Image above: The Hothouse Cafe
Cafe likely to close
Samy Amer, the owner of the Hothouse cafe on Chiswick High Road, has lost his licence to sell alcohol. He told The Chiswick Calendar it is now doubtful he will be able to keep the cafe open.
The Home Office asked Hounslow Council to revoke his licence because they had raided the cafe twice, and on both occasions found people working there illegally. They found he was also paying his staff less than the minimum wage. Mr Amer has paid £55,000 in fines following the two raids.
On the first occasion the cafe was raided, in 2019, immigration officers found four women working there illegally. In the second raid, in June 2023, they found an Algerian chef who did not have permission to work in this country. Several of the workers told immigration officers they were being paid £7 an hour. Officers worked out that another was being paid £4.58 an hour.
Hounslow Council’s Licensing Panel, chaired by Chiswick Riverside councillor Amy Croft (Labour), made the decision to revoke Mr Amer’s licence, saying there had been a significant breach of the licence conditions, which was quite clear and had been repeated.
Cllr Croft told us:
“Although the panel was sympathetic to the effect this will have on the business, it wasn’t able to condone such significant breaches of the law.”
Cllr Joanna Biddolph defends Hothouse owner
The Panel received more than twenty representations from the public supporting Mr Amer, and one representation from his local councillor, Joanna Biddolph. None of his supporters were at the panel to speak up for him in person except Cllr Biddolph, who supported him in his bid for the licence not to be revoked.
The Home Office put forward three immigration officers to argue for the licence to be revoked. They said not only had Mr Amer employed workers illegally and paid them illegally on two occasions, but he had been “aggressive” when they questioned him and his staff. Senior immigration officer Jamie Foster said:
“The licence holder became very hostile. He was marching around, raising his voice, filming officers on his phone. I would have expected him to act in a professional manner.”
Cllr Biddolph said that while she could not condone Mr Amer’s behaviour as outlined by the Home Office officers:
“I find him honest with me. He is adamant that the report is inaccurate.”
Mr Amer said he had checked documents and denied paying his staff illegally.
Speaking about the difficulties faced by businesses in the hospitality industry post Covid, Cllr Biddolph was sympathetic to Mr Amer’s situation, saying:
“In desperate times people make desperate decisions.”
Mr Foster said:
“There needs to be some remedy for wrongdoing, and a clear message sent to other businesses.
“The ability to work illegally is a key driver of immigration. It encourages people to take risks and negatively impacts on wages in this country.”
“If I had been fined £40,000 and had to mortgage my house to pay the fine, I think I’d have made very sure it didn’t happen again” – Cllr Daanish Saeed
Mr Amer’s lawyer Jon Payne wanted the panel to renew his licence with conditions. The first condition he suggested was that Me Amer should carry out proper checks on whether potential staff had the right to work, which senior Home Office immigration officer Jamie Foster pointed out he should have been doing anyway, by law.
Another suggested condition was that Mr Amer should have a secure place to store copies of paperwork proving his staff’s right to work.
Mr Payne told the panel Mr Amer had checked his staff had the right paperwork but he had not had a sufficient system in place for making checks and record keeping, but after being fined twice, 40,000 for the first offence and £15,000 for the second, he now had.
Cllr Daanish Saeed asked why he had not put a proper system in place after the first fine:
“If I had been fined £40,000 and had to mortgage my house to pay the fine, I think I’d have made very sure it didn’t happen again”, she said.
Mr Amer could not explain why he did not have a copy of the French passport he claimed he was shown by the Algerian chef. He also claimed to be paying a living wage.
Cllr Croft asked why he had not produced any payslips dated earlier than December 2023, ie. after he found out the Home Office had applied to review his licence:
“I’m sure your solicitor would have advised you to produce payslips from the relevant period”, she said.
Again, Mr Amer failed to give the panel a convincing answer.
The three councillors on the panel were Cllr Amy Croft, Chair, (Chiswick Riverside), Cllr Daanish Saeed (Hounslow East) and Cllr Richard Foote (Hanworth Village). The panel met on Tuesday 6 February. MrAmer has the right to appeal the decision within 21 days.