John Barnes on the latest FHRS updates

Can Local Authorities now charge catering businesses for food hygiene inspections?

No. Local Authorities (LAs) cannot charge for routine hygiene inspections they carry out as part of their normal statutory duties. However, recently the Food Standards Agency (FSA) wrote to LAs informing them of changes to the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme Brand Standard, which now allows LAs in England to charge a fee when a business requests a re-visit/re-inspection to reassess its FHRS Rating. A link to the letter outlining the changes and sent to LAs on 16 March 2017, is provided below:

Why were these changes made?

The industry has been concerned about the length of time some businesses have to wait after improvements to their hygiene standards have been made, before receiving a re-rating visit by the LA. As mentioned in my January blog, some of the delay has been down to LA resources. Allowing LAs to levy a fee, in conjunction with other changes made alongside this, is intended to speed up the process. The changes have been welcomed by the BHA who have pushed for a streamlining of the FHRS appeals and re-rating process.

How much can LAs charge?

This is down to the individual LA, as well as whether they decide to charge for these re-visits at all. The changes to the Brand Standard simply allow the LA to apply locally for powers under the Localism Act 2011 to recover their costs for FHRS re-inspections. Local authority and FSA legal advice is that FHRS re-visits at the request of a business are not a Statutory function. As such, a charge under the Localism Act on a cost recovery basis can be made. So there could be some local variation in the amount of the fee or whether a charge will be levied at all.

Are there other changes to the FHRS arrangements?

Yes. Where an LA decides to charge for a business that has requested a re-rating visit, the current 3 month standstill which currently stands before any re-visit can take place, is relaxed. A business will now be able to request a re-visit any time, following the initial FHRS rating where a charging regime is operated and the LA must re-visit within 3 months of the payment. Another change brought in last October, now in the revised Brand Standard, is that businesses have 21 days rather than 14 to submit an appeal and LAs have 21 rather than 7 days to determine that appeal. This means there is more time to consider the matter before a poor rating is published.

Does this mean the position in England is now different to Wales and Northern Ireland?

Actually, the changes are intended to bring the arrangements in England more in line with the Statutory arrangements in Wales and Northern Ireland (NI). Before these changes, Wales and NI had appeal periods longer than England and the Welsh and NI legislation already allows LAs to charge for business requested re-visits.

What about proposals for a Statutory FHRS Scheme in England?

These recent changes to the Brand Standard guidance are a non-legislative way to better align the voluntary FHRS arrangements in England with the very successful statutory schemes in Wales and NI, albeit the changes are not yet requiring the mandatory display of FHRS ratings. The changes should help sustain FHRS in England and partially address industry and LA concerns about appeal and re-rating arrangements in England given current LA resources. The interim changes might also be signalling a slight slowdown in the FSA seeking Whitehall agreement to a Statutory FHRS scheme in England. This will perhaps allow them to finalise their thinking on potential third party delivery of FHRS, currently being explored as part of their Regulating Our Future programme, and a recognition that parliamentary legislative time will be at a premium given necessary Brexit activity.

Does your FHRS score need improving? Now’s the time! Shield Safety has developed a service especially to support businesses prepare for their FHRS re-visit. Read our blog to find out more.

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John Barnes

Food Safety

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