Tens of thousands of small takeaways nationwide could be forced to either invest in public toilets or remove their customer ‘eat-in’ facilities, following the conclusion of a landmark legal case.
Hull City Council has been locked in a dispute with bakery giant Greggs over its failure to provide facilities at two branches in the city.
The dispute started when Hull City Council took exception to advice approved by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ (BIS) Better Regulation Delivery Office, which stated that toilets did not need to be provided where “simple takeaway food was sold”, even when some seating was provided for customers who wanted to eat on site.
An initial ruling had found in favour of Greggs, arguing that as these outlets provided simple takeaway food, the chain did not need to offer toilet facilities.
However, at a High Court hearing in Leeds, Mr Justice Kerr ruled in favour of Hull City Council and against lawyers representing the BIS and Greggs, saying its claim was “well-founded”.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Kerr said: “It is obvious that if a person sits down in a Greggs’ outlet at the seats provided and proceeds to eat a pasty and a fizzy drink just purchased at the counter for that purpose, that is a normal use of the premises.
“The fact that most customers take away their purchases and those who stay do not normally stay long, does not change that.
“The construction which looks to the predominant type of trade (sit-down or takeaway) is obviously wrong. It would mean that a cafe with, say, 25 tables, which also does a roaring takeaway trade, doing more business for off-site than on-site consumption, could not be required to install toilets for those brave enough to sit down for a drink.”
An appeal has already been lodged against the ruling, with the hearing expected to be held next year.
Andrew Skinner, a partner and commercial litigation specialist, said: “The outcome of this appeal will have ramifications for many small businesses. If the appeal fails, many independent coffee shops and hot food retailers will either have to comply with the new ruling and provide toilet facilities or will be forced to remove their current seating areas so that they no longer provide an ‘eat-in’ option.
“Any small business owner who is affected by this issue, should seek legal advice.”
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