Legal comment: Year of deregulation awaits

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Music power: The Live Music Act allows entertainment at premises between 8am and 11pm as an excemption
Music power: The Live Music Act allows entertainment at premises between 8am and 11pm as an excemption

Related tags Premises licence License

I suspect that 2015 will be an interesting year for the trade. My experience is that since New Labour’s wholesale reform of licensing in England and Wales, which became the Licensing Act 2003, every year brings about a certain amount of uncertainty.

This year is a natural time to review the licensing system because it represents both 10 years since the introduction of the Act and the possibility of a new Government after a general election in May.

The principal recent story affecting the larger tenanted pub companies, in particular, is Parliament’s decision to introduce the market rent-only option and concerns that this may bring about the end of the historic tied-trade formula. Others more qualified than I have debated and written about this at length so I will stick to matters closer to home, and that is licensing law.

More welcome changes

The Deregulation Bill (if it becomes law prior to the general election) promises further deregulation to a number of licensing matters.

The first is the Community and Ancillary Sellers Notice (CAN). This is the first new type of alcohol authorisation since 2005 and provides a less burdensome and cheaper option for either bed and breakfast providers or charities and community groups who wish to sell alcohol but avoid the cost of applying for a premises licence and the limits of a temporary event notice.  The application will be by notice but will be limited, it seems, to the amount of alcohol sold and the period of time when it can be sold.

Secondly, there is the simple, but certainly beneficial for many operators, increase in the number of temporary events (TENs) allowed per calendar year from 12 to 15; this will take effect from 2016 onwards.

Thirdly, there is the removal of the requirement to report the loss or theft of a licence (premises and personal) to the police. This has been largely ignored in practice but it is still a requirement that if a premises licence, for example, is lost, it must be reported to the police. I have written before about how easy it is to put these documents in a dusty cupboard and then forget about them.

Although the practice has declined markedly, there were a number of local authorities who, when we have asked for a replacement licence, have insisted on a crime reference number following the report of the loss to the police! This is a welcome piece of deregulation.

Personal licence reform

Finally, and this has been much commented on, is the sensible decision to remove the requirement to renew a personal licence, hopefully by March this year; too late to prevent some of the earliest holders of personal licences from having to renew perhaps, but the Government, to be fair, has done its best by authorising a much simpler application without the need for a fee, photograph or criminal records check for those who fall into this category.

There is further deregulation, which has been on the cards for some time in relation to entertainment. You will recall that the Live Music Act helpfully allows premises to have live entertainment between 8am and 11pm as an exemption.

Among other things, the Legislative Reform Order, which should come into force on 6 April 2015, will extend this exemption to music with an audience of 500 (formerly 200) for the same hours but it will also apply to recorded music in licensed premises for the same hours and also for an audience of up to 500. 

I suspect that, in practice, this will make very little difference to the day-to-day operation of premises; those for whom entertainment is an important part of the business will probably require their premises licence to indicate this (for later hours or a larger occupancy than the exemption) and for many public houses entertainment will continue to be a relatively small part of the business. 

Powers of entry

Last year saw a Home Office review of existing powers of entry, including in licensing.

Responsible authorities will retain their rights to enter premises under the Act, but what is perhaps of more interest for 2015 is the new Code of Practice with which these officers will have to comply.

While generic in nature, it does contain some helpful requirements, such as giving advance notice to the business owner, obtaining consent where possible and the timing and conduct of an inspection or entry, subject of course to such requirements not undermining the very purpose of the visit (a serious incident perhaps).

Maintaining the spirit

The Home Office in December published its annual statistics on licensing, which showed that the number of premises licences is largely the same as the previous year but that enforcement activities (reviews) were fewer. This will come as a surprise to many of us! 

Let us hope that the spirit of deregulation, and proportionate and considered enforcement will be maintained throughout 2015 and (call me an old cynic), we may see the rebirth of that slightly old-fashioned idea called "the partnership approach".

Related topics Licensing law

Related news

Show more