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High Court Rules some takeaway outlets will need to provide toilets

I have recently had the opportunity to discuss the action Hull City Council has taken to the High Court about the provision of toilets in take away outlets with their head of legal. This High Court decision may have significant implications for takeaway food stores that also provide an element of seating for customers.

The case involved Gregg’s the bakers and sandwich shops. Hull City Council successfully argued that the provision of seating for customers within the premises necessitated the provision of toilet accommodation for those customers. This is potentially hugely impactful for a significant number of similar operations.

The case was brought under Section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which provides for the requirement of sanitary facilities in certain circumstances. This section allows local authorities to require the provision of toilets at places of entertainment or other ‘relevant places’, and to maintain them. The ‘relevant places’ definition include places where food or drink is sold to members of the public for consumption at that place.

There is guidance which suggests that ‘food premises’ which are predominantly takeaway operations (where customers are not encouraged to stay and consume food for a significant length of time, and provide less than 10 seats for occasional use by customers) would not generally be regarded as a ‘relevant place’ within the meaning of the Act and therefore would not normally be expected to provide toilet accommodation for customers.

Hull City Council said that approach could not be right, as such an interpretation gave the two local Greggs’ bakeries an “unlawful and unfair” commercial advantage. Greggs have changed their style of operation significantly, and in many areas now compete with other late night operators and have premises licences to allow them to sell hot food between 23:00 and 05:00.

In a hearing at the High Court in Leeds the judge decided that Hull council’s claim was well-founded. He went on to say: “It is obvious that if a person sits down in a Greggs outlet at the seats provided and proceeds to eat a pasty and a fizzy drink just purchased at the counter for that purpose, that is a normal use of the premises. The fact that most customers take away their purchases and those who stay do not normally stay long, does not change that.”

We have not yet been able to see the full judgement of this potentially impactful decision and have been told that Greggs will seek leave for the High Court decision to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal. We will keep you updated as to any further developments.