Lawyers have spoken out against the new licensing reforms, claiming that pub companies could be left in the lurch by disgruntled licensees.
The new licensing laws, which are expected to come into effect in July 2004, will see a new split licensing system which will require both personal and premises licences for each pub.
The premises licence will allow a pub to sell alcohol while the personal licence will grant an individual the right to serve it.
Under the new system the premises licence must be held by someone who is "conducting a business" on the premises.
The terminology used is not clear enough, experts argue.
The fear is that tenanted pub companies - such as Unique and Punch - would not be able to hold the licence as they are not actively running the businesses.
Jeremy Allen, partner of licensing solicitor Poppleston Allen, told delegates at this month's IBC licensing conference that he believes there will be a potential conflict of interest between pub companies and tenants over the premises licence.
"A tenant could be able to surrender a premises licence and a pub company would not even know," Mr Allen warned.
This could mean that a licensee who is unhappy with their pub company could hand back their premises licence to the local authority and the pub could continue trading unlicensed without the knowledge of the owning company.
Anyone found guilty of running an unlicensed venue can carry the risk of six months imprisonment or a fine of £20,000.
Richard Williams, licensing solicitor from The Publican's legal team at Joelson Wilson, said: "It is arguable that a pub company is not carrying on a business involving a licensable activity. Some tenants could put a pub company in a difficult position if they own the premises licence.
"Tenanted pub companies and actual owners of the pubs will have to be careful to ensure that premises licences are registered in their name."
What is required?
- the name and address of the holder
- a plan of the premises
- the period the licence covers
- activities for which the premises will be used
- the name of the premises supervisor
- conditions of the licence.