New Covid Powers for Councils to Tackle Unsafe Premises

Councils have been given new powers to maintain COVID-secure environments in their area. Councils can serve formal notices on premises that are not meeting COVID-secure business obligations, based in part on the existing health and safety regime under the Health & Safety at Work, although Councils should attempt to engage with a business before issuing a notice. The notices enable Councils to require businesses to remedy unsafe practices voluntarily in the first instance, and where these are not forthcoming, to issue a fixed penalty notice. Ultimately they can require the premises to close immediately.

There are three tiers of Notice:

Coronavirus Improvement Notice (CIN)

This Notice can be issued by the Council when a business is failing to fulfill a provision set out in the relevant coronavirus regulations. This will often be the first step for the Council to encourage businesses to remedy unsafe practices and is applied for a minimum of 48 hours. Failure to comply by the end of its operational period could lead to a fixed penalty notice of £2,000 and/or a Coronavirus Restriction Notice being issued

Coronavirus Restrictions Notice (CRN)

This Notice will be issued by the Council when there has been a breach of the provisions of the coronavirus regulations and the premises have failed to comply with the terms of a Coronavirus Improvement Notice, where this creates a risk of exposure to coronavirus. It applies for seven days, though an early review can be requested by the business when it thinks it has complied with the notice and successfully implemented the measures required. Failure to comply with a CRN during its operational period will result in a fixed penalty notice of £4,000 being issued.

Coronavirus Immediate Restriction Notice (CIRN)

This Notice will be served when rapid action is needed to close premises or restrict an activity to stop the spread of the virus, without first issuing a CIN. Closure will be for an initial 48-hour period and the Council is required to review the notice. It can be withdrawn or allowed to expire where the premise has taken necessary steps to remedy unsafe practices. Alternatively the Council can decide to issue a CRN at the end of the 48 hours, so that the premises is required to close for a further 7-day period. Where it is assessed that the premise is causing a serious and imminent threat to public health, then a direction can be issued under separate regulations. Failure to comply with a CIRN will result in a fixed penalty notice of £4,000 being issued.

The local authority has a duty to review the situation at the end of each notice or where an early review is requested for a CRN and will apply its judgement to determine whether action taken by the recipient has complied with the notice. A notice can be appealed by the claimant but must be done within 28 days of the issue of the notice.

COVID-19 Obligations on Businesses

During the current pandemic, businesses have a responsibility to prevent the spread of Covid 19 between their customers and must:

  • take reasonable steps not to accept bookings, admit groups or allow persons to join groups or interact, in a way that offends the gatherings rules;
  • keep appropriate distance between tables in hospitality premises;
  • display a notice or otherwise ensure persons entering the relevant area are given the relevant information about the rules on face coverings;
  • prohibit a person responsible for a business from preventing or seeking to prevent any person at their premises from wearing a face covering where they must do so;
  • restrict any business from providing a water pipe for the consumption of tobacco or other substances or a device for the inhalation of nicotine or other substances, including for shisha – more information on shisha prohibition can be found here;
  • ensure that orders for food or drink for consumption on the premises between 10pm and 11pm are not accepted and require that the carrying on of that business or the provision of that service is not provided between 11pm and 5am in Tier 1 and Tier 2 (the sale of food or drink for consumption off the premises by delivery, click and collect and drive-through services is allowed between 11pm and 5am);
  • restrict the opening hours for drive-in cinemas, drive-in theatres, outdoor concert venues and outdoor attractions at theme parks and fairgrounds and funfairs in Tier 3 so that they must close at 11pm save for the purpose of concluding a performance which began before 10pm;
  • restrict service of food and drink for consumption on the premises in Tier 1 and Tier 2 so that where alcohol is served for consumption on the premises, any food or drink is ordered by and served to a customer who is seated on the premises and require that all in hospitality businesses serving food or drink for consumption on the premises, reasonable steps are taken to ensure that customers remain seated whilst consuming the food or drink;
  • require the closure of any premises or part of the premises where food or drink is provided for consumption on the premises and restrict the provision of food or drink for consumption on the premises in Tier 3 (the sale of food and drink for consumption off the premises is allowed, however between 11pm and 5am only delivery, click and collect or drive-through services are allowed);
  • close businesses providing alcohol for consumption on the premises without a substantial meal in Tier 2;
  • display an NHS QR code in a relevant premises for the collection of contact details;
  • request certain details from an individual, or at least one member of a group, when they seek to enter a relevant premises and have not scanned the NHS QR code;
  • request the details of an individual and the one member of staff, volunteer or person providing the service, where an individual will only come into contact with that person;
  • refuse entry to individuals or groups who do not provide the required details;
  • retain this information securely for 21 days and disclose those details when requested to do so by a public health officer;
  • not knowingly allow a worker who must self-isolate to attend work other than at the designated place of isolation, during the period of isolation.

Further details, including exemptions to these rules, can be found by visiting separate guidance on local restriction tiers and safer working.