This week marks the beginning of the festive period following the end of the two-week circuit breaker introduced by the Northern Ireland Executive on 27 November to help drive down the infection rate of COVID.

The circuit breaker reintroduced a number of restrictions across different sectors that required the closure of non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment facilities and all licensed premises. Certain exceptions meant that licensed premises offering hot food takeaway or the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises could remain open.

The reopening of the hospitality sector comes at a time when Christmas festivities would usually be in full swing, however this year the reality will be much different.

The Executive have confirmed that a number of restrictions that were in place prior to the two-week circuit breaker are to remain in force, and they are –

  • Licensed premises that are permitted to open must close by 11pm. Food and drink must not be sold, supplied, purchased or obtained after 10:30pm. Premises with outdoor areas should encourage customers to use the outdoor space if possible;
  • A maximum of six people from no more than two households can be seated at a table;
  • Alcohol can only be consumed in licensed premises when individuals are seated and to accompany a main or substantial meal;
  • Unless it is not reasonably practicable, the individuals seated at a table must be two metres apart from the next table; and
  • Licensed premises may not allow dancing, music for dancing or live music to be played.

Licensed premises throughout Northern Ireland have had to adapt their businesses to ensure they can continue to trade whilst complying with the current restrictions, which has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Pavement Licence and Alterations Applications being made.

A pavement café licence, issued under The Licensing of Pavement Cafés Act (Northern Ireland) 2014, enables the licence holder to place temporary furniture to be used for the consumption of food or drink supplied in the course of their business on a public area. Under the 2014 Act, furniture is temporary if it can be removed within 20 minutes and a public area means a place in the open air to which the public has unfettered access as of right. Licensed premises that abut public pathways have utilised pavement café licences to enable the continued trade of their business. Applications are made to the Local Council for the area in which the premises are situated and pavement café licences may be granted for a specified period of time or remain valid indefinitely.

Any licensed premises that wishes to alter its licensed plans and increase the area for the sale and consumption of alcohol (up to 15% of its current licensed area) must apply to the County Court for an application for consent to alterations under The Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. Premises with unused space have utilised these applications to ensure compliance with current restrictions and increase the space in which they can sell and allow alcohol to be consumed. Such applications are to be accompanied by plans prepared by an architect clearly delineating the area to be altered which, if outside, must be enclosed by a suitable form of fencing/barrier.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our  Tourism & Licensing team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

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.