Q: I own a bar that operates on the ground and first floor. A couple of years ago, I made changes to my ground floor requiring a minor variation. I submitted the plan showing the new layout of the ground floor and this was granted. I have had no issues for the past two years but, last week, there was a multi-agency inspection of my premises and the licensing officer said my first floor is not licensed at all. He has said that I cannot trade the first floor until I make a new licence application for the entire premises. In the meantime, I can only trade on the ground floor. What do I do?
A: This scenario is not unique and can arise from administrative incompetence at the licensing authority or a badly prepared or inaccurate variation application on the part of the operator.
What appears to have happened is that when you made your minor variation two years ago, you submitted simply the ground floor plan (no doubt because this was the only floor changing) and when the licensing authority processed the application, it binned your old plans (with the ground and first floors), replacing them simply with the ground floor. This error has now only come to light following the inspection.
As I cannot see your original minor variation application, I do not know how you described your proposed changes, but it is permissible at law to ‘vary’ one floor of a licensed premises while retaining the other floors as they are. What is critical, however, is that this is made absolutely clear in the variation application, not least to prevent an administrative officer at the licensing authority simply binning all the old plans and replacing them with the new.
To avoid this eventuality, it is often safer to submit plans of the whole of the premises including floors where there are no changes. Conversely, if in your minor variation application you stated something like “to replace the existing plans with the plans attached to this application” then it is quite possible that you have inadvertently de-licensed the first floor, and have been trading unlawfully for the past two years.
We frequently see issues with licensed plans as one of the most common areas of confusion and potential breaches. I would advise you to go back to your file, check what you actually applied for and whether it was made clear that the ground floor alone was being varied.
If so, this is an admin error on the part of the authority. If it is unclear then you could argue that it was obvious you did not intend to de-license your first floor (which I assume was fully trading at the time of the application) and that, if there had been any doubt, the licensing authority should have contacted you to clarify it.
If you do have to make a new licence application, you may be able to use temporary event notices (including late TENs) to cover your busy periods now.