Coronavirus: navigating uncharted waters

by Jack Cummins

DURING the Second World War, when the German Luftwaffe was doing its very best to reduce industrial Britain to rubble, pubs remained open and beer wasn’t rationed. Now, we face an unseen enemy – and, as in all wars, there are heroes and villains.

The arch scoundrels so far – by a country mile – are the hotel group who summarily sacked their workers at a Highland hotel and rendered them homeless. This “administrative error” (as the company later called it) was an act of stunning callousness. But Macdonald Hotels responded quickly by offering the destitute staff accommodation at one of its nearby properties. When Manorview Hotels took the decision to shut down its operations it also kept its teams on the payroll with a 50% wage cut (before government support was announced).

On the retail front, there’s no shortage of villains. A branch of one of the smaller supermarket chains allowed a customer to clear out the entire stock of bread for resale in his own shop. “A sale is a sale,” they said. Some online retailers are allowing third-party sellers to fuel panic-buying by offering food at astronomical prices: for example, a standard-sized can of Heinz Beans at £19.

Yet good deeds still shine in a weary world: Co-op is planning to create 5000 jobs for hospitality staff out of work because of Covid-19.

The public have a short memory. But when this crisis is over let’s remember those who behaved despicably and those who shone through with honour.

On the licensing law front, expert lawyers have been expending their energies on helping clients stay legal as pubs and restaurants attempt to keep their heads above water by offering takeaway and delivery services. You’ll find detailed advice and guidance here.

Most of the enquiries I’ve received concern delivery times and methods of carrying out age checks where alcohol orders are being delivered to those who are self-isolating.

Taking these in order, the position regarding delivery hours is pretty straightforward. Alcohol can be ordered and delivered at any time, except that deliveries may not take place between 12midnight and 6am and payment must be made during licensed hours (normally 10am to 10pm). You may have noticed that supermarket websites appear to mis-state the position by advising customers that alcohol can only be delivered between 10am and 10pm. That’s simply a risk-averse measure to avoid problems with late-night deliveries.

Then there’s the matter of age challenges were customers are self-isolating. Just Eat – and no doubt other takeway delivery platforms – have offered a ‘contactless’ option: the driver will leave the food on the doorstep, knock on the door and depart. That is absolutely not an option with alcohol: the driver must be satisfied that the person accepting the order is 18 or over and apply Challenge 25 if need be. I’ve been asked whether businesses might adopt the procedure used by online tobacco sellers who require proof-of-age (usually a passport or driving licence) to be sent by email before an order will be dispatched. I don’t recommend that sort of workaround: the implementation of Challenge 25 involves the person making the delivery forming a judgment on age based on the appearance of the person accepting the goods. Those who outsource their delivery arrangements to online delivery platforms or third-party couriers would do well to ensure that they have proper procedures in place to handle deliveries to self-isolating customers taking account of health and safety advice.

Finally, such is the speed at which this crisis is moving, you should be aware that this column was written on March 23 and you’ll want to keep up with further developments via the SLTN website and other very helpful sources of information for the trade, including the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and UK Hospitality websites.

Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.

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Jack Cummins is unable to enter into personal correspondence on readers’ questions. The advice offered in SLTN is published for information only. No responsibility for loss occasioned by persons acting or refraining from action as a result of material contained in SLTN can be accepted by the author or publisher.