Fees still in limbo as bills are issued

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Related tags: Licence, License

What an irony! The very day after I finally received the first of three long-awaited licences from Westminster, another envelope landed on to the mat...

What an irony! The very day after I finally received the first of three long-awaited licences from Westminster, another envelope

landed on to the mat - this time asking for more money!

Yes, the annual fee request had arrived,

giving us 14 days to pay - for a licence that has taken them 15 months to produce.

We are still waiting for the other two licences, but eagerly anticipate receiving the bills for the annual fee first, which will be something of a record. My colleagues in other parts of the country tell me similar stories, but, of course, we are just making it all up...

It should be remembered, however, that the fee is not linked directly to the licence, as was the case with the old-style entertainment licence. In those days, if you did not pay the fee by the exact date of renewal, then the licence was extinguished. Completely. You did not get a second chance, and had to re-apply for a fresh licence. In addition, if you had a special hours certificate, extending the bar hours, that went down the drain as well, and another application had to be made.

So there is an improvement for the trade. Your licence is not extinguished if you put this smart yellow bill on the pile marked "pending" for a week or so.

However, it has to be paid, officially on the anniversary of the date that the licence itself was granted, according to the Act. But there has been considerable inconsistency in the way licensing authorities have acted - understandable in the circumstances. In a number of areas, they have taken the view that the fee should not be charged until the anniversary of the new licensing system coming into effect, which was 24 November 2006. There were some early demands, but they were not in the majority.

The fee becomes a debt to the council,

similar to any other council charge. It will become the responsibility of the finance department, not the licensing authority, and if it remains unpaid it will be enforced in the same way as any other charge or tax levied at a local level. Eventually, non-payment could result in court action for recovery.

However, none of this will affect the licence itself. It is not grounds for review that the licence holder has not paid the annual fee. That is not one of the licensing objectives!

We are, of course, still awaiting the outcome of the review of fees led by Sir Les Elton. At one stage, it was anticipated that this might be concluded by now, but that is clearly not the case and it may well be the New Year before we find out the important news, viz:

l When is the fee to be paid in 2007?

l How much is it going to be?

l Will there be any exceptions?

Understandably, local authorities have been clamouring for more money, while the licensed trade and particularly the small-scale businesses have been arguing that the fee basis is unfair and does not take the realities of business into account. The larger operators, faced with a bill some 20 or even 30 times smaller than it was in 2004/5, are keeping a fairly low-profile.

This is, of course, yet another problem over the "one size fits all" licensing system. It can never take account of the huge variety of businesses and individuals that go to make up this trade, and unfairness is bound to be

perceived in such a system. Lack of flexibility by some authorities has not helped. But we need to make the best of a bad job.

Related topics: Professional Services & Utilities

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