do immediately. Have a designated staff member to report any COVID-19 related absences to.

Stock
If you aren’t doing a delivery model you will have to find a way of repurposing all of your stock, as you won’t want to go back to a pile of mouldy stock and a vermin infestation. Check to see whether you’re in date and unopened stock can be returned to your supplier make arrangements to do so.

Diageo has announced that they are happy to buy back any of their stock. Cut out any stock carrying or orders that aren’t absolutely necessary.

If you can’t send the stock back then consider online auctions. Online auctioneer John Pye has announced they will consider any stock for free without obligation so you can weigh up your options. This might give you the quickest turnaround on stock sales to unlock much-needed equity to help aid cash flow. In crises, hoarding is not your business friend as this can leave your capital tied up in stock. When difficulty hits, it’s wise to have as many liquid assets as you can.

Insurance
Some insurance companies will pay for business interruption so check your policy and contact your insurer if in doubt. Business interruption insurance is a particular type of insurance that covers the loss of income a business suffers following a disaster. As if 17th March 2020 the Government said that they had agreed with all insurers that anyone holding valid business interruption insurance would be covered for the COVID-19 shutdown, so if you’ve called your insurer before and been declined call them again because unless it specifically says it won’t cover you then under new guidance they may have to change their mind.

Your insurance company can tell you if notifiable diseases are included. Check out this article for advice from the Morning Advertiser related to notifiable diseases, as this is not necessarily straightforward. Some insurance cover such as purchased supply chain or denial of access may meet your needs in this case.

Within your policy, you may also have event cancellation insurance, which can be claimed if you have to cancel weddings and other planned or booked events.

Government Support

The Chancellor has set out a package of temporary measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19:

Businesses who need access to cash to pay rent, salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan:

Larger businesses: To support liquidity amongst larger firms there is a new lending facility with the Bank of England to raise working capital via the purchase of short-term debt. This scheme will be available from week commencing 23rd March.

SMEs: A coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Banks, will enable businesses with a turnover of no more than £41 million to apply for a loan of up to £5 million, with the government covering up to 80% of any losses with no fees and no interest for the first 12 months. This will unlock up to £6 billion pounds to protect and support small businesses and UK Hospitality are fighting for this to be rolled out to all businesses.

Self Employed: The chancellor has set out plans to help the self-employed. They will receive up to £2,500 per month in grants for at least 3 months.

The cash grant is worth 80% of the average monthly trading profit over the last three years. 

  • The scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • More than half of the total income in these periods must come from self-employment.
  • To minimise fraud, only those who are already in self-employment and meet the above conditions will be able to apply. 

Self-employed people who are eligible will be able to apply directly to HMRC for the taxable grant, using a simple online form, with the cash being paid directly into people’s bank account.

You don’t need to do anything as HMRC will identify eligible taxpayers and contact them directly with guidance on how to apply.  You should not contact HMRC now. HMRC will use existing information to check potential eligibility and invite applications once the scheme is operational.

Grants will be paid in a single lump-sum instalment covering all 3 months and will start to be paid at the beginning of June.

Please note if you run a business and pay yourself a salary and dividends through your own company you are not covered by the scheme.

Paying Staff:

a) In order to protect jobs, the government has created a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. An HMRC grant will cover 80% of a retained staff/workers salary up to £2,500 a month from March 1st for three months for anyone who was on the payroll before 28th Feb 2020. This can be extended if necessary. The government has further announced that whilst being furloughed staff can undertake training, volunteering or work for another company and information on this can be found here.

Ireland has just announced that they will refund all employers/employees £203 per week if they are unable to work due to business interruption.

b) For businesses with fewer than 250 employees, the cost of providing 14 days of statutory sick pay per employee will be refunded by the government in full. This will provide 2 million businesses with up to £2 billion to cover the costs of large-scale sick leave. If you are a large business we would advise asking staff to take any accrued holiday, or using the time to run training.

Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit: These will be increased by £1,000 per year. Housing benefit will be increased to 30% of market rents.

VAT: The government announced on 20th March that any VAT payments due between 20th March and 30th June 2020 can be deferred until the end of the financial year (31st March 2021). This is an automatic offer with no applications required.

Tax: A dedicated helpline has been set up to help businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs. Speak to your accountant or call HMRC for individual advice. Businesses may be able to agree to a bespoke ‘Time to Pay’ arrangement. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.

There will be a £10,000 – £25,000 cash grant to 700,000 small businesses, delivered by Local Authorities.

Business rates discount: Finally, the government is temporarily increasing the business rates retail discount in England to 100% for 2020-21 for all businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure meaning they will not pay a penny of business rates during this time.

The Morning Advertiser has also written an article with other funding advice which can be found here

Events
Guidance as of 20th March 2020 is that there should be no events or gathering of more than 2 people. Therefore events managers are advised to cancel all events for at least the next month and keep this under review on an ongoing basis.

Put a plan in place for communicating with attendees to advise them that your event is cancelled and advise whether you will be offering a refund or not. As with all event messaging, ensure it is concise, accurate and approved by any relevant stakeholders. 

PR
If you are still open and trading slightly differently tell your customers so they know how they can support you. Reassure them by telling them about the processes and procedures you have in place to ensure their safety and welfare. Concentrate on giving excellent customer service to those that do buy from you.

Support from trade organisations

The following organisations have put together information and advice on the support available to the licensed trade during the outbreak:

UK Hospitality: A summary of the latest government support and advice is updated at least daily.

The British Institute of Innkeeping (BII): Expert advice on protecting your business through the COVID-19 crisis.

British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA): A comprehensive briefing on COVID-19 and the government’s response.

The Institute of Licensing (IoL): The IoL has published practical advice for licensees and licensing practitioners during this challenging period.

Propel: Has teamed up with industry experts to launch BeatTheVirus, answering any questions you have during the outbreak. Email questions to paul.charity@propelinfo.com. Answers will be published in Propel’s daily newsletter.

United We Stand: This is a new initiative by The Morning Advertiser, BigHospitality and Restaurant magazines to offer advice to the licensed trade during the crisis. A panel of experts are on hand to answer your questions, which can be submitted to ed.benington@wrbm.com.

Grants

As of 18th March we have become aware of four grants for the licensed trade:

  1. Diageo: Diageo has pledged £1m as part of a suite of measures to support the drinks industry during the coronavirus (covid-19) crisis. The fund is intended for pubs and bars to put towards bartenders’ wages. A similar community fund is being set up in Ireland. Anyone working in the drinks trade will also be given an opportunity to attend a free Diageo Bar Academy training course, consisting of virtual training and online learning. They have also announced that they have launched a drinks industry phone line to support licensed business owners who want to access the commercial measures announced by the government. The number is 0207 728 2556 all help is being provided by the business and financial adviser Grant Thornton for customers in the on and off-trade.
  2. Facebook: Business Boost Grant. Facebook is offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries where we operate. The grant is to keep your workforce going strong, help with your rent costs, connect with more customers, cover operational costs. They have also set up a hub specifically to help small businesses through this time and having looked at it, it has some really useful support tools.
  3. The Licensed Trade Charity: are able to offer a wide range of support to people who do now or have in the past worked in the licensed drinks trade on a range of issues, including one-off awards and short term hardship payments you can go to their website link above or call 0808 801 0550
  4. Hospitality Workers Emergency Fund: The founders of Tipjar, the peer-to-peer tipping and tip-sharing concept have launched the Hospitality Workers Emergency Fund in partnership with Hospitality Action

Business Crime

Unfortunately, we are still hearing of incidents of business crime. The MET Business Crime Hub has written to all London businesses with advice to prevent this which applies to all businesses in the UK and is summarised below:

a) If your staff or customers fall victim to crime deal with it in the normal way and call the Police if necessary.

b) Closed Premises

  • Test your alarm ensure it is monitored and fully operational with a list of up to date key holders given to any alarm monitoring company.
  • Identify vulnerable areas and plan to put extra protection on them, ensure security gates, bollards and fire exits are secure
  • Ensure internal doors are closed and locked
  • Remove high-value items and cash, and put a note on the outside to advise that this is the case
  • Consider light timer switches
  • Consider the risk of arson and remove anything flammable from view
  • Buy a talking CCTV point and download a relevant CCTV phone app and connect to your CCTV.

2.     Staff and customer welfare

Communication
Ensure your staff are kept up-to-date with your plans as they emerge. If you are going to close your business temporarily give them as much notice as you possibly can. Make use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in order to retain as many jobs and incomes as possible.

Sick pay
Advise staff of your sick pay policy and what they are entitled to. Remember this may vary from your normal policy, based on the additional government support you may be entitled to (see above).

Guidance
For guidance on managing staff through Covid-19, follow both ACAS and Public Health England for the most up to date, reliable advice.

Postponing meetings
Face to face meetings are no longer an option. Try video conferencing with Zoom or Skype. WhyPay? offers a local rate conference call facility.

Cleaning
Cleaning has never been more of a priority, even if you are only open for delivery. You can up your hygiene game by creating a new cleaning rota for staff to follow routinely throughout the day. High footfall areas should be cleaned with disinfectant every hour and the rota should include all frequently touched surfaces, both back and front of house. These include workstations, countertops, toilet handles, Epos systems, the front door, payment machines and doorknobs. Things such as shared water stations, shared cutlery and condiment caddies should be removed, to limit contamination.

It’s also worth regularly replacing your cleaning cloths, mops, and other cleaning equipment with new items daily. Ensure all crockery, cutlery and cooking equipment is washed in a dishwasher at a temperature above 85 degrees celsius.

Handwashing
Ask staff to wash their hands with soap and hot water every 15 minutes for 20 seconds. Show all employees the following hands washing video to ensure they are washing their hands correctly. Ask staff to record they are adhering to this on a record sheet to demonstrate due care.

Water intake
Advise staff to keep up their water intake as this helps to maintain health.

Coughing and sneezing
Provide tissues and advise both staff and customers to catch coughs and sneezes with one, which should then be disposed of in a closed-lid bin or flushed down the toilet, followed up by washing hands thoroughly. If they don’t have a tissue, the advice is to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm or sleeve instead of their hand.

Clearly display “catch it, bin it, kill it” posters in toilets, kitchens and public areas.

Temperature checks
Buy a digital thermometer and check the temperature of staff at the start, middle and end of a shift. Create a sheet to record these and show due care is being taken to protect other staff and customers.

Guidance on face touching
Advise staff to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Food delivery
If you provide a delivery service from your kitchen:

  • record the temperature of the chef, delivery driver and anyone else handling the food for every order that goes out.  This can be noted on a record card and sent out with the food order to prove due care.
  • Take only online or phone payments exchange of money should be avoided at all costs.
  • Instruct cooking staff to place cooked deliveries away from the kitchen in an agreed location so that delivery drivers don’t have to come into the kitchen or interact with the chefs.
  • Instruct your drivers to collect all food from this location.
  • Instruct your delivery drivers to knock on the door leave the food on the front doorstep move away by 2 meters away.

Illness reporting
Advise employees that if they have a temperature of above 37.8 celsius and/or a new, persistent cough, they must not come into work and should contact whomever you have allocated as your designated point of contact for COVD-19 notifications. Again, advise them on your sickness policy, which might vary from that in their contract, based on the additional government support you may be entitled to (see above).

Becoming unwell on shift
If an employee becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, they should move at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people.

They should immediately go to a room or area where there is a closed door, such as a sickbay or staff office, avoid touching anything, cough or sneeze into a tissue (or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow) and use a separate bathroom from others if possible. The employee should use their own mobile phone to visit the NHS website for advice.

As an employer, you must call your local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team and will then have to close your business to deep clean before reopening. Please advise your deep cleaners that they will need to wear PPE.

Lastly, ensure you have pre-planned your response and plan of action, should a member of your staff receive a positive diagnosis for COVID-19.

3. Legal Updates

a) Licensing Hearings

Can councils defer hearings? Gary Grant one of the leading licensing barristers has provided a detailed article looking at licensing hearings and why alternative means of conducting hearings should be utilised. His views are supported by an announcement from the Lord Chief Justice.

b) Taxi and Private Hire Licensing – the refusal of fares

IoL President James Button has provided a detailed article on the question of drivers refusing to carry passengers over infection concerns (e.g. where passengers display symptoms):

c) Can councils stop accepting new applications entirely? The answer is No. They should instead be seeking where possible alternative options such as scanned forms and virtual statutory declarations. This stands for other paperwork and receipts. Please bear with them as they will be trying to set up systems and processes.

d) TENs

  • request for a refund for cancelled events: This is discretionary; there is no requirement for a council to provide a refund. You can ask them if you could transfer the TEN to a later date, however, and we are finding most councils are happy to offer this under the current circumstances.
  • you’ve sent a TEN but had no response: This is unlikely as all events seem to be cancelled but just on the off chance if no objection notice is served, then the event is authorised by default.

e) Enforcement of licensing conditions:

  • Licensing conditions still stand and are enforceable. However, the government has relaxed planning conditions so that venues can offer takeaway and delivery for food and soft drinks, but alcohol off-sales does require a licence. If you don’t have a licence to do this, ask your local authority as they may grant you a temporary licence, let it pass under current conditions or ask you to apply for a variation. It is down to the Local Authority to decide in the public interest amongst other considerations what to enforce. In the circumstances, it may not be appropriate to enforce all, but check with your local police and council licensing teams as to what they will and won’t allow you to do.
  • Occupation of a venue. If it states on your licence that your venue has to be occupied but you aren’t intending to be there you have a couple of options. Firstly whilst we are still allowed out you could arrange for someone to visit the venue once a day for a period of time or probably preferably you could contact your local licensing team and discuss with them the options. If they temporarily allow you a relaxation or easing of this under current circumstances ask for this in writing and don’t forget to talk to your insurer and send them proof.

f) Licence Fees: Each licensing authority is approaching this differently, so check with your local team. We have seen three different approaches:

  • The invoices are being issued as normal and you are expected to pay. Non-payment will mean that you can’t reopen until you have paid (this is very harsh in our opinion) and worth fighting.
  • The invoices are being issued and licence holders are being encouraged to call in and agree to a payment plan or ask if it can be deferred until things get back to normal, or added on to next year’s bill.
  • Invoices are being deferred for 3 months, with a review being held in 3 months to see what the situation is.

We are supportive of the 2nd two options. If your local authority hasn’t declared their position, we would recommend that you suggest one or both of these.

g) Opening whilst the closure notice is in place: A number of licensed premises were found to be secretly opening over the weekend, letting people in the back door, or holding lock-ins. We hate to be killjoys but… this may have serious consequences not only from a legal point of view but a moral one. The legal point of view: Gary Grant reported that causing a public nuisance is a common-law offence with max life imprisonment. Offence covers the spread of serious infection. So opening a venue in defiance of government order may very well amount to a “serious crime” under the RIPA definition and so susceptible to a summary review. Morally: Imagine this scenario: someone comes into this lock-in they have COVID-19 but currently have no symptoms, but they infect everyone, let’s say you have 100 people, it’s widely reported that 1 person infects 10 people according to current stats one of those 10 is likely to die and one will get critically ill requiring hospital treatment, but all those 100 people will now be carriers so you can multiply this by 10. 10 dead people and 10 critically ill people…. how do you feel about your lock-in party now?

We’ll update the blog with further advice and guidance as new developments relating to the Coronavirus emerge. In the meantime, if your business needs support during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact Jo on 07734 255807 or Sylvia on 07504 973421.

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