Digital solutions to new tenant information

By Fiona Dickie, pubs code adjudicator

- Last updated on GMT

Pub companies' digital approaches to help tenants understand the pubs code

Related tags Legislation Pubco + head office Tenanted + leased

The pubs code adjudicator (PCA) is encouraged by pub company plans to use digital approaches to increase tenant understanding of their pub code rights and provide them with the information they are entitled to under the pubs code.

New tenant information

The pubs code regulates the relationship between all pub companies owning 500 or more tied pubs in England and Wales and their tied tenants. Under the pubs code, a regulated pub company must provide certain information to the negotiating tenant​ considering taking on a tied pub. The aim is to enable the tenant to be clear about their new agreement and if it is right for them, and to plan and run their tied business effectively.

The information that must be provided is extensive. The requirements are all set out in Schedule 1 of the pubs code and cover some 37 different topics. These include details of the type of agreement, the pub premises, maintenance and repair obligations, the tie, advice and support available, insurance arrangements, payment of rent and deposits, and the tenant’s rights under the pubs code and the pub company’s compliance.

That’s a lot of valuable information for the new tenant to consider, while also managing the demands of their new business. It is important the tenant can also easily refer back to that information during the tenancy when the need arises. The pub company has a challenge in providing it to the tenant in an accessible way so it will be easy to read and understand. Getting this right is in the interests of the pub company, as it avoids problems and misunderstandings and thus can help build the business relationship.

Electronic delivery

Digital approaches can enhance the tenant experience, making information easier to understand and digest in smaller chunks. They can also be more efficient, streamline processes, and make updating easier. The PCA encourages the six regulated pub companies to improve how they provide Schedule 1 information to benefit tied tenants. I asked them how they use, or plan to use, digital solutions and I am encouraged by some of the plans in place.

Scott Saunders, code compliance officer (CCO) for Admiral, said over time the business has gradually moved to electronic forms of delivery including email and the use of its licensee support portal, ‘My Pub Support’. Scott explains this allows licensees to have information at their fingertips when they need it and enables Admiral to fulfil its code obligations efficiently. To ensure the information has been received and understood, business development managers (BDMs) will meet with the licensee to talk through it. Admiral also makes use of electronic signing to record the receipt of Schedule 1 information, which again improves efficiency.

Software Development

James Richards, CCO for Stonegate, tells me in 2024 the company will launch a new leading digital platform that will significantly improve the application and onboarding process and experience for all publicans taking on a new agreement. Utilising a new digital solution, applicants will be able to access all their information on-line in a digestible and relevant manner as well as having clear visibility throughout as to where they are in the process and what the next steps are. This new investment follows the launch of ‘Pub Hub’ which provides an online one-stop shop for new and existing publicans to access information and advice on how to further understand and grow their business, reduce their costs and, ultimately, position their site for success.

Lynne Winter, CCO for Star Pubs & Bars, reports Star is currently exploring alternative ways of presenting Schedule 1 information to tenants to make it as engaging and useful as possible. They want the tenant to be able to maximise the benefits of the information they receive and make informed choices going forward. I had the pleasure of attending their pubs code champions meeting in Leeds last month, where I saw a demonstration of their new software which internally verifies compliance with Schedule 1.

Existing Systems

Some pub companies still believe that providing Schedule 1 information by email is the right approach. That does risk a tenant, busy with their new business, failing to open and read all the attached information.

For Marston’s, email represents the best way of providing Schedule 1 information given its existing systems, however, its CCO Clare Coley acknowledges a tenant portal would be the ideal solution. Donna Gracey, CCO at Punch, cites feedback from tenants indicating a clear preference for email delivery of Schedule 1. For information of a more general nature, tenants are directed to its comprehensive Punch Services Guide on its website. Notably, Punch has recently revamped the presentation of this information, aiming to streamline comprehension for tenants. Punch has also developed a video titled 'What is Schedule 1?' as part of its ongoing commitment to effective communication with its tenants. The video offers a concise overview and insights into the practical applications of Schedule 1.

Future Plans

For Greene King, email is its current delivery method for Schedule 1 information. It has refined how this is collated over the years for ease of readability and use. Prospective tenants are also referred to Greene King’s online ‘guide to becoming a partner’, which includes details of Schedule 1 information and how tenants should use it. Similar to Admiral, Green King digitally captures tenants’ confirmation of receipt of Schedule 1 information through its management information system, ‘Connect’. Julie Jolly, CCO at Greene King, has explained the company is planning to conduct a feasibility project this year around the creation of a tenant digital hub to help manage the relationship lifecycle with tenants from introduction to exit. The project is very much in its infancy, but the idea is one Greene King is serious about.

The PCA looks forward to seeing how developments in the digital space can bring pubs code rights to life for new tenants, and how both partners in the tied relationship can benefit from the improvements in the accessibility of tenant information.

This column is intended to aid industry understanding about the pubs code and its impact. Nothing in it should be understood as a substitute for the pubs code legal framework.


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