Are premises licences worth it?

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Premises licence

The Innsatiable furniture shop/bar in Farnham began life without a premises licence
The Innsatiable furniture shop/bar in Farnham began life without a premises licence
What is the true value of your premises licence? Do you really need one and what are the risks of maintaining one? 

There is an old Woody Allen gag that I like. A man goes to his doctor and says: “Doc, my brother thinks he’s a chicken.” The doctor says: ‘Why don’t you bring him in to see me?’ The man says: “I would do, but I need the eggs.”

Many operators probably feel the same about their premises licences. They would probably like to be rid of them — but they need the alcohol.

A recent case has highlighted the potential threats that are faced by operators. The owner of a small, late-night city-centre bar had been trading for more than 12 years with an unblemished record in terms of crime and disorder.

On a recent Saturday night, the operator allowed a promoter to host an event at the premises. At the event, the designated premises supervisor (DPS) was present, along with three Security Industry Authority (SIA) doorstaff. The CCTV was working. Shortly before the event was due to finish, a fight broke out and spilled out on to the street. A customer who had been attending the event suffered serious stab wounds.

The police made an immediate application for an expedited review of the premises licence, which was successful, and the venue was forced to close. At the full review hearing three weeks later, the trading hours of the venue were cut from 3am to midnight at weekends.

The operator complained there was nothing more they could have done to prevent the incident. The police said there was insufficient staff training and a lack of procedures. Whatever the rights and wrongs, this example shows how the licence of even the most vigilant operator can be at risk at any time.

Why bother?
While the sale and consumption of alcohol are painted into a corner by the Government and the vocal health lobby, operators who have taken the time and expense to commit to a premises licence are vulnerable, and many may wonder if it is worth the bother. Is it any wonder that some existing operators and those entering the trade for the first time are looking for alternatives to applying for, and more importantly, maintaining a premises licence.

So what are the alternatives?

When the owner of Innsatiable in Farnham, Surrey, decided not to apply for a premises licence for his furniture shop/bar, he was perhaps unwittingly the start of a growing trend away from licences.

Innsatiable appeared to be a model for running premises with alcohol without a licence, but this quickly (and probably expectedly) fell by the wayside when a licence was sought and obtained.
‘Bring your own’ (BYO) has been, and remains, a common method of avoiding the need for a licence. Indeed, an interesting new twist on the BYO concept opened recently in Covent Garden, central London.

Called ‘BYOC’ (Bring Your Own Cocktail), customers bring the alcohol and the venue provides non-alcoholic ingredients from a trolley, and mixes the cocktails for customers in return for a £20 cover charge. Effectively the venue is charging for providing a service rather than for the sale or supply of alcohol.

Will we see a rise in new operators entering the trade offering a service that is incidental to the sale or supply or alcohol? Or is there a growing movement away from licences in any event? A recent article in the London Evening Standard​ referred to the growing trend of opening new independent cafés and coffee bars, where alcohol is not on the menu.

In its consultation on its Alcohol Strategy, the Government raised the possibility of ancillary sales notices (ASNs) as an alternative to premises licences. Such notices would allow operators such as hairdressers or shops, which provide alcohol only as an ancillary service to their main business, to sell the alcohol without the need for a premises licence.

However, the prospect of ASNs raises many potential legal difficulties, such as the precise definition of ‘ancillary sale’. Ancillary to what? A church fete? An exhibition at a gallery? A furniture shop? Surely it is simpler to say that if someone is selling alcohol on more than a temporary basis they require a premises licence?

For the time being, it looks like premises licences are here to stay. Remember, despite the difficulties of applying for and maintaining a premises licence, they can add value to your business. And as Woody Allen might say, you need the eggs.

Related topics Licensing law

Related news