PCA Tied Tenant Survey reveals ‘concerning variations’ in pubco conduct

By Stuart Stone contact

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Tenants quizzed: while pubs code adjudicator Paul Newby will step down in May 2020, deputy Fiona Dickie has been reappointed for a further two years as of 1 November 2019
Tenants quizzed: while pubs code adjudicator Paul Newby will step down in May 2020, deputy Fiona Dickie has been reappointed for a further two years as of 1 November 2019

Related tags: Tenants

A survey conducted by the pubs code adjudicator (PCA) has highlighted ‘endemic issues’ and is a ‘stark reminder’ of the challenges facing tied tenants according to commentators from the pub sector.

Published on 19 December, the Tied Tenant Survey ​saw a representative sample of tenants from each of the six regulated pub-owning businesses - Admiral Taverns, Ei Group, Greene King, Marston’s, Punch Pubs and Star Pubs & Bars – quizzed on issues ranging from the viability of market rent only option (MRO) to their relationship with their business development manager (BDM).

The survey, which saw the Ipsos MORI conduct 400 structured telephone interviews with tied tenants before a series of 25 in-depth interviews, found that the proportion of tenants who had seen, heard or read about the pubs code was similar to that found by the office’s last survey conducted in 2017 at 78%.

However, it found that only a third of tenants (33%) claimed to be “very aware” of the legislation, compared to 41% in 2017, with less than half of those surveyed (47%) claiming to be “very” or “quite aware” of the PCA itself – down 6% versus 2017.

What’s more, 56% of respondents claimed to feel “very” or “quite well informed” about the right to request MRO to go free of tie in specific circumstances – down 7% from 2017.

MRO not a ‘genuine choice’

According to the PCA’s findings, while tenants surveyed were more than twice as likely to cite positive relationships with their BDM than negative ones, close to a third (31%) of those asked said that they didn’t have confidence in the way their tenancy is managed.

Additionally, while 37% of tenants are happy with how repairs and dilapidations are handled, 44% of those asked disagreed that they’d been managed well.

What’s more, the majority (55%) of tenants eligible for MRO do not consider it a “genuine choice” – an increase from 53% who answered in the same way in the 2017 survey.

Levels of satisfaction

While the Tied Tenants Survey​ revealed that almost half of Punch tenants did not expect to be running their pub in five years’ time, it found that Ei Group tenants expressed the highest levels of dissatisfaction on issues ranging from the relationship they had with their BDM to management of repairs and dilapidations.

According to the PCA’s findings, only 61% of Ei Group tenants surveyed stated that they were receiving the information they needed about their tenancy – compared to an average of 72% overall.

What’s more only 53% revealed that they were happy with the support they received on an ongoing basis – compared to an average of 64% across the board, while only 48% were confident in the way their tenancy was being handled – compared to 58% overall.

Six out of ten Ei Group tenants also had concerns about how repairs and dilapidations are handled under their tenancy.

Addressing the survey's findings, an Ei Group spokesperson said: “Ei Group remains committed to working openly and transparently with the PCA to secure greater clarity and an improved level of service for our publicans.

"But the figures that the PCA has issued are now nearly 12 months old and we have already implemented a number of changes which more than address a large proportion of the publican concerns raised.”

Punch managing director, Andy Spencer added: “The PCA tied tenant survey taken in March 2019 canvassed 50 of our publicans, from our estate of 1,200 pubs. We appreciate the feedback on how we can improve the relationship with our publicans and continue taking huge steps forwards on our journey to create exciting possibilities through significant investment and a more flexible pub by pub approach, putting our publicans at the heart of everything we do.”

Conversely, Admiral Taverns’ tenants showed high levels of satisfaction with the company, with more than five out of six claiming they would be likely to remain with Admiral for the next five years.

Discussing the survey's findings, Chris Jowsey, chief executive of Admiral Taverns commented: “We take great pride in our longstanding relationships with our licensees and operate a highly supportive approach. It’s good to see this recognised in an independent survey by the PCA with fantastic feedback on the length of tenancies our licensees expect to have with us.

"We’re constantly evolving our supportive approach with a number of new initiatives developed over the year and these will continue to help support our licensees run sustainable, profitable pub businesses.”

Companies 'falling short'

Discussing the survey’s findings, pubs code adjudicator Paul Newby - who will leave office​ at the end of his current term in May 2020 - said: “This survey has identified some concerning variations in the way that different pub-owning businesses are viewed by their tied tenants.

“Some tenants clearly feel that their companies are falling short.

“Many of these issues are reflected in other evidence seen by my office, and the deputy pubs code adjudicator and I are actively engaged with pub-owning businesses to address the concerns of tenants.”

Clear message to Government

“With the first few months of a new year often challenging for pubs, these results are a stark reminder of the challenges that tied pub tenants face to earn a decent living,” CAMRA chief executive Tom Stainer added.

“These results echo those from a similar exercise that CAMRA carried out this year. Our survey of tied tenants found that 75% reported that they don’t think they are treated fairly and lawfully by their parent pub companies, whilst 73% felt that they were worse off than a free of tie tenant.

“This is a clear message to the new Government that the pubs code review must be completed quickly and that we need substantive changes to the code to make sure tenants of all, not just some, regulated pub companies are better treated."

‘Worrying signs’

“The Tied Tenants Survey​ is very much a mixed bag and we have some serious concerns that are being highlighted by the survey,” Nick Griffin, chief executive of the Licensees Association concluded.

“Of course, credit where credit is due and we are pleased to see that companies like Admiral have scored well in the survey with their tenants expressing high levels of satisfaction. This is in stark contrast to that reported in other companies, with Ei Group having concerning levels of satisfaction with particular concern that less than half of their tenants expressing confidence in the way their tenancy is handled, and this has slipped from the previous year. View this alongside only 27% of tenants being satisfied with how repairs and dilapidations are handled and there are signs of endemic issues.

“We sincerely hope that where good practice is in operation it continues and applaud it, but that worrying signs are noted and acted upon and we hold out our hand to help so that tenants can benefit in the long-term."

The Tied Tenants Survey can be read in full here

Related topics: Legislation

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