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Concern over off-sales applications

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

On the rise: Asking for off-sales to be permitted is being questioned more
On the rise: Asking for off-sales to be permitted is being questioned more

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Twice recently, I have been asked, in all seriousness in making a licensing application for both on and off-sales: “Why do you want off-sales?”

I am afraid that on the first occasion, the facetious little devil on my left shoulder defeated the diplomat on my right and replied: “So that we can sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.”

The question that was asked both by a member of the licensing committee and a licensing officer on different occasions reveals increasing concern about what seems to be some sort of potential moral collapse. If premises are selling, or at least have the facility to sell off the premises, swathes of people are going to be taking advantage, drinking from the bottle and cans through the streets and in public parks, causing general disturbance, noise, litter and drunkenness.

There seems to be no appreciation of the fact that the vast amount of alcohol sold for consumption off the premises is simply taken home and drunk there without causing any disturbance to anyone.

The historical context and the change of approach is somewhat stark. Pubs with a justices’ on-licence (pre-2005) automatically had the right to sell both on and off the premises. The off part was not controversial and rarely used as cheaper alcohol could be purchased (as it can now) at the local ‘offy’, now more likely to be a mini-supermarket, corner shop or online. It was undoubtedly true, and may still be in some areas, that there was an over-proliferation of off licences that encouraged, by selling strong and cheap alcohol, purchases by those with a drink problem and street drinkers, with an undoubted adverse impact on the area. A number of local authorities then reacted to this by creating new cumulative impact policies, which were designed to prevent new specialist off-licence shops.

This has, in turn, led to concerns about an ‘off licence’ applying even if it is a small part of an ‘on licence’. On many occasions, I have made the point that, for example, in a new development, a pub may want to sell a nice bottle of wine to local residents who live in a flat nearby and who may not wish to go to Sainsbury’s, or it may not stock the wine that they like.

Unfortunately, the response is often: “If it’s only a small part of what you do, why do you need it?” So if you sell a lot of off-sales, you will cause problems and it will be refused; if you do not sell much then you do not need it and it will be refused.

The operator is again put in the position of trying to prove that nothing bad will happen and that being able to buy a drink for consumption at home is not only enjoyable but one of the more benign activities that is allowed by a premises licence.

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