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All Change, All Change

The first week in April is traditionally a time for the advent of new legislation and this year is no exception, with a host of new measures being ushered in before the prorogation of Parliament. Here are some affecting the trade.

The Deregulation Act received Royal Assent on 26 March. As explained by my colleague Andy in this edition of the Licensing News, it brings about a number of changes to the licensing regime, including increasing the number of Temporary Event Notices permitted per premises from 12 to 15 from 1 January 2016, abolishing the requirement to renew personal licences from 1 April 2015, and dispensing with the need to report lost personal and premises licences to the Police before a replacement is issued from 26 May 2015.

The much-awaited relaxation of the rules surrounding regulated entertainment came into force on 6 April. Unamplified live music does not need to be covered by a licence at any time between 8am and 11pm, and now amplified and recorded music can be played between the same times in alcohol licensed premises without a licence, provided that the audience is no more than 500 strong.

The Act also gives Licensing Authorities the power to declare certain areas, premises or hours where the sale of hot food and drink, which would otherwise require to be licensed as late night refreshment between the hours of 11pm and 5am, to be de-regulated. However these changes will need to be brought about by secondary legislation, so this will fall to the new government – of whatever complexion – to progress.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is now in force and has removed the ‘cap’ on fines that Magistrates’ Courts may hand out in respect of hundreds of offences. This means that a number of offences under the Licensing Act now carry unlimited fines. These include carrying on unlicensed activities (previously capped at £20,000), allowing the sale of alcohol to children (£5,000), persistently selling alcohol to children (£5,000) and contravening a closure order (£20,000).

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act has also received Royal Assent. This commits the next government to deliver the Statutory Code and Adjudicator for pubs by April 2016.

The Deregulation Act introduces a new obligation for regulators to “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”, and to ensure that regulatory action is only taken when necessary and proportionate to do so. It remains to be seen how this curb will operate in practice in the licensing arena.

Finally, The Home Office has published Guidance on how to avoid infringing the ban on selling alcohol at below the cost of duty plus VAT. There is not much here to trouble pubs. Whilst the Guidance helpfully gives duty rates and worked examples of the calculations to be made, the illustration given for pubs is an offer of a table meal with a pint of 4% strength beer included in the price. The total cost must not be below the permitted price of the beer which, at 51p, is unlikely to lead to the re-writing of many menus!