Couple's pub dream ends in nightmare
A FAMILY S dream of running a quaint country pub has turned into a nightmare of spiralling debts and an eviction order. Gary and Sandra Higginbotham took over The Old Fox pub in School Lane, Bricket Wood, a year ago but due to the slump in trade across t
A FAMILY'S dream of running a quaint country pub has turned into a nightmare of spiralling debts and an eviction order.
Gary and Sandra Higginbotham took over The Old Fox pub in School Lane, Bricket Wood, a year ago but due to the slump in trade across the industry they have struggled to meet the monthly rent of nearly £3,000.
The brewery, Punch Taverns, has now threatened them with an eviction order because of the arrears - which stand at £13,000 - but the couple say it has been impossible to meet the rent demands with the amount of trade they have.
The situation worsened at Christmas and the couple, who live at the pub with their daughter Charlotte, negotiated to pay half-rent during the winter months which they would make up during the busier summer period.
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But Punch Taverns then stopped giving them supplies on credit and Gary, who also works elsewhere full-time, has been using his wages to pay for beer upfront.
He said: "I haven't got the ability to purchase the beer I actually need - therefore I am losing money."
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During a recent busy weekend, the pub, which has a large garden, ran out of beer but Gary could not contact anyone at the brewery to tell them he needed more and was forced to buy it elsewhere.
He left a message with Punch explaining the situation but the following week he claimed they fined him £1,000 for having beer from another brewery.
With the money they paid to take over and the other debts incurred, Gary and Sandra stand to lose more than £70,000 if evicted.
Gary said: "I do not believe anybody else would do better with this pub than what we are doing. It is a little country pub at the end of a lane, strangled by exorbitant rent and premium prices on beer. We don't stand a chance of ever making a profit."
He added: "We are not unsuspecting and not stupid - we didn't come in here with the intention of making a lot of money and we never thought we would, but we never thought that it wouldn't even make ends meet."
Steve Bury, South Herts' pub preservation officer for CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), said the situation was not very different from that in an awful lot of pubs.
He maintained Punch Taverns should have set Gary's rent in line with the amount of trade that was possible and he also said that every pub bought alcohol on credit and if that facility was taken away licensees were in "serious trouble".
Punch Taverns confirmed that they do not take beer orders over the weekend and said orders had to be made on Friday at the latest.
But regional operations director Ian Marchant said the brewery was committed to building long-term relationships with its licensees.
He explained that they clearly outlined the terms and conditions of agreement with licensees before they took on a pub and had responsibility to ensure their licensees complied with the agreement.
He added: "Now, more than ever, Punch offers unrivalled support to its licensees.