Legal Q&A: late night trading and licence transfer

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Keep a lid on it: don't let noise from your outlet escalate into a confrontation
Keep a lid on it: don't let noise from your outlet escalate into a confrontation
The latest legal Q&A from specialist licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen examines the laws around late night trading and licence transfer.

It’s been a late night

Q: I run a busy late-night bar in a fairly residential suburb of a major city. Until recently, there were a number of other bars also trading late but they have gradually closed down and I have now been left as the only late-night operation in the area. Just recently, I have been contacted by environmental health officers saying they have had a number of complaints from local residents relating to noise both from the music at the venue but also customers queuing to get in and leaving at closing time. Should I be worried about this?

A. Local residents together with an environmental health officer can make life difficult for you if you do not work with them towards a solution. There is always the risk of a noise abatement notice which, if breached, can lead to an unlimited  fine in the magistrates’ court and even seizure of music equipment.

There is also the risk of a review of your licence which could result in your hours being curtailed, the ability to have music being removed or, in the worst case, loss of the licence.

I would strongly suggest that you get on the front foot with this, make contact with the environmental health officer and arrange a meeting to try to determine the nature of the complaints. You may then need an acoustic consultant to advise on measures to minimise noise escape from the premises, but you will also have to look carefully at your operational measures in controlling noise from customers while queuing and leaving the premises.

At the very least, you need to be seen to be doing everything you can to minimise any disruption from those customers. If you aren’t proactive about this you do risk a rapid escalation of the problem.

Transferring from a restaurant operation to a bar operation

Q: I am acquiring a business that has traded recently as a restaurant. I would like to open my own restaurant/bar operation in its place. I’m not sure whether I can simply take transfer of the licence or whether there is more I need to do? I have also heard that the previous operator may have been insolvent and am unsure what impact this will have on my plans?

A. If the licence is still in force then it should simply be a matter of taking transfer of the licence and then submitting a minor variation or variation application to substitute the proposed layout plans for your new operation.

You will also need to carefully review the conditions on the existing licence to make sure there are none that cause you an issue. As for a bar operation, it is important to make sure that there is no restaurant restriction on the existing licence which means that customers can only drink when having a meal. If that is the case then you may wish to seek to remove that condition, which is not always straightforward.

The best approach is to have early discussions with the authorities to make sure that there are no problems envisaged by your style of operation.

You should also make sure that the terms of your property deal are such that they are conditional upon you achieving a satisfactory licence to suit your style of operation. 

On the insolvency point, there is a possibility that the existing licence may have lapsed. There is a period of 28 days during which you can resurrect the existing licence but if that is passed you have no choice but to apply for a new licence.

Such an application should be feasible for an outlet that previously had a licence but the same points made previously in terms of pre-consultation and potential conditions apply. And make sure your acquisition is conditional upon achieving a satisfactory licence.

Related topics: Licensing law

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