Heineken’s 2,500 UK pub chain, Star Pubs & Bars, has been accused of bullying tenants into paying rents despite pubs being closed.
Pub tenants received letters from Star in recent days telling them they had just five days to agree to new rent cuts or risk being pursued for the full amount, according to the British Pub Confederation (BPC).
The organisation pointed out that rival pub groups have given tenants rent holidays, urging Star to follow suit.
Greg Mulholland, chair of the BPC, also questioned why the company had inserted a clause saying the terms of the new deal must remain confidential.
He said: “Tenants have… told us they feel bullied and let down at a time when they are already facing having no trade and no income.
“Star Pubs & Bars should be following the example of the companies who have cancelled rents on pubs that are closed.
“Tenants simply cannot rack up huge rental debts and be expected to pay them back, when they have no income and when it’s clear that pubs will remain closed for some time and trade is likely to be affected longer term.”
In a letter to Star’s chief executive, Lawson Mountstevens, the BPC said he was “in real danger of destroying trust amongst many tenants”.
It added: “Your own tenants have described this letter/agreement – and Star’s behaviour – as bullying and high-pressure tactics more akin to a loan shark than to the behaviour of the UK’s largest pub owning company and their supposed business partners.”
Star is owned by Heineken and previously said tenants would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Mr Mountstevens said in a recent blog post: “The Government has been clear that those support grants and loans have been put in place to allow companies to continue paying rent to keep the wheels of the economy turning.
“Star Pubs & Bars is providing rent relief to all our leased and tenanted pubs on an individual basis.
“We are also suspending the collection of reduced rent until at least June (or when pubs reopen) and will be flexible on repayment plans to support pubs with their cash flow.”
He added: “As we have a very large and varied estate of 2,500 pubs, our approach to supporting our pubs with their rent has therefore been conducted on an individual basis in a fair and equitable way.
“Once restrictions are lifted, we want to see all of our pubs open, trading and operating as viable businesses as soon as possible.”