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Regulated businesses


Hotels, inns, guest houses etc.


The business of innkeeper (including hotelier) is still governed largely by the common law. in England and Wales, and possibly also in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Legislation applying to innkeepers and hoteliers applies in Great Britain. There is similar legislation in Northern Ireland but also additional regulation of tourist accommodation.

No specific licence is required to carry on this business.

This business will or may also be concerned with Alcohol sales, Betting and Gaming, Entertainments licences and Food business. Music licences and Smoke-free premises.

England and Wales, Scotland

The business of innkeeper (including hotelier) is still governed largely by the common law. No licence is required to carry on this business.

What is a hotel or inn?

Under the Hotel Proprietors Act 1956, a “hotel” means an establishment held out by the proprietor as offering food, drink and, if so required, sleeping accommodation, without special contract, to any traveller presenting himself who appears able and willing to pay a reasonable sum for the services and facilities provided and who is in a fit state to be received. A hotel within this definition is deemed to be an "inn".

A private hotel, guest house, bed and breakfast and similar establishments will usually be outside the definition of an inn.

Duty of innkeeper

An innkeeper is bound to provide services to travellers at reasonable prices without any special contract, unless he has some reasonable ground of refusal. An innkeeper may demand payment of a reasonable sum in advance.

In addition, an innkeeper is bound to receive a traveller's car if facilities are available and also his luggage and other goods with which a person ordinarily travels. At common law, an innkeeper was probably bound to receive a guest's dog, and, failing such accommodation, the guest may be entitled to bring the dog into the inn, but he cannot insist on bringing it into any common part of the inn. This is also subject to food hygiene regulations which could forbid pet animals in food areas.

Legaleze comment: nowadays it is well known that many if not most hotels do not allow guests to bring pet animals (except (guide dogs). In interpreting the common law, it seems likely that the courts would allow hotels to maintain a no-pet policy.

An innkeeper (including a hotel proprietor) in his capacity as an innkeeper is bound at common law to receive and lodge all comers who are “travellers”. He must do so under non-discrimination laws regardless of race, sex, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation or gender reassignment.

Whether a person is a traveller is a question of fact in each case. The length of the journey is not a test by itself. The mere length of stay is not conclusive, but is one of the circumstances to be taken into consideration (see e.g.: Williams v Linnitt [1951] 1 KB 565 at 575, [1951] 1 All ER 278 at 283, CA).

If a guest has ceased to be a traveller and has become a mere lodger or boarder, the innkeeper may refuse to lodge or entertain him any longer and may turn him out after reasonable notice.

Duty of care

An innkeeper must take reasonable care of the persons of his guests so that they are not injured by anything happening to them through his negligence while they are his guests. No absolute liability to insure the personal safety of his guests is, however, imposed on him such as exists with respect to the safety of their goods so that if a guest is attacked in an inn the innkeeper is not liable.

There is, however, an implied warranty by the innkeeper that, for the purpose of personal use by the guest, the inn premises are as safe as reasonable care and skill on the part of anyone can make them. Failure to keep a passage lit at a reasonable hour when guests might reasonably be expected to be using it is negligence and a breach of duty.

An innkeeper’s liability to make good to any traveller any loss of or damage to such property only arises if (Hotel Proprietors Act 1956 s.2(1)):

* at the time of the loss or damage sleeping accommodation at the hotel had been engaged for the traveller; and
* the loss or damage occurred during the period commencing with the midnight immediately preceding, and ending with the midnight immediately following a period for which the traveller was a guest at the hotel and entitled to use the accommodation.

This is without prejudice to any other liability incurred by an innkeeper with respect to any property brought to the hotel (e.g. if a guest specifically entrusted the property to the innkeeper who accepted it).

See also Smoke-free premises

Limitation of liability by notice

If an innkeeper is liable to make good the loss of or damage to property brought to the inn, his liability to any one guest may be limited to £50 for any one article and £100 for all articles provided that the Hotel Proprietors Act statutory notice is properly exhibited (in a London borough these limits are £750 and £1,500) (London Local Authorities Act 2004 s.24).

The limitation of liability does not apply if:

* the property was stolen, lost or damaged through the default, neglect or wilful act of the proprietor or his employee; or
* the property was deposited by or on behalf of the guest expressly for safe custody, with the proprietor or employee of his authorised, or appearing to be authorised, for the purpose, and, if so required by the proprietor or employee, in a container fastened or sealed by the depositor; or
* at a time after the guest had arrived at the hotel, either the property was offered for deposit as described  above and the proprietor or his employee refused to receive it, or the guest or some other guest acting on his behalf wished so to offer the property but, through the default of the proprietor or his employee, was unable to do so.

The burden of proving that the loss or injury occurred through the default or neglect or wilful act of the innkeeper or his servant lies upon the guest.

The innkeeper is only entitled to the protection of the statutory notice if, at the time the property was brought to the hotel, a copy of the notice printed in plain type was conspicuously displayed in a place where it could conveniently be read by his guests at or near the reception office or desk or, where there is no such office or desk, at or near the main entrance.

Case law: if the notice is unintentionally misprinted, for example by the omission of a word, it does not comply with the statute and the innkeeper's liability is not limited: Spice v Bacon (1877) 2 ExD 463, CA, decided under the Innkeepers' Liability Act 1863 s 1 (repealed).

Legaleze comment: it is doubtful whether a modern court (at least at the level of the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court) would follow this decision.

Tourist Board quality assessment

The national tourist boards - Visit England, VisitScotland and Visit Wales - assess accommodation to the same criteria and award 1 to 5 stars reflecting the facilities and overall quality. Each body also runs its own additional award schemes; e.g. VisitEngland offers Gold and Silver Awards for hotel and guest accommodation. For further information on quality assessment, visit the Quality in Tourism website.

For further information generally, visit the British Hospitality Association website.

Northern Ireland

The common law duties and obligations of an innkeeper described above in relation to England and Wales probably apply to Northern Ireland.

The Hotel Proprietors Act (Northern Ireland) 1958 contains the same provisions as the British Act of 1956.

However, additional regulation applies in Northern Ireland - see below.

Tourist accommodation certificate

A person must hold a certificate from the  Northern Ireland Tourist Board in order to provide or offer to provide tourist accommodation in any establishment (the Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 Part IV).

“Tourist” means a visitor to Northern Ireland, a person spending his holiday in Northern Ireland or a person travelling for pleasure within Northern Ireland. “Tourist accommodation” means overnight sleeping accommodation for tourists provided by way of trade or business.

For further information, visit

[Page updated: 08/01/2015]


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