The Metropolitan police has ditched a “despotic” proposal to demand that pubs and restaurants check customers’ IDs and addresses to prevent household mixing, in an apparent U-turn after a backlash from the hospitality industry.
Venues in London had received a letter telling them to “take steps to satisfy themselves” that patrons were not gathering in groups of more than one household.
“This could include requesting photographic identification with names and addresses,” the letter says, prompting concern that forces around the country could place the onus on struggling venues to police social interactions.
The letter, first published in the Daily Mail, drew fire on Wednesday from publicans, trade bodies and industry figures, including JD Wetherspoon’s founder-chairman, Tim Martin.
“The great danger of granting emergency powers to governments […] is that they are used for illicit purposes,” Martin said. “Now civilians – publicans – are being required to verify living arrangements for other civilians.
“If Boris, Hancock and co are not deliberately despotic, they’re certainly innumerate and incompetent – and are playing a dangerous game with civil liberties.”
The British Beer & Pub Association chief executive, Emma McClarkin, branded the proposal “fundamentally inappropriate and completely unacceptable”, while the UK Hospitality chief, Kate Nicholls, cautioned against piling more pressure on staff who were “already stretched and under enormous pressure”.
The Night Time Industries Association said that it had taken legal advice and believed that the Met should withdraw the “misleading and unlawful” proposal.
In an apparent climbdown on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson said the letter did not reflect the policy of the Metropolitan police service.
“The MPS will be in contact with the recipients of the letter to clarify that the advice, although well-intentioned, does not reflect MPS policy,” the spokesperson said.
Pub chains have largely taken the approach of asking whether people are from separate households but were ultimately relying on their guests’ honesty.
Greene King said it did not take addresses but bar staff would intervene if there was a clear breach of the rules, such as a table of locals known to be from different households.
The London-focused Fuller’s chain said it asked people entering the pub: “Can we just check that you are from one household?”
Pubs have been among the hardest-hit businesses by measures designed to restrict the spread of Covid-19, including the new three-tier system imposing curbs on household mixing and preventing venues in some areas from serving alcohol.
Figures released on Wednesday by the hospitality analysis firm CGA found that businesses in the highest-alert tier in England – where they can open only if they serve substantial meals, and people cannot meet with anyone outside their household – suffered most.
Daily sales dropped 60-62% last weekend, compared with the same weekend in 2019.