It is essential that councils have a range of tools at their disposal to allow them to work quickly to help suppress the virus in their communities and take action against non-compliant businesses before it is too late.
- We are pleased that the Government has listened to calls from the Local Government Association (LGA) and its members to bring forward new enforcement powers for councils to ensure compliance with COVID-19 regulations.
- It is essential that councils have a range of tools at their disposal to allow them to work quickly to help suppress the virus in their communities and take action against non-compliant businesses before it is too late.
- The vast majority of businesses are implementing the necessary COVID-secure measures to keep people safe and councils are working closely with businesses to support these efforts.
- It is important that councils can take rapid action against businesses breaking the rules, to help prevent the spread of the virus and support those organisations which have worked hard to keep their premises safe.
- The new powers should be available for all councils to designate appropriate officers to use once the current national lockdown is lifted and businesses reopen.
- New enforcement powers should also be supported by clear guidance for councils on how each of the new enforcement powers should be used, as well as on the regulations the tools will be used to enforce. Changes will also need to be clearly communicated to businesses.
Councils are used to working closely with businesses to support them to understand and comply with different regulations. This approach has been successful in driving generally high levels compliance with new coronavirus legislation and guidance.
Enforcement tools will be used as a last resort for example when there is ongoing or wilful non-compliance. Effective enforcement requires councils to have the right tools at their disposal to incentivise businesses to improve their compliance or face significant penalties if they do not.
We therefore welcome the introduction of these new enforcement powers which will enable councils to take quick and effective action to achieve compliance. Coronavirus Improvement Notices give business 48 hours to address areas of concern and, where this is not complied with, a Restriction Notice gives councils the ability to move to immediate closure. Councils will also have the power to issue a Coronavirus Immediate Restriction Notice to close premises where there is a contravention of one or more COVID- secure measures and therefore a risk of exposure to coronavirus.
This approach would build on the expertise of councils’ regulatory officers who are well practised in using improvement notices and powers of enforcement including closure notices. It would also provide a stronger incentive for businesses to comply than the Fixed Penalty Notice allowed by the current regulations and guidance.
It would also be a much quicker way to require businesses to comply without having to impose the closure under the Health Protection No. 3 regulations, which require the input of the Director of Public Health and notification to the Secretary of State and can therefore be used less quickly.
As with other COVID regulations, the new powers should be available to all councils, there must be appropriate powers of entry to enable officers to use the powers, and councils should have the flexibility to designate appropriate local officers to use them. This builds on what councils are already used to doing around enforcement and would ensure that additional work does not fall on already stretched Environmental Health officers. Legislation should also be supported by clear guidance for councils on how each of the new enforcement powers should be used.
Jade Hall, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser