Businesses in Southend have expressed confusion and frustration over how to police customers since the new Tier Two restrictions were introduced in Essex.
Southend itself is excluded from the Tier Two measures enforced in the Essex County Council area, which has seen restrictions brought in on household mixing indoor settings.
But it has raised questions on those coming into the borough from elsewhere in Essex.
It has been suggested that businesses may have to ask customers for their ID to ensure they are part of the same bubble or household – or for their address to ensure they are from the same tier.
With winter fast approaching as well as the 10pm curfew, businesses are already facing strains on trade and the latest change could only put more pressure on businesses.
Some are calling for more clarity on how to police visitors, while others believe the onus should be on members of public to follow the rules.
This is what three businesses owners in Essex said about policing customers amid the new tier rules.
“Where is the line?”
Monte Carlo manager, Jonjo Remblance, believes businesses in Southend need to have more guidance.
“In terms of the clarity and the guidance being given, I don’t think they are making it easy for us,” he said.
“To be honest, I think with regards to coronavirus and the situation, there’s not an easy way to handle it.
“I don’t think there’s a right way that someone can say should have been done but what I do think is we should at least have a bit more certainty.”
Jonjo said they have been running Track and Trace since they opened and are now using the app in accordance with the government guidelines – but they are not fully sure on how the latest change will affect things.
He is uncertain about the prospect of having to ID, as some businesses elsewhere in the country have suggested.
“It’s something that would be very difficult for us,” he said. “When it comes to necessary protections you have to do what you have to do, but some forms of ID don’t have the address on.
“So are you asking people to bring in utility bills? Where is the line?”
He added: “Again it comes with the guidance, there’s not been distinct messages on what we need to do. Do we ask what tier people are from?
“As long as they are groups of six, we can manage it.
“I think the onus has been put on businesses to police this situation but where I feel there needs to be a lot more responsibility is on the individual and members of public.”
The one thing that Jonjo knows is certain is that the more restrictions that are introduced, the tougher things will be.
“I think it’s going too far”
Further along the seafront on Marine Parade is The Borough Hotel.
Joint lease holder Joan Tiney couldn’t believe it when she realised that the county was divided by the new tier system.
She said: “At first I thought it was the whole of Essex and then I discovered it was Southend and Thurrock were excluded and remained in tier one.
“In one way I was pleased and then I thought it’s very strange where we live in our own private house that we can walk to Rochford in five minutes but someone five minutes walk away can’t come to the pub. It’s frustrating.
“I can’t see how we can work it. I have seen that some businesses will be asking for passports but what is the point when they don’t have your address? A lot of it is advisory and I can’t see it happening.”
The pub has been strict about track and trace and people wearing masks appropriately, but Joan doesn’t believe they will be able to start pushing to asking for people’s addresses too.
“When it comes to asking people where they are from, I think it’s going too far,” she said.
“They come up with these bright ideas but don’t think about how it works.
“I think by the sound if it, the onus is on the customers. You know as well as I do that if you have two different households where one group comes in and the other come from around the corner, you don’t know whose who.”
For The Borough Hotel, they have a large amount of trade coming from Southend and Rochford.
“We have a lot of customers coming from London which is also now Tier Two,” Joan added.
“I think the whole thing is a bit ridiculous and I think the sooner it all stops the better.”
“I feel like I’m a teacher having to teach kids”
Sarah Gage, general manager of the Alex in Southend, said the constantly changing rules make her feel like a “teacher”.
“For me, it’s not much of an issue – it’s just that people start to abide by the rules and then it gets changed,” she said.
“Then we have to redo the rules with all of them and it’s getting frustrating. The rules are constantly changing. I feel like I’m a teacher having to teach kids when all people want to do is come in for food and a drink and you just want to talk to them and follow the rules.”
Even for the staff, the rules are complicated.
“I live in Basildon and yet I work in Southend,” Sarah explained.
“So if I finish work, I can’t have a drink with the chef because I’m from Basildon and he’s Southend – even though we’ve just worked a ten hour shift.
“He went to his hairdresser the other day who lives in Benfleet but works in Southend.”
When it comes to policing things, like every business, they can only do their best.
“The only way to do it is 60 per cent of customers do track and trace on their phone,” she said.
“To do that, they have to put in their post code with the first four letters of the post code and that’s where you see where they live.
“If they can’t do that we have to take their information and we have to ask for their postcode. When one says SS1 and the other says RM4, you just have to say ‘I’m really sorry I can’t sit you together.
“But everyone will catch on and say I live in SS1.”
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“Who am I to ask someone for their address?”
The Alex has faced some unhappy customers who don’t agree with the rules, but on the whole people have been compliant.
Sarah said: “We just say this isn’t a business decision, this is a government decision so don’t take it out on us – we just abide by the rules.
“They do get frustrated but the majority understand and are getting more understanding
“Who am I to ask someone for their address? It’s all well and good to ask for ID but when students live in a dorm they might not be registered to their dorm, or people in the military their addresses might be at home because they move around so much.
“I have family members who live together but are not all registered at the same address and are still registered at parents’ homes and they now can’t go for a beer together.
“[Financially] it is worrying and I’m not going to say it;s all hunky dory because it is worrying but you just have to remember we are all in the same situation.”
Southend Borough Council said they are asking businesses to take a “pragmatic” approach, undergo a risk assessment and support test and trace.
Cllr Trevor Harp, cabinet member for adult social care and health, says: “We understand this is a complex time for local businesses and residents, and that is why we said last week that a pragmatic and sensible approach has to be taken regarding the new national COVID alert system whilst the areas of Essex CC and Southend are on different levels.
“Whilst local businesses should endeavour to ensure that restrictions around the new national COVID alert system are adhered to, we have been clear that we will not be trying to catch businesses out and want to support them through this period.
“There is also responsibility on individuals to adhere to the national regulations, so for those that live in the Essex CC area, they should not be mixing indoors with anyone that isn’t from their household or bubble if they are visiting Southend-on-Sea.
He added: “We know that businesses have lots of measures to be implementing, and in terms of priority we want them to be focussed on ensuring they are COVID-secure, they have an appropriate risk assessment in place and are supporting the national test and trace system, as the majority are already doing.
“We know that the difference in tier levels adds a layer of complexity and that is why we are taking a pragmatic approach and want them to focus on the key measures that apply nationally.
“As a council we are doing our best to ensure that our residents and businesses are aware of the national regulations and it is only through working collectively that we will be able to manage the current situation and contain the spread of the virus.”