These stipulations are included in a code of practice covering powers of entry, which is due to come into force later this year.
However, there have been calls for the Government to add more detail to its proposals to ensure it achieves its stated aim of minimising disruption to licensees.
The Powers of Entry draft code of practice sets out “considerations that apply before, during and after powers of entry and associated powers are exercised”.
It includes the requirement that relevant bodies provide a notice explain the powers being used and licensees’ rights. It also stipulates that the “occupier” is informed of any visit and that any inspection must be “impartial and fair”.
The draft code was drawn up in January 2013 and subject to consultation but a date has still not been set for its implementation. This week the Government told the PMA it would come into force “this year”.
Andy Grimsey, from licensing law firm Poppleston Allen, said he welcomed the overall tone of the draft code but said it was still “short on practical detail”. He said he was concerned about references to visits only at “reasonable hours”.
He said: “Licensees frequently experience unannounced visits by groups of police officers and other authorities on a busy Friday or Saturday evening, often on routine ‘multi-agency’ inspections. Such visits can deter customers and intimidate staff – I have more than once had a client complain that ‘the riot squad just turned up unannounced’ on a Friday night for no particular reason than to generally check out the premises.
“The problem for licensees with this code is that the entry powers under the Licensing Act are loosely worded and permit officers to enter premises with a view to seeing whether licensable activities are being carried out in accordance with an authorisation. However, many licences are so peppered with conditions that the authorities have carte blanche to wander where they please, as compliance with each and every one of these conditions is a requirement under the Licensing Act.”
Hugh Fallon, who runs the Inn on the Green in Enfield, complained to the PMA last month after receiving 22 police visits in just over four months despite no reports of trouble at his pub. In light of his complaints the police have agreed to limit the number of visits.
He said: “It comes down to common sense but this code sounds like it could help pubs. I would prefer 72 hours’ notice but 48 sounds reasonable. It’s also good that licensees have to be told what the visit is about. I was not never anything and the police admitted that was part of the problem.”