Postcode lottery for licence fees

By John Harrington, M&C Report

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensed multiple retailers License Bury st edmunds

More costs for the pub trade? Licence fee hikes could be on the way
More costs for the pub trade? Licence fee hikes could be on the way
Licensees and pub operators could face a postcode lottery over the size of their licence fees from 2012. One trade body has warned it could lead to a £100m increase in licence fee costs for pubs across the country.

Licensees and pub operators could face a postcode lottery over the size of their licence fees from 2012.

Councils would get powers to set fees themselves, and vary them from time to time and between different types of venue, under proposed new amendments to the Licensing Act, which could also see more enforcement of pubs and clubs.

The Home Office, which has proposed the amendments via the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, says there will be a cap on fee levels. The size of the cap will be consulted on.

But it raises the worrying prospect of some councils ramping up their charges to plug holes in their finances.

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) warned that it may lead to an extra £100m worth of costs for pubs across the country.

"The first thing I've got concerns about is the ability of the licensing authority to determine fees that could lead to varied fees across the country," said Jeremy Allen, partner at Poppleston Allen.

"There may be huge differences between different local authorities — Westminster may be much larger than a rural council, for example."

Full cost recovery

Under the amendment, authorities could set different amounts for the different fee bands, which are based on rateable value. They may also "from time to time determine a revised amount" for the fee level, although there are no details as to how often this would happen.

Licensing authorities would determine the fee level based on administration costs, plus "general costs", such as monitoring and enforcement.

"It could encourage enforcement if they can recover their costs to do it," Allen warned.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the amendment would "introduce locally-set licensing fees, based on full cost recovery".

"Licensing fees are intended to cover the costs of licensing authorities carrying out their duties under the Act, but they have not increased since the Act was introduced in 2005."

Hike fears

Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, said he feared "full cost recovery". He said: "How far does that go? Officials could all drive Rolls Royces to carry out pub checks. Would we be asked to repay that?

"A huge hike in fees would be devastating at a time when we are also facing the late-night levy and Early Morning Restriction Orders."

Cheryl Hickman, of the Olde Bull Inn in Bury St Edmunds, said: "Allowing councils to set their own rates for licensing fees is madness.

"I have worked in a council and what they actually need to do is considerably streamline their functions and operate like a business."

Paul Rigby, of the Palmerston in East Dulwich, London, said: "Your head's over a barrel because you have to pay it. It's just another poorly timed blow to the licensee."

Related topics Licensing law

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