How many seats in a coffee shop does it take to necessitate provision of a customer loo?
Our hospitality sector clients are regular callers for our advice service and it is not uncommon for us to be asked “Do we have to provide a loo?”
According to section 20 of the 1976 Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act cafes with fewer than 10 seats are not legally required to provide customer loos.
However, despite the 10-seat guideline, thousands of small takeaways and coffee shops could now be forced to install a toilet or get rid of seating, following a case that has just been heard in the High Court in Leeds.
The case centred around two branches of Greggs in Hull, both of which had fewer than 10 seats, no knives and forks and no waiter service and no customer toilet provisions.
Newcastle City Council (Greggs’ Statutory Primary Authority) had produced guidance relating to toilet provision in food outlets which was approved by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ Better Regulation Delivery Office (DBIS). It was claimed that the Better Regulation Delivery Office’s approval meant that outlets like Greggs - where “simple takeaway food was sold” but some seating was provided for customers who preferred to stay – “need not provide” toilet facilities. Hull council did not agree and brought action against Greggs, Newcastle CC and DBIS.
Newcastle council, DBIS, and Greggs argued that toilet provision at food outlets should be based on a predominant trade test. They argued if “takeaway trade was predominant”, food and drink would not “normally” be sold for consumption on the premises, and therefore there should be no requirement to provide toilet facilities. But Hull council argued this would give the two Greggs bakeries in Hull an “unlawful and unfair” commercial advantage.
After analysing the evidence, Mr Justice Kerr said Hull council’s claim was “well-founded” and the advice given by Newcastle council was “flawed”. He said the case raised “difficult and important issues”. Consequently, he quashed the Better Regulation Delivery Office’s decision to approve Newcastle council's guidance.
If the ruling stands, the British Toilet Association - a members’ association promoting better “away from home” toilet provision - estimate as many as 21,500 takeaways and 5,230 coffee shops across the UK – the vast majority of which are small independent businesses – could be affected.
DBIS have lodged an appeal. So let’s wait and see what the Court of Appeal have to say on the subject! No doubt they will want to gather all the evidence they can – though, if they go to Greggs in Hull they will have “nothing to go on”!! - sorry we couldn't resist the temptation.