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Wed 8th Mar 2023 - Legal Briefing

The boys (and girls) in black by Chris Grunert

The boys in black is a long-standing euphemism describing those talented men and women who stand guard on the door (regardless of the often-miserable British weather) and patrol the dance floors across the country to ensure that order is maintained as the public party on through the weekend.

Door supervisors are not universally loved though, and many punters would agree with the Artic Monkey’s summation in From the Ritz to the Rubble: “Well, last night these two bouncers. And one of ‘em’s alright, the other one’s the scary one. His way or no way, totalitarian.”

However, good door staff are such an important part of a functioning late-night economy. It is important to recognise their value as well as ensuring they are properly licensed and trained.

What is a door supervisor?
Door supervisors are licensed by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). However, not all SIA licences were made equal. Regarding hospitality, businesses which require “bouncers” in accordance with their premises licence should have staff with an SIA licence that allows “door supervision” as an activity. This means that they can manage entry to a premises and refuse it if needed.

This is not to be confused with “security guarding”, which is not the same thing at all and applies more to spaces like retail. But there is sometimes some confusion due to the similar names and how they are issued by the same body. Certain other SIA licences, such as “close protection”, also allow holders to act as door supervisors.  

The SIA hosts an online register which allows pubs and clubs to check whether their door team have the correct licence, and that those licences have not been suspended or revoked. It remains the responsibility of all operators to directly verify the licence status of their door team, even if they are hiring contractors from a third party.

Across our offices, the team at John Gaunt & Partners have dealt with an increasing number of cases involving bogus or unlicensed door supervisors. We have witnessed everything from door companies providing personnel with the wrong SIA licence (i.e. not licensed for door supervision) to people impersonating licensed door supervisors (with the same individual apparently being in multiple locations simultaneously) and door staff with lapsed, suspended or revoked licences. 

Although action is being taken to stamp out these issues, it continues to be a prominent battle within the industry. The SIA, licensing authority and police have conducted several coordinated operations over recent years to identify these rogue operators. Unfortunately, the problem persists, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the issue is actually still on the rise.

On many occasions, the venue that is being duped by these unofficial door staff often are the ones who face the wrath of enforcement action as they too have failed in the eyes of the regulators. Operators have a duty to vet their door teams properly, and this is why it is essential that you keep an eye on who you are hiring. If in any doubt, check the SIA’s online register – it’s there for a reason.

Falling numbers and standards
In our line of work, we meet many door supervisors who work a contract for a number of door companies. In our experience, the majority of door staff are extremely hard-working and considerate professionals concerned with promoting public order and safety licensing objective. Unlike the fictional door supervisor described by the Arctic Monkeys, door supervisors consider an uneventful evening a successful evening. On the occasion that problems with door staff do occur, the SIA encourages members of the public, or others in the sector, to report perceived misconduct to them.

I myself have had to review the actions of door supervisors following incidents at a client’s premises, and at times, these issues have triggered a licence review or, worse, a closure order. In my opinion, I believe it is often extremely difficult to review door staff actions with hindsight fairly. In their line of work, they are regularly facing dynamic situations involving highly intoxicated individuals, sometimes wielding knives or other weapons. I think it is easy to criticise these actions in the sanitised surroundings of a council chamber many months on from the event.
We appear to be seeing a decrease in the number of individuals going into the sector, as well as those retaining. This could be an unforeseen knock-on effect from the pandemic as many senior door staff moved into other lines of work when restrictions took their toll on the industry. This could have since led to the rise of these “fake” door supervisors. In a July 2021 report, the SIA discussed and diagnosed the issue of recruitment and retention in the door supervisor sector. The report drew on two recent (to 2021) surveys and research to provide a snapshot of the sector and related employment issues. 

The research suggests that some door staff were turning to work behind the bar instead as they received a similar amount of pay, but it appeared a good alternative as there was overall less risk involved. Other responses to the surveys suggested that barriers to recruitment and retention included low pay, unsociable hours, job insecurity and high levels of physical and verbal abuse. 

Some licences specify that a certain number of SIA staff must be present at specified times, and these conditions can, in some cases, be years old and no longer a reflection of the venue’s needs or socialising habits of the customers. With all this feedback and lingering issues, is it any wonder, therefore, that the industry faces problems with retention and falling standards?

The impact of falling standards
Many businesses choose to outsource their door security as without a “non-frontline” licence from the SIA, it would be illegal for a venue to do otherwise. Although outsourced, it still is important for a premises to take responsibility for the team and ensure they are organised and operating to the stands your venue expects. The door team is often the first contact a customer has with your venue and, as they say, first impressions count.

Where a disconnect occurs, a range of consequences can follow. It could be an alienated customer who chooses not to return, but sometimes it can be much worse, even fatal. Recently, we have read the headlines about the tragic crowd crush at the O2 Academy Brixton in London. The SIA is currently launching an inquiry into corruption allegations made following this horrific ordeal, which left one member of the public and a member of door staff dead when fans without tickets tried to enter.

The venue has had its licence suspended for three months while the investigation continues. It has recently come to light that unprofessional behaviours from door staff may have contributed to the crush, including allegations that security staff at the venue had previously taken bribes to allow attendees in.

The importance of good, licensed and well-trained door staff is clear. They may be the difference between a safe and welcoming venue or a serious disaster and hefty enforcement action. As we move forward into spring, let this briefing be a reminder of the necessity to check your staff against the SIA register. Let’s hope we can work together as an industry to stamp out rogue contractors and ensure that all areas of the sector are legitimate and thriving.
Chris Grunert is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners

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