by Ewan Turney
The country's top firm of licensing solicitors has admitted that even it is struggling to comprehend the regulations of the Licensing Act with any degree of certainty.
Two months after the first appointed day (7 February) and with four months to go until the application deadline (6 August) very few applications have so far been made. Solicitor Poppleston Allen blames the late laying of the regulations, complex forms and guidance notes, licensee apathy and general confusion.
"As a firm, we have a large number of licensing lawyers working in one place, yet we find it difficult to interpret the Act and regulations with any degree of certainty," said solicitor Jeremy Allen. "If this is true for us, then there are going to be a large number of licensees, whether under advice or not, whose applications will not be properly thought through and will subsequently have to apply for a variation or trade under a commercial disadvantage."
The firm said that despite one of its major clients being determined to have everything ready for all their premises for the first appointed day, it had still not submitted a single form. "The principal problem has lain with the very late laying of the plans required," he said.
Allen believes the Government could have taken a few simple steps to ease the process for everyone involved in licensing. "If ever a situation called for a discount to be offered for early submission of applications then this was it,"he said. "A discount would have been a sensible inducement to stop the last-minute rush."
Instead, the annual fee becomes payable on the anniversary of the grant, making it advantageous to submit forms late.
He also believes a slip rule where licensing authorities could waive irregularities in application forms as long as nobody is prejudiced would be sensible and called for the transitional period to be extended and the second appointed day to be put back to May or June 2006.
Reasons for low number of applications
l Late laying of the regulations
l Complex forms with unhelpful guidance
l No detailed guidance on how to complete the forms
l No certainty that any forthcoming guidance would be correct
l Confusion over fees
l Confusion over effect of transfers
l Fees regulations giving a bonus for late submission
l Natural procrastination by licensees "the tax return syndrome"