UK: More Change To The Licensing Regime Ahead?

Last Updated: 3 December 2013
Article by James Daglish

Alcohol consumption, and night time leisure activities, remain hot topics for journalists and politicians alike. Hard on the heels of this Government's "re-balancing" reforms of the Licensing Act 2003, further changes are afoot.

The "rebalancing" reforms, which came into effect at the beginning of 2012, were followed by a review at the end of 2012 of the wider subject of the Government's Alcohol Strategy. The elements of that consultation and review which received the most interest, and column inches, were those relating to the potential ban on multi-buy promotions and the possible minimum pricing per unit of alcohol. However, there were other – perhaps less glamorous but nevertheless significant – proposed reforms affecting the Licensing Act 2003 regime.

On the subject of the current mandatory Premises Licence conditions, the Government has stated that it intends to make changes in three areas.

  1. Ban on irresponsible promotions – all activities currently listed as potentially being irresponsible in the mandatory conditions are to be classed as de facto irresponsible in all circumstances; the exemption for table meals that currently applies to the ban is to be removed; businesses are to be under an absolute obligation to ensure that irresponsible promotions do not occur rather than simply having to take "all reasonable steps"; the specific reference to free or discounted alcohol in connection with a "sporting event" is to be removed as the Government sees this as already covered by the ban; and the existing condition banning the dispensing of alcohol by one person into the mouth of another is to be incorporated into the irresponsible condition.
  2. Responsible Drinking – responsible drinking is to be encouraged with the requirement for on-trade premises to list the price of small measures on menus and price lists and to raise customer awareness of the availability of smaller servings, such as half pints of beer and single measures of spirits; in addition, the water that must be made available to on-trade customers has to be drinkable (the mind boggles as to what prompted that!).
  3. Age Verification – the intention here is to broaden the definition of ID documents and to underline the responsibility of operators and managers, and in particular the designated premises supervisor, for implementing age verification policies.

Scotland has already introduced the licensing objective of 'promoting public health'. In England & Wales this has been left somewhat hanging in the air, with the Government merely stating that "it is unclear how this proposal could be implemented in practice".

A new form of temporary licence is to be introduced, the community and ancillary sellers' notice "CAN". This will be available to "ancillary sellers" and "community groups", which broadly seems to mean those whose primary line of business is not the sale of alcohol or provision of regulated entertainment. The idea is that a CAN will be an alternative to having to obtain either a full premises licence or submitting multiple temporary event notices. In effect this will be a brand new form of licence, for which the Government envisages there being no application process hearings or lengthy forms.

The annual limit to the number of Temporary Event Notices that can apply to a particular premises are to be increased from 12 to 15. The maximum number of days per year, 21, is to remain.

The Government wants to remove the requirement to have a licence for late-night refreshment for businesses within "low-risk locations"; it is intended that this be implemented by way of locally applied exemptions.

The requirement to renew personal licences every ten years is to be abolished.

The requirement to report the loss or theft of licences issued under the Licensing Act 2003 to the Police, and to receive a crime number, is to be removed.

The existing ban on alcohol sales at motorway services areas is to be kept under review.

It remains to be seen if the proposed changes make it to the statute book. If they do, for most operators we are sure that these changes will require only a minor adjustment to their working practices, if at all. We are equally sure, though, that most would welcome an end to the continual tinkering with the licensing regime: a chance for everyone to catch their breath!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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