Being Legally Compliant

You’ll have struggled to miss the spate of bad news stories in hotels recently, from fires to death by legionnaire’s disease; it seems hoteliers are up for a bashing.  Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism discusses the responsibilities of hoteliers and the need for compliance.

Being legally compliant is not a guarantee that you’ll be free from the bad news stories that plague hotels, but it does help to guarantee that you won’t be found negligent should the worse happen. All hoteliers are subject to reams of red tape designed to regulate and standardise all aspects of the business, and protect guests from harm; but when you’re subject to inspections and input from so many different local government departments, how can you be sure you are spot on?

From fire safety regulations to food hygiene, alcohol licensing to the Equality Act, everything from the building to your staff, how you allocate your rooms to when and how your guests can cancel; it is all regulated somehow. Then of course there are those areas which aren’t regulated, but are considered best practice, which can help keep your business on track. Take the recent death from Legionnaires’ disease, following a stay in one hotel. Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a high concentration of Legionella bacteria in water; water tanks, spas, hot tubs, air conditioning and showers are the most common places within hotels for this to multiply to dangerous levels, and is particularly prevalent when water is sitting for a period of time. While not specifically regulated, good practice includes good cleaning routines, ensuring showers are run regularly and tanks are emptied frequently, as well as ensuring water tanks are sealed so no debris can get in. Other tips include maintaining hot water temperature between 55 – 60 degrees, changing pipework to prevent long runs where water can collect and stagnate, regularly removing shower heads to descale and clean especially if rooms are unoccupied for long period of time as would possibly be the case if you are a seasonal hotel, and if rooms are air conditioned ensure the units are regularly serviced. Other details can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires.

Taking this into account, how can you be sure you are compliant? We’ve put together a handy checklist of all the legislation you need to meet for each area of your business.

The premises

The focus of much regulation is on the premises from which you operate; to be compliant, you will need to meet:

  • Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005: you need to regularly conduct and maintain a written Fire Risk Assessment that identifies how you will prevent fires and keep people safe. You need to record potential fire hazards, identify who is at risk, evaluate how you can monitor, reduce or remove those risks, record your findings in a written format, prepare an emergency plan and provide staff training. You will need to consider everything from emergency routes and exits to fire detection and warning systems and firefighting equipment, removal and storage of dangerous substances, the needs of any vulnerable guests and staff, and how you will convey important information to your guests. You probably already know about this, but Fire Safety is an area where businesses often fall down in our inspections, because it hasn’t been reviewed recently, or smoke detectors haven’t been tested, or fire safety information is missing from bedrooms. Don’t forget the need for diagrammatic or multi-lingual instructions too.
  • Building and planning regulations: for the premises and any extensions, new building projects, change of use and location/size of signage. You may also need to adhere to Conservation Orders and Listed building status, dependent on your premises. Your local authority can advise on any specifics. This is particularly pertinent if you are upgrading facilities, making changes, or adding new facilities to the hotel, although building regulations compliance is likely to be automatically included as part of the planning and construction process.

Your guests & their experience

Your guests and their experience is paramount, but there are also legislative requirements you need to meet to keep them safe and happy. These are:

  • Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972: guest registration is required for any guest over the age of 16, requiring you to record the full name and nationality for UK nationals, and passport number and full address for foreign nationals. This information must be kept for a period of twelve months. This Order is currently under review to make it more relevant to EU Citizenship too. Don’t forget, you’ll need to keep this information in compliance with the Data Protection Act (see below).
  • Food Safety & Food Hygiene: if you have on-site food production, restaurant, prepared bar snacks, breakfast etc. you are required to register with your local authority Environmental Health Department. You will be given a food hygiene rating and compliance information, including any areas for improvement. Ensuring your staff are up to speed on the regulations, and developing a cleaning and processing routine that automatically breeds compliance is essential. Don’t forget allergen & food labelling regulations are now mandatory too, so you must be able to inform any guest of all the ingredients and allergens within anything consumable that you serve. As well as the kitchen brigade it is recommended that all staff handling food or preparing food holds a basic food hygiene certificate.
  • Licensing – there are a lot of licences that your business must hold in relation to your guest experience and subject to the facilities you provide, including:
    • Sale & consumption of alcohol – premises licence: any business that sells alcohol from their premises will require an alcohol licence from their local authority. It is rare that businesses neglect to get their alcohol licence; however it is common that members of staff are unable to confirm whether a licence is in place or whether the business is compliant.
    • TV Licences; Your business address needs to be covered by a licence if staff, customers or visitors watch or record live TV programmes on any channel, or download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer. This applies to any device provided by your business. A common pitfall with TV licensing is that if your business does not provide the devices for whatever reason, you will still need a licence if guests bring their own and plug their equipment into your mains.
    • Performing Rights Society (PRS) Licence: The PRS ensure the artists of pre-recorded music receive their royalties. A licence is required by businesses that play music in whatever format. PRS for Music collects and distributes money on behalf of songwriters, composers and publishers.
    • Phonographic Performance Licence (PPL) Licence: which relates to recording and playing music in public, including videos, music channels etc.); PPL collects and distributes money on behalf of record companies and performers. 
    • Movie Picture Licensing Company Licence: is required if your business shows any movie, including on TV in public areas.
    • DVD Concierge Licence: is required if guests can borrow/rent DVD/Blu-ray and watch in bedrooms. This includes games consoles and in-room entertainment channels.   
  • Hotel Proprietors Act 1956: regulates refusal of “walk in guests” how rooms are allocated and reimbursement of damage to guest property, in certain circumstances, even if the damage was not as a result of the hotel or its staff. This should be adhered to in conjunction with the Equality Act 2010 as well.
  • The Equality Act 2010 which replaces the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 dictates that you must welcome all guests without discrimination in relation to gender reassignment, pregnancy & maternity, sex, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or belief and age. You must also make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to improve service for disabled customers. As best practice it is recommended that your hotel has an access statement informing potential guests of layout, measurements etc. There are also moves to include a public unisex toilet for guests not wishing to be gender assigned, although this is best practice not mandatory.  
  • Data Protection Act 1998 (due to be amended to GDPR in May 2018 subject to our continued membership in the EU. The Data Protection Act 1998 (c 29) is a United Kingdom Act of Parliament designed to protect personal data stored on computers or in an organised paper filing system. It follows the EU Data Protection Directive 1995 protection, processing and movement of data. It dictates fair use of data and how frequently it is used, that it is stored safely and securely and not kept any longer than absolutely necessary, and that the individual has given permission for its storage and use.  It will be replaced by a new UK Data Protection Bill which enforces much of GDPR (see below) and includes changes to how business data is handled, and enforces an opt-in and verification process, often referred to as double opt-in.
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the EUs attempt to clarify data laws and provide harmony between data laws in different countries. Changes include customers’ rights to know how much information you hold on them, a new fining regime and an updated protocol for consent.
  • Prices & Payment: you must make clear to guests exactly what is included in all prices quoted for accommodation including taxes and any other surcharges. You must adhere to and not exceed these prices quoted at the time of booking.  Also worth noting, from 13th January 2018 no business will be able to add a surcharge to any payment made by credit card.
  • Cancellation Policy: your cancellation policy must be communicated clearly to your guests at the time of booking by telephone, email etc. and be available on your website. You must not operate outside of this cancellation policy, regardless of circumstances.
  • Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008: this promotes transparent, honest marketing. By describing accurately in any advertisement, brochure, or other printed or electronic media, the facilities and services provided. You must also advise visitors at the time of booking and subsequently, of any change to their booking, whether the accommodation offered is in an unconnected annexe or similar, and indicate the location of such accommodation and any difference in comfort and/or amenities from accommodation in the main property.

     

Your staff

  • Health & Safety at Work Act 1974: places a responsibility on the employer "to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work" of all their employees. This includes your responsibility as an employer, but also encompasses your guests, contractors and sub-contractors as well, including COSHH, First Aid Training, Manual Handling etc.
  • National Living Wage: must be paid to all staff, as set by the government. As optional best practice, more employers are looking at becoming Living Wage Employers, paying a higher rate over and above the National Living Wage.

Other Best Practice considerations:

  • Public Liability Insurance: while not a statutory requirement, it is a requirement for participation in an assessment scheme and is an encouraged practice for all businesses. Proprietors may be asked to provide evidence that Public Liability insurance cover is being maintained and that the requirements are being fulfilled.
  • Cyber-crime – with most hotels offering free, unprotected Wi-Fi in public areas ensure terms and conditions clearly state the risks of hackers and that if data is collected (“please enter email, name and telephone number”) that your Wi-Fi T&Cs state why this is collected and who will have access to this as a database. We strongly advise providing WiFi which does collect data to ensure any illegal activity can be attributed to the guest and not to the hotel.

More information on your responsibilities, together with links for more information is available at www.qualityintourism.com.

As part of our inspections, our assessors are up to speed on the latest and best advice for hoteliers and are able to spot potential pitfalls and shortcomings within your business, before you fail or are given advisory warnings from a Local Authority Inspector. Similarly, many of the same standards are built into our assessment criteria, so if you are passing one, it is nigh on impossible to fail the other. This is a decision we took not because we believe local authority inspectors aren’t up to scratch, but because our members find it beneficial to have an impartial, independent assessment, and it helps to maintain and reassure standards all-year-round, not just at official inspection time. To find out more about our independent assessments, please visit www.qualityintourism.com.

This article is from www.hotelowner.co.uk

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