As you may also know, the late-night levy was brought into force by the Government a few years ago as a tool for councils to charge an additional fee to operators who are permitted to sell alcohol under their premises licence or club certificate for a period between midnight and 6am. Notwithstanding the recent news regarding Southwark and Redbridge’s intentions, to date only 10 councils have the levy in place (half of which are London boroughs) – yet the Government had predicted 80 would opt for a levy.
Given councils, as well as others, face budget cuts and austerity measures, why haven’t more councils approved a levy in their area? No doubt there are a myriad of reasons but one view, based on our discussions with licensing officers and research conducted on the levy and councils’ appetite for it, is that it is currently considered too blunt an instrument. It either applies to all licensed premises in the council area or not at all – with many fearing smaller operators and those outside the main centres would be unfairly affected and, in some cases, may give up later hours as a result.
Provisions in the Policing & Crime Act 2017 are set to change this, introducing flexibility to allow councils to localise the levy to certain areas rather than applying it to the whole council area, as well as also applying the levy to late-night refreshment premises (those serving hot food and drink between 11pm-5am) that operate beyond midnight, such as your local late-night takeaway, kebab or fish and chip shop.
Yet as we start 2019, these changes have still not come into force, delayed due to the fact that the Government indicated in its response to the Lords Select Committee Report on the Licensing Act 2003 that it would consult on the level of charge appropriate for late-night refreshment premises and would not commence the measure to allow licensing authorities to charge the levy to late-night refreshment premises until that was completed.
However, these changes may now be closer to coming into effect. It has been reported that the Home Office may launch a consultation in spring about the appropriate levy fees for late-night refreshment premises. If this consultation does take place shortly then the changes to the levy may take effect quite soon afterwards, and perhaps even later this year.
If so, we are likely to see renewed interest in this additional charge from councils, and potentially a rise in the number of levies adopted across the country – and not just in London.
Operators, watch this space.
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