The Guardian, Rob Davies, 15 October 2020
Regulator says Heineken’s pubs and bars business, Star, deterred pubs from stocking competitors’ drinks
Heineken has been fined £2m for forcing publicans to sell “unreasonable” amounts of its own beers and ciders.
The pubs code adjudicator (PCA), an official who oversees the relationship between pub-owning companies and their tenants, said Heineken had “seriously and repeatedly” breached laws that protect publicans from company behaviour aimed at prohibiting pubs selling competitor brands.
After an investigation that lasted more than a year, the PCA said Heineken – via its pubs business, Star – had broken the rules despite the regulator’s repeated interventions.
The pubs code adjudicator, Fiona Dickie, said: “The report of my investigation is a game-changer. It demonstrates that the regulator can and will act robustly to protect the rights that parliament has given to tied tenants.
“I will be holding discussions with all the companies I regulate following my findings about how they will ensure they are code-compliant. My message is that if anyone previously had any doubts about my resolution to act when I find breaches, they can have no doubt now.”
Heineken said it was “deeply disappointed and frustrated” by the PCA’s ruling and was considering an appeal.
“This penalty is unwarranted and disproportionate, and comes at a time when the entire sector is in serious financial crisis as we work around the clock to support our pubs and licensees to keep their businesses afloat,” said Lawson Mountstevens, the managing director of Star Pubs & Bars.
Heineken was found to have imposed unfair conditions on landlords who sought to go “free of tie” via a process that allows them to break the centuries-old beer tie arrangement where they get reduced rents in return for stocking certain products.
The tie has long been criticised by pub owners and campaigners, who say it is being routinely abused by deep-pocketed pubcos able to flout the spirit of the code that governs it.
The pubs code is the subject of a government review that is expected to conclude within weeks.