The government has at last published its Draft Regulations for the new Licensing Act, giving the trade more precise information on how to apply for licences, the timescales involved and more detail about the requirements for the various documents that must be submitted with applications.
February 7, 2005 has been announced as the first appointed date and the transition period will run from this date to the second appointed day, which is yet to be confirmed but is expected to be in November 2005. From February 7, retailers will have six months to convert their existing licences to the new system.
Robert Botkai, partner and head of property & licensing at solicitors Winckworth Sherwood, said: “It’s not leaving a great deal of time if we are to be ready by February 7 – we’re hoping the dates will be extended because it’s not enough time to convert. There are huge differences between local authority policies so you need to look into these before making your new application.”
With applications going to the local authority under the new system, retailers will have to consider their local council’s individual policy on licensing – of which there are 400 different policies – as well as the act itself, the Guidance, which was published in July this year, and the new Draft Regulations.
The actual qualification for fuel retailers has not changed – forecourts must still prove that their site is not primarily used as a garage to be granted a licence to sell alcohol. But the new system also gives local people, including the police, the opportunity to make objections – or ‘representations’ as the government refers to them – which could lead to more hearings for forecourts.
“Garages will attract greater numbers of representations to satisfy the local authority that the premises is not used primarily as a garage, so I expect a greater number of hearings for forecourts,” said Botkai.
“Our worry is that the local councils are far more likely to be swayed by the representations from local people – their voters – so our advice to forecourts is to apply for a licence now under the present regime.”
The new licensing laws mean that all businesses that sell alcohol to the public will need a new form of premises licence. In addition, each premises licence holder will need to name a designated premises supervisor (DPS) who will be responsible for alcohol sales. That person must also hold a personal licence.
During the transition period, anyone who holds a current licence will be granted a personal licence so retailers are being encouraged to maximise the number of licence holders they have now. Personal licences run for 10 years, after which they will need to be renewed, so it’s important for retailers to record the expiry date, according to Botkai. The duties of the personal licence holder are to authorise the sale of alcohol so off licences need to have enough licensees on the premises to cover the whole day. “You will need to have more licensees on the premises than you do now,” warned Botkai. “This could be a problem for some premises. It may mean that some will require junior members of staff to be personal licence holders.”
The creation of the DPS, meanwhile, provides the police and the licensing authority with an identifiable person at each licensed premises. “This seems to be at odds with the idea of a portable licence and is an added complication for operators and traders,” said Botkai. “If the DPS leaves the company, you need to act quickly to get someone else named on the licence.”
Without a named DPS for each site, or if the DPS does not hold a personal licence, it will be unlawful to sell alcohol. The process of appointing a DPS entails a transfer application, consent forms and the re-issuing of the licence. “The government has assured us that the majority of transfer applications will be dealt with administratively, thereby eliminating court costs,” said Botkai.
Because it will become a criminal offence not to have a DPS in place at all times, if the DPS leaves the company, retailers have just seven days to notify the local authority of a replacement.
“Licensees need a system in place to put a replacement DPS there if the DPS leaves the company,” said Botkai. “The DPS could get you in hot water.”
For sites that wish to apply for a licence in the future, they may apply for a provisional statement, which is intended to replace the provisional licences which exist under the current system.
When it comes to making variations to your licence, Botkai foresees headaches: “The only thing that doesn’t require a major variation application – which means completing the 17-page form, advertising in the local paper, the whole process – is changing the DPS.”
And under the current system conditions only apply to on-licences, but this will change under the new regime. Conditions may be attached to licences tailored to the individual style and characteristics of the premises. “The mandatory conditions are more for the nightclub industry but off licences have got caught up in this,” said Botkai.
With regards to fees, the government is yet to announce them but Botkai said they’re likely to be based on rateable values. Applications for new premises licences and variations could be between £100-500, with an annual charge of £50-150. Applications for personal licences are likely to be £30.