Government's offence overload

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing act Premises licence License

Coulson: against Licensing Act change
Coulson: against Licensing Act change
The Government is increasing the number of "relevant offences" under the Licensing Act that cause objection to an applicant, says Peter Coulson.

Some years ago I was heavily involved in the original versions of the National Licensee's Certificate. We used to worry then how the incoming licensee would manage the amount of information that he or she had to memorise in order to pass the exam.

Now it must be even worse. The Government has decided to increase by what looks like 200% the number of "relevant offences" under the Licensing Act that will trigger a potential objection to an applicant. Among these is a whole raft of (hopefully) rare and rather unpleasant sexual offences, which the compilers of the consultation have gleefully listed in full detail and presumably will have to be included in schedule 4 to the Act for all to read.

I gather from the wording of the consultation that as it is the police who have insisted on all these being included, this is seen as more or less "done and dusted", the consultation merely being the obligatory window-dressing before the law is changed. Certainly, I do not feel that any meaningful changes will be made if one or two of us protest that this is quite honestly a step too far.

While I am sure that most of the country would prefer sexual perverts not to be running pubs, I cannot see that a whole raft of deviant (or at least illegal) behaviour of this kind is "relevant" to holding a licence. By extension, all criminal activity is relevant, and this makes for a very cumbersome process in law.

To add to the burden, the police have requested that all the "conspiracy to" offences be brought in as well, so effectively doubling up the number of items to be included.

It also undermines, it seems to me, the true meaning of what might be "relevant" to the running of a pub.

Prior to the passing of the Act there was considerable discussion and lobbying as to what should be on the list, but this was based on knowledge of what type of offence would be within the ambit of licensee activity.

Now, it appears that any type of offence can be added to the list, and, therefore, added to licensing authority websites, and to the reams of paper already so much part of the new licensing regime.

I think it both unnecessary and wasteful. But with the trade under the cosh at the moment, it is unlikely they will step back from the brink now.


Can a kitty carry on after time?

Q.​ We had a big argument in this pub over the Christmas period about regular customers setting up a kitty behind the bar. If the fund is not finished when the terminal hour is reached, can drinks continue to be supplied, because they have effectively already been "paid for" during licensed hours?

We have already had it agreed that the actual consumption is OK, because it is not covered by the licence, but it is the pouring of the drinks that we are not sure about.

A.​ Exactly. It is the pouring of the drinks that gives you the answer.

What happens at that point is that the alcohol is 'appropriated' to the sale, and this means that the sale is made at that moment. Prior to that, all that has happened is that an amount of money has been provided for an indeterminate number and type of drinks, and no sale has actually taken place.

When the order is placed to the bar staff, and they move to fulfil that order, the contract is made, and the timing of that is the critical point.

The situation has of course been confused by the abolition of drinking-up time, so that consumption outside the hours stated on the premises licence is not technically illegal. But the sale of alcohol during that time most definitely is.

Your staff should, therefore, be under strict instructions to fulfil no more orders when the cut-off point is reached, or you could be liable.

Clearly, if a temporary event notice has been given for a special event, hours can be extended for those attending beyond those stated in the licence. But otherwise, sales should stop and if necessary the money returned or retained for the next session, with an appropriate adjustment at the time of cashing up.

Draught beer in containers

Q.​ We have a good range of traditional ales in this pub, which are popular with local residents. If a customer wants me to fill up a container with draught beer for him to take home, what is the legal position? Can I only use bought-in containers or can I fill their own plastic kegs?

A.​ A premises licence allows you to make both on and off-sales, unless there is some special restriction or condition, which is unlikely. The only problem, therefore, about sales of draught products is to ensure that you stick to the proper measures.

You cannot rely on the container provided by the customer, because it is unlikely to be government stamped. If you have metering equipment, there is no problem. You can make the delivery into any container you like.

But I suspect in a pub such as yours that you only have free-flow pumps. If this is the case, then technically you should pour the beer into an imperial measure, such as a stamped and lined jug, and then transfer it to the container supplied. Otherwise, you will need to pour each pint and then transfer it to the container.

It is highly unlikely that you will be prosecuted, but some zealous trading standards officer might take action on complaint if you relied on unstamped containers.

Personal licence holding

Q.​ Do you need to have your personal licence on you while you are on duty?

A.​ The Licensing Act does not specifically say so, but if you are lucky enough to have one of the credit-card types, then it seems eminently sensible to keep it with you, so that it may be produced on the rare occasion that it is asked for "on the spot" by a policeman or licensing officer.

If, however, you change for work and have a secure locker to keep personal belongings, such as bags or wallets, then you may leave it there. It is an offence not to produce the licence "without reasonable excuse".

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