PCA publishes compliance handbook for pub-owning businesses after 'deep concerns'

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

Concerns raised: PCA Paul Newby publishes handbook for POBs about how he "expects them to act"
Concerns raised: PCA Paul Newby publishes handbook for POBs about how he "expects them to act"
Pubs code adjudicator (PCA) Paul Newby has published a regulatory compliance handbook setting out how "he expects pub-owning businesses covered by the pubs code to act" in a number of important areas following concerns about the way "some pub-owning businesses were treating tied pub tenants when they request a market-rent-only (MRO) option proposal".

The handbook contains minimum standards dealing with areas such as communications and engagement with tenants. Another major focus is the behaviour of business development managers, particularly following a tenant’s request for a MRO option.

Publication of the regulatory compliance handbook is part of the PCA’s response to the concerns identified in the MRO verification exercise - that examined the experiences of tenants seeking a market-rent-only option - which "highlighted the low conversion rate of MRO notices served into MRO tenancies agreed".

The MRO verification exercise also identified concerns about the time and expense involved in arbitrations, and the lack of clarity in the pubs code, especially on the MRO vehicle.

Concern and frustration

Newby said: “I recognise there has been concern and frustration with the operation of the pubs code – I share much of that.

"The code is new and new law can take time to bed down, but I believe we have an action plan that will deliver real progress.

"The results of the verification exercise that examined the experiences of tenants seeking a market-rent-only option deeply concerned me.

"Concerns covered three key areas: the way some tied pub tenants are treated by pub-owning businesses when they request an MRO proposal; the time and expense involved in arbitrations; and the lack of clarity in the code, especially on the MRO vehicle."

The handbook is a "starting point" and the PCA said it will be inviting pub-owning businesses to build on and add to this advice. 

Newby continued: "Following publication of the report I held a series of bilateral meetings with the pub-owning businesses to discuss the concerns raised by tenants in more detail.

"After detailed discussions with each CEO, I have produced the regulatory compliance handbook. This is statutory advice to the pub-owning businesses on the behaviours I expect from them in line with their specific obligations under the code.

"I will monitor formally how the pub-owning businesses implement this advice and am prepared to take further regulatory action if I do not see progress."

Minimising delays

At the same time as publishing the handbook, Newby admitted that the arbitration process "has been too slow", but said he had taken steps to speed up the process, including the introduction of new IT and an expanded team.

However, the PCA said he also expects both tied pub tenants and pub-owning businesses to "play their part in minimising delays and providing timely information".

He added: "I have been listening to the concerns of tenants and other stakeholders about the arbitration process and clarity on the code, and I am putting in place the changes to deal with the issues raised.

"My strong focus on increasing the pace of arbitrations will be a great help in the process of developing the key principles that will provide more clarity on the pubs code. I am working towards issuing substantial advice as early as possible in the first quarter of 2018.”

The PCA will continue to make arbitration decisions and will draw out principles from these cases in the form of further advice and guidance on the scope and application of the code as the number of decisions increases.

The PCA will provide updates to the handbook to deal with additional issues and developments, it said.

Related topics: Legislation

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