Welcome to our round up of key licensing issues and developments. This month, the often strict licensing controls in Westminster are facing adverse press coverage in relation to the decision to ‘pull the plug’ on a concert in Hyde Park.

Yet again, in a month where licensing is hitting the headlines, this seems to be a bumper issue, as there are numerous changes on the horizon for operators across the leisure and retail industries. Highlights include:  

  • Suspensions of Premises Licences for overdue annual fees. Councils have been required to suspend Licences for non-payment of annual fees since 26 April this year. It is imperative that your annual fee payments are scheduled and paid on time to ensure continuity of trade.  
  • The Late Night Levy – Proposed levy amounts have now been published and the levy provisions are due to come into force on 31 October 2012, although the required consultation will mean that the earliest date a levy could be introduced is likely to be June 2013. The proposed exemptions are very narrow and will not apply to the vast majority of operators. If your Licence allows sales of alcohol between midnight and 6am and the Local Authority introduces a levy for some or all of those hours, you will be caught –where implemented, the levy will apply to the whole of a Local Authority Area and to both on and off sales. Your annual levy liability will be between £299 and £4440, depending upon the rateable value of your premises and whether or not you are used exclusively or primarily for the sale of alcohol.  
  • Early Morning Restriction Orders – also likely to be in force from October. If a Local Authority decides to impose an “EMRO” in an area where your premises are situated, this will prevent alcohol sales during the specified period, which can be anywhere from midnight to 6am. It is proposed that there will be no exemptions to EMROs whatsoever, but an EMRO will not apply to the whole Local Authority area so its applicability to your premises will depend on where the ‘line’ is drawn.  
  • The late night levy and EMRO provisions could lead to increased costs and/ or reduced revenue, if the measures prove popular amongst Authorities. Any Local Authority could elect to introduce one, or even both, of these measures. For example, if your Licence allows the sale of alcohol until 3am and your Authority introduces a levy for sales between midnight and 2am and an EMRO in your area from 2am to 6am, you will face a double whammy – you will need to pay to operate until 2am and your sales for the last hour will be lost.
  • Operation Condor – On the weekend of 29 June to 1 July further Licensing and SIA Inspections across London were carried out on a wide scale, in a repeat of a very similar operation in February. 4,896 premises were visited during the course of the weekend. 658 breaches were identified and there were 420 arrests. The repeat of Operation Condor highlights the importance of robust due diligence and staff briefings/ training on potential enforcement visits. It is proof, if proof were needed, that unannounced inspections and test purchases can and do take place. It is unlikely that targeted operations such as Condor will be restricted to the Capital for long.  
  • A Draft Code for Age Restricted Products and Services - published by BIS (dealing with the sale of items such as tobacco, alcohol, knives and fireworks). The Code is aimed at Local Authorities and other enforcement agencies. From a responsible operator’s perspective, the benefits of the Code are that it stresses the principles of ‘good regulation’ i.e. that it should be proportionate, consistent accountable, transparent and targeted. If you wish to respond to the consultation to give an industry perspective, you have until 28 September 2012.  
  • Early indications that Primary Care Trusts are flexing their muscles as Responsible Authorities under the Licensing Act (a role they have had since April this year). There are already a number of reports of objections to Licence applications from health bodies. Perhaps the most notable is the alleged objection by NHS Cumbria to a Licence application for a new supermarket on the basis that alcohol should be kept separately and served through separate tills.  
  • Westminster City Council’s announcement that they will now be charging for pre-application advice from Environmental Health with regard to applications under the Licensing Act 2003. The proposed level of these charges is over £1,100 for a ‘large’ application.

Unless you are confident that your procedures would stand up to an enforcement operation such as “Operation Condor”, contact us for audits, advice on procedures and policies and/ or training. Equally, if you have failed a test purchase or inspection and need assistance for any subsequent meeting, interview, prosecution or Licence review, we can help.

We can also assist if you need any advice on the effect of the proposed changes in licensing to your business, or if you want to vary your licences in due course to avoid liability to pay the levy.