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Re-inspection charges to become mandatory

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

Few would contest the fact that The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is a good way of improving food safety. The scheme which operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, encourages businesses to be transparent with regards to their food hygiene rating, as determined by their most recent hygiene inspection; and as the public increasingly come to accept the display of hygiene ratings as the norm, businesses will be incentivised to display their rating or else they risk losing customers.

A business' decision to display their hygiene rating enables consumers to make a more informed decision about where they choose to eat or shop, with the advantage of increasing consumer confidence. In Wales and Northern Ireland, businesses are already required to display their FHR in a prominent position as a matter of law, with FSA research indicating that the mandatory display of FHR has already improved hygiene standards in the respective countries. The FSA have also recently declared that the policy will be rolled out in England in the not too distant future.

Re-inspection charging

One key difference between the scheme operating in England, as opposed to those running in Wales and Northern Ireland, is that they can charge for hygiene re-inspections as per legislature passed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland five years ago, in the form of Localism Act 2011.

One might argue that the introduction of re-inspection charges was inevitable given local authorities' financial statuses; though there is a silver lining in that the charges only currently apply to re-inspections and not official control visits, for the meantime at least - we expect this to change in the not too distant future.

With regards to the aforementioned re-inspection charges, historically a business can only make one request for a re-rating visit following each planned stautory food inspection. This can be made at any time if any required improvements have been made; and the business must provide details of the improvements they have made along with their re-rating request; if sufficient evidence has been provided, there is a three month "stand still" period. An unannounced visit will then normally take place within three months from the end of the "stand still" period.

The big difference is that under the charging regime, there is no limit as to the number of requests that can be made by individual businesses, i.e. the "stand still" period will not be applied and the re-rating inspection must be carried out within three months of the receipt of the request and payment of the fee.

What about the money?

According to an FSA survey, the average time for a re-inspection is 3.25 hours, but the local authority can only charge on a 'cost recovery' basis. This is going to vary considerably depending on where you are in the country with estimates varying from £150-£250 per re-visit.

Now, a food business which had previously achieved a 3* or 4* hygiene rating but is on the quest for a five, might say 'that's great I'll do the work and it's worth paying the fee to get the rating we want!' However, we can't ignore the possibility that an EHO re-inspecting a business with a borderline score might lean towards a lower rating, on the basis that the business owner will be more than happy to pay for yet another re-inspection. We know that most EHOs don't follow this thought pattern and that their primary concern is the public's health and safety; but with that being said, times are undoubtedly difficult and employees in businesses and local councils the country over are having to justify their position on the payroll.

The Future:

Whatever happens regarding re-inspection charges, I'm confident that it is only a matter of time before all food business inspections will be carried out on a 'paid for' basis; an assumption based on the direction the FSA seems to be taking at this present time.

NCASS will shortly be sending out a survey on behalf of the FSA to gather your views on a raft of issues similar to those already mentioned - and we'd urge you to carefully consider your responses, i.e. who is going to pay and how much is it all going to cost...

Rest assured, unless you tell us and the FSA otherwise your costs are going to rise in the not too distant future (the FSA want to implement this by 2020.) One thing's certain, NCASS will be there fighting to keep the system as simple and as low cost as possible, but we will need your voice behind us.

Bob Fox,

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