On 23 August, the Pubs Code Adjudicator’s Office published the results of its ‘verification exercise’ into the accessibility of MRO for tied pub tenants. Paul Newby, pubs code adjudicator, commissioned the report following concerns raised by tenants and campaigners, like the PAS, that tenants’ ability to take up new rights under the code were being blocked.
Evidence uncovered in the report has prompted the PCA to write to pub-owning businesses (POB) to ask them about their practices related to the findings, including how they deal with MRO notices, making an MRO offer and negotiations that relate to that offer.
In an initial response to the report, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the BBPA, said she was “extremely disappointed” by the PCA report, calling it “one-sided, anecdotal, not evidence-based and lacking in transparency”.
She highlighted that the report did not contain any views from the pub companies on how the legislation is working.
However, in an open letter to the BBPA, Dave Mountford, from the PAS, said her statement that the report was anecdotal was “utter rubbish”.
He wrote: “Whilst the [PCA’s] ‘fact finding’ mission was well overdue, the evidence sought, was done by Stephen Childerstone in a structured manner in which he spoke to all stakeholders to gain a clear picture of the facts. He was provided with comprehensive evidence which was redacted for purposes of confidentiality, but otherwise demonstrated the exact nature of your members' deliberate and systematic avoidance of the MRO procedure and the code in general.”
Mountford stressed that Childerstone was given “comprehensive evidence from cases both ongoing and many cases of individuals that had simply given up in despair at the barriers being placed in front of them by BBPA members”.
Mountford claimed in the letter that while collecting evidence from the PAS, Childerstone “frequently stated that the information we were providing him was ‘nothing new’ and had been repeated by a ‘great many’ of the stakeholders he had spoken to”.
In the letter, Mountford outlined a long list of POB behaviours that frustrated tied tenants’ access to MRO, which the PAS has raised with Childerstone. For example, “issuing rental assessment proposals, knowing tenants know nothing about the MRO process and then allowing the 21-day period to lapse”, “providing false information regarding the true meaning of MRO” and “making demands for ‘new for old’ policy on dilapidations”(Full list and PAS letter).
The letter claimed that the BBPA’s members “are simply taking advantage of the plight of their tied tenants by putting them under increased pressure and then offering them a reduction in the tied rent by a few grand here and there, which their often desperate situation forces them to take”.
Mountford claimed: “The BBPA has absolutely no desire at all to make the pubs code work, as your members have shown by their actions.” In the letter, he claimed that the only challenges the POBs faced were to find the “loopholes” in the legislation.
He also criticised Simmonds comments that there may be a need for “clarification through the courts”, describing it as a “veiled threat” that suggested further delays to the process.
The letter concluded: “We are all aware that your members’ business model is over, the beginning of the end, arguably being the beer orders of 1989. It is just a question of how long it takes before you all go and how much damage you do before that finally occurs.”
In response to the PAS letter, Simmonds told The Morning Advertiser: "We have already made our views very clear in a lengthy statement and Dave Mountford's views are also already well known. The production of the report was certainly one-sided, and both the BBPA and our members are acting in good faith when it comes to making the new legislation work for everyone.”