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How Healthy is your Licence?

Have you looked at your licence(s) recently? The Licensing Act requires you to keep a full copy at your premises, as well as to display the Summary in a prominent place. Do you know where your licence is? Is it tucked away in a file in the office, or locked away in the safe? And when is the last time you got it out and had a look at it?

I’ve been involved in a due diligence exercise recently, visiting a number of licensed premises and checking for compliance with their licence. This has turned up a number of instances where licence conditions are not being complied with and where the premises’ layout is not as shown on the approved licence plan, which forms part of the licence. All of this can be avoided by giving your licence(s) a periodic “health-check”.

If you have carried out works at premises which change the layout of, for example, the bar, internal walls or exits, you must make sure that you have sought the approval of the Licensing Authority for the new arrangements. If not, you will be trading otherwise than in accordance with your licence, which is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 6 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of £20,000. Depending on the nature of the change, your Licensing Authority may accept a minor variation, which should go through within 3 weeks, if there is no impact on the licensing objectives under the Act. Some Licensing Officers may be prepared to “turn a blind eye” and allow you to continue to trade with the new layout while the application is processed.

On the other hand, I have known some to take a hard line, and in one case I dealt with before Christmas, sales could not be made from a new bar until the variation to the plan to reflect its presence had been approved – although customers were allowed to sit and drink in the new area because consumption of alcohol is not a licensable activity. In the run-up to Christmas, with the premises hosting a number of large parties, you can imagine the inconvenience that this caused. It is of course possible to cover yourself in the interim using Temporary Event Notices – assuming you haven’t used up your allocation for the year – but 5 working days’ notice is required as an absolute minimum and no more than 499 persons may be on the premises at any one time when the premises are operating under a TEN.

It is thus essential that if you carry out works or a refurbishment you consider your licence, take a look at the approved plan and assess the impact of the changes. Bear in mind that anything that might affect means of escape is unlikely to be capable of being dealt with as a minor variation because it has a potential impact on public safety. In such a case you will need to proceed with a full variation, advertise the application in the local newspaper and display a blue notice on the premises for 28 days.

You should also be aware that even shifting moveable furniture around, or relocating fire and safety equipment, might result in non-compliance with your licence, unless the plan includes the necessary wording to allow you some flexibility in these respects. We can help you with an appropriate form of words, as part of a licence “health-check”.

Another area that any “health-check” should focus on is the conditions that are imposed on your licence. In some cases the style of an operation evolves over time, such that some conditions are no longer necessary or appropriate. Maybe you have ceased staging events that warrant employing SIA-registered door staff, yet a requirement to do so still features on your licence, for example.

It is essential that you do comply with all of the conditions on your licence because, again, failure to do so means that you are committing the offence of trading otherwise than in accordance with the licence. Another area which sometimes leads to difficulty is conditions that have historically crept on to the licence in error and should never have appeared there in the first place. Tracking back and persuading Licensing Authorities of their error can prove tricky and so it is important to pick up any errors sooner rather than later – another reason to conduct periodic “health-checks”.

If you can’t persuade your Licensing Authority that a condition is mistakenly on your licence, or if you need to have a condition removed for any other reason, you may be able to achieve this via a minor variation application, if the change will not have any adverse impact on the licensing objectives. Failing this, a full variation with a 28-day publication and consultation period will be required.

If you’d like us to conduct a “health-check” of your licence(s), or have any questions or concerns about your obligations, please contact us: one of the team would be happy to help.