You may remember those days — that unsettling feeling in the stomach as you waited for Government clarification about what you needed to apply for (and when) in order to continue to be able to sell alcohol, hoping for news from trade journals or trade organisations (or checking their websites to no avail) or indeed being all ready and raring to go, but needing the Government to publish the application forms.
We are not in a wholly dissimilar situation now. Those of us with long memories (and an interest in making sure our clients can continue to sell alcohol) have predicted a problem with the renewal of personal licences for some time.
You will no doubt have read about it in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser but let me set it out again for you in a nutshell.
The need to renew personal licences is going to be abolished by the Deregulation Bill which is currently meandering through parliament. Not even the Government can predict accurately when the relevant provisions will come into effect, although this is likely to be some time in spring 2015.
Personal licences expire after 10 years; so here’s the problem — there are some licensees who obtained their personal licences in the early months of 2005, so take for example an individual who obtained his licence on 7 March 2005.
His personal licence will expire on 7 March 2015, possibly before the removal of the requirement to renew comes into force. Under the Licensing Act, this person can only make an application to renew his licence in the first two months of a three-month window preceding the expiry of his licence — in other words, he can only apply to renew from 7 December 2014 until 7 February 2015.
If he does nothing and simply hopes for the Government to ‘fill in the gap’ and (perish the thought, but it has happened) the Government fails to get its act together in time, he will miss the two-month window to renew his licence and will have to apply for a new licence.
If that new licence is not obtained by 7 March 2015 then if he is the only personal licence holder at his pub, he won’t be able to sell alcohol. If, however, he repeats the promptitude that drove him to apply early for his licence during Licensing Reform, he could apply to renew his licence from 7 December 2014 (together with a £25 Criminal Records Certificate fee and a £37 Licence Renewal fee to the council) only to find that a couple of weeks later the Government — either through guidance or emergency legislation — makes this unnecessary.
Who will compensate him for his time and expense? Get to the back of the queue, sonny-boy.
The Home Office is aware of this. In a letter to licensing authorities on the 6 August 2014, Norman Baker, the Minister for Crime Prevention stated “the timescale for the Deregulation Bill means that there may be some who will need to renew their licence before the changes take effect. This is beyond my control, although I do recognise that it is far from ideal.
My officials will work with you to establish the best way of handling transitional arrangements and we will publish specific guidance later this year”.
Hardly fills you with confidence, does it? Any ‘guidance’ is unlikely to trump primary legislation, which currently states that a personal licence expires after 10 years, period. So whatever the guidance says may not alter the legal position.
The suggestion by Mr Baker is that our ‘early starters’ may well have to make their applications to renew, and if that is the case why not just come out and say it, accompanied by a speedily drafted piece of secondary legislation removing the need to apply for a criminal records certificate and amending the fees regulations so that any application to renew is at least free (they did this with World Cup TENs in Wales, if you recall)?
That at least would give some clarity.
The ability to sell alcohol legally is the beating heart of the licensed trade. Having been forced to stay behind for detention so many times recently (EMROs, levies, mandatory conditions, etc.), it is perhaps
exquisitely ironic that the most organised of licence holders should be caned by this supposedly deregulatory measure.