While the licensing regime may appear to be deregulatory in nature, the simple reality is that there are in excess of 50 offences under the Licensing Act, including underage selling, selling to those who are drunk and breaches of licence conditions.
Prosecution for these offences carries the risk of relatively high financial penalties with maximums ranging anywhere from £500 to £20,000.
There is also the risk of review of the premises licence, which from the point of view of the individual carries the risk of the DPS being removed from that position and from the point of view of the premises licence holder the ultimate sanction is revocation of the premises licence itself.
I would always suggest that it is better to be pro-active than reactive, although reaction following a problematic visit can be very important. I will begin with some general points in anticipation of enforcement visits rather than following them.
- Regularly read the terms and conditions of your premises licence to ensure that all are being complied with to the letter. Operational changes may require a minor variation to be undertaken, for example, to rectify something in the licence that is now redundant. It is amazing how many managers are still unaware of some of the terms of their licence.
- Make sure that all staff training is bang up to date. This should include training on basic licensing, terms and conditions of the licence itself, health and safety, food safety and fire safety as appropriate.
Make sure that you act upon any information gleaned from the authorities about forthcoming enforcement campaigns. It is not unusual for the police to give advanced warning of test-purchase operations so that they come as no surprise. In the event that a test purchase is subsequently failed you can be sure that the authorities will use the warning as an aggravating factor in pointing out that you knew the test purchase was coming and still failed it.
It is important, therefore, to use the information to your advantage and make sure that you have taken the opportunity to inform staff and retrain them in the relevant area.
Even where good preventative measures have been undertaken something can still go wrong on the night. Should an adverse visit take place, your reaction to it may be all important in determining the ultimate outcome. You should:
- Thoroughly investigate what went wrong and why. There is nothing to lose from showing a positive attitude in a negative situation.
- Retrain staff with regards to any deficiencies found and make sure training is properly documented.
- Take any disciplinary action as appropriate so that it can be demonstrated that management and/or the company have taken any issues discovered very seriously.
- Communicate the steps that you have taken to the relevant enforcement officer and offer to let them have sight of the results of your investigation.
An adverse enforcement visit is clearly undesirable, but need not necessarily be the end of the world. Having good policies and procedures in place to begin with should limit potential shortcomings, and getting to grips with what has gone wrong immediately afterwards provides further evidence of a responsible operation.