Licensing: Changes Ahead
After the fanfare announcement from the coalition about “Rebalancing the Licensing Act” back in July this year, many bar, club, off-licence and pub owners are concerned about when the Home Office is bringing in the changes to the Licensing Act. The fact is, however, that it is a rather long way off. The Home Office recently confirmed that any proposed changes to the Licensing Act would not be brought into force until 2012.
Licensing Partner Maria Guida looks at what’s on the table.
As commented on earlier, the proposals include:
- Overhauling the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to premises that are causing problems.
- Allowing councils and the police to permanently shut down any shop or bar that is repeatedly selling alcohol to children.
- Doubling the maximum fine for those caught selling alcohol to minors to £20,000.
- Allowing local councils to charge more for late-night licences, which will help pay for additional policing.
- Banning the sale of alcohol below cost price.
However, there is no confirmed timescale for the implementation of the proposed changes to the Licensing Act 2003. There was a recent consultation on the proposed changes which closed on 8th September 2010.
The Home Office has reiterated that it intends for the majority of the proposals in the Home Office consultation will be introduced via the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, due to be introduced into Parliament early in the first session. Implementation dates will depend upon the Parliamentary passage of the Bill and the date for Royal Assent has yet to be confirmed. Whilst some of the proposed changes will be within the primary legislation, others will require secondary (further) regulations and also changes to the statutory guidance.
The position in relation to local authority policy reviews under the Licensing Act 2003 remains unchanged. Therefore, local authorities should not attempt to pre-empt any changes to the current legislation, and policies should be based only on the law as it currently stands. Proposals to remove the three-yearly requirements for reviewing licensing policy statements are not likely to be implemented in time to change the current requirement to review licensing policies in January 2011.
A local authority’s licensing policy sets out the manner in which licensing applications for the sale and supply of alcohol, the provision of regulated entertainment and the provision of late night refreshment are considered.
Whilst this policy must be reviewed every three years (see below), each local authority is also required to keep its policy under review within this period and make such revisions as it considers appropriate.
The current policies will be revised to reflect changing circumstances and any relevant concerns and comments received. The new policies will continue to focus upon promoting the four statutory Licensing Objectives:
- Prevention of crime and disorder
- Public safety
- Protection of children from harm
- Prevention of public nuisance
Local authorities are currently considering changes to their licensing policies. For example, the City of London is currently inviting interested parties to comment on its licensing proposals for its new policy. The deadline for this particular consultation is 30th September and, if you are in the industry, you ought to check with your local authority as to whether they are having a consultation on their licensing policy. If so, it is a chance to have your say and influence the shape of your local licensing policy.
In Tower Hamlets, there is talk of making Brick Lane a Special Policy Area, but the only vague reference to this in the local authority’s licensing policy proposal is that they will not make any area a Special Policy Area without consulting local businesses, responsible authorities and local residents.
As part of the proposed changes to their own licensing policy, Hackney Council is considering extending their Special Policy Area in Shoreditch.
Hackney states that its Special Policy Area “creates a presumption that we will refuse any licence applications made in this area (where objections have been made and the applicant has been unable to demonstrate that they will not add to the negative impact being experienced on the licensing objectives as a result of the concentrations of licensed premises in the area)”. Hackney also proposes to make parts of Dalston and Stoke Newington Special Policy Areas.
Hackney want their Special Policy for Shoreditch made stricter. Applicants will now need to show that there are “exceptional circumstances” as to why their business will not add to the negative impact already being experienced in the area, for example, by not adding to the levels of crime and disorder and/or public nuisance. Exceptional circumstances need to be genuinely exceptional, and so, for example, would not refer to the quality and track record of the management, the good character of the applicant or the extent of any variation sought.
Whilst the major changes may seem a long way off, the local changes are really just around the corner, and they could be just as major.
Anyone can comment on the above proposals by clicking the above link. You might wonder whether these measures are really needed and whether the proposals are just strangling local businesses in trendy Hoxton. This is your chance to have your say (and feel free to air your views here).
To contact Maria directly, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)20 7749 2700.