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Customer toilets could be required for coffee shops and fast food operators

The recent withdrawal of an appeal could mean that takeaway food outlets could be required to provide customer toilets.

In 2016, the High Court confirmed that local authorities could serve a notice under section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, requiring the provision of toilet facilities in outlets where customers consume food, regardless of the number of seats.

The case was due to go to the Court of Appeal, and fast food retailers hoped that the High Court decision would be reversed. However, the appeal has been withdrawn.

Section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976

Under section 20, a local authority may serve a notice on the owner or occupier of a 'relevant place' requiring him to provide sanitary appliances.

'Relevant place' is defined as a place that is normally used, or is proposed to be normally used, for the sale of food and drink to members of the public for consumption at the place. Premises will also fit within the definition if they are only used occasionally for this purpose.

What was the issue in the 2016 case?

Advice given by the Council of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne (Newcastle) to other local authorities, including Kingston upon Hull City Council (Hull) included a statement that: "If the main use of the shop is determined to the takeaway sales and if no more than 10 seats are provided for occasional customer use, the requirement to provide toilets under section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions ) Act 1976 would not be applicable as the premises should not be classed as a 'relevant place'."

Hull did not agree with Newcastle's interpretation of section 20, and served notices on Greggs, requiring the installation of customer toilets. Greggs failed to comply and a battle ensued.

The High Court agreed with Hull; it was not the law that an outlet would not be a 'relevant place' if it had fewer than 10 seats.

What is the impact on retailers?

The impact could be huge for fast-food retailers. They could find themselves being served with notices under section 20, regardless of the number of seats in their outlets. Such installation will, in the majority of cases, involve obtaining landlord's consent for alterations. In addition, they will need to comply with Building Regulations, may need to close whilst the works are being carried out, leading to loss of trade, which will add to the cost of the works. Floor space will also be lost, in what may already be a small unit. 

Retailers will need to decide whether the provision of no facilities at all for consumption on the premises is a more viable option than the installation of toilet facilities.

  • If you receive, or suspect that you may receive, a section 20 notice, contact us. We can advise you on the best course of action.
  • TLT can help shape your acquisition and asset management strategy to mitigate the risk.
  • Landlords and developers must consider the impact of this ruling when configuring retail and leisure property.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove-Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2017. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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