Downing Street urges people not to exploit working lunch loophole

Amy Jones
·2-min read
Downing Street has asked people to 'act responsibly' over the restaurant loophole - Dominic Lipinski/PA
Downing Street has asked people to 'act responsibly' over the restaurant loophole - Dominic Lipinski/PA

Number 10 has told people not to take advantage of the working lunch loophole as businesses said it would "ultimately" be down to customers to obey local lockdown rules.

A spokesman said people in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas should only meet in restaurants if that was "reasonably necessary for work purposes" and urged them to act responsibly.

It came as Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said compliance with the restrictions "ultimately lies with the customers".

She said: "When hosting a business meeting, the venue should be satisfied that the purpose of the gathering is for business purposes rather than for socialising. It should also be pre-booked or notified as a business meeting on arrival.

"Businesses are required to check details and refuse service to anyone they suspect is providing false details. The responsibility ultimately lies with the customers, though."

Meanwhile, Westminster Council was on Friday forced into a U-turn on "short-sighted" plans to charge restaurants thousands of pounds to continue to trade outside. The council had planned to charge businesses £7 per square metre of outside space per day after its existing scheme ended in November, but reversed the decision after an intervention from the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Sources confirmed the council would not pursue the policy of charging for al fresco dining and would be using funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to cover the cost.

Mr Khan had earlier said: "I urge Westminster Council to reconsider and make outdoor services affordable for hospitality businesses so that we can keep the centre of London vibrant and open throughout this challenging time."

It comes after days of confusion over whether working lunches are allowed under Tier 2 and Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

On Friday, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay, confirmed that "business meetings are allowed in restaurant venues" after his boss, Rishi Sunak, had met colleagues in a London pizza restaurant.

Asked whether the Chancellor was breaking London's Tier 2 restrictions with the meeting on Thursday, Mr Barclay said Government rules allow work gatherings in such settings. "You're allowed to meet in restaurants under the guidance for work meetings," he said.

Two days earlier, Robert Jenrick, the  the Housing Secretary, had said working lunches were a loophole that ministers intended to shut.

Downing Street had previously said the exemption to Tier 2 and 3 lockdown rules was a provision for "freelancers who may not have a workplace to conduct business meetings face to face".

Ms Nicholls said: "The mixed messaging obviously does not help. Businesses find themselves unsure about what they can and cannot offer, and customers do not know they have the option. It seems like the Government has clarified its stance in the past 24 hours, which is welcome."