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Difficulty of opposing a transfer

By Poppleston Allen

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Policing problem: a licence transfer does not take into account a good or bad operator
Policing problem: a licence transfer does not take into account a good or bad operator

Related tags Licensing Alcoholic beverage Public house

One of the clichés in the licensing process is for us licensing lawyers to tell the authorities and the licensing committee that our client is ‘a good operator’.

In some areas this expression is treated with a certain understandable cynicism. The truth is that not everyone is a good operator but the vast majority are. It has become increasingly difficult and indeed the licensing system itself is partly responsible for the difficulty in identifying good operators from bad operators.

This issue really is rooted in the changes to the licensing process following the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003, in 2005. There was a deliberate between the licence holder (usually the landlord or operating company) and the personal licence holder named as designated premises supervisor (DPS – usually the tenant or general manager).

The premises licence holder was effectively a name on the licence but not as significant in terms of responsibility and enforcement as the DPS.

There are several examples of this but a significant one is that it is very difficult for the police to oppose the transfer of a licence from one licence holder to another, “exceptional circumstances” are required but not so in relation to the DPS.

On a review, the licensing committee has a specific power to remove the DPS but cannot do anything about the licence holder itself except revoke the licence.

This has led to a depersonalisation of the process, certainly in terms of who holds the licence, and a corresponding difficulty for ‘good operators’ to establish and maintain a reputation as such that can benefit them and for the authorities to identify ‘bad operators’.

One example of this in practice, which frustrates a client of mine who has several pubs in my local town of Nottingham, is individuals who have caused problems in the past forming a new limited company and transferring a premises licence to that company. It is very difficult, as I have indicated for the police, to oppose this and probable that records are not kept relating to the problems at different premises.

Similarly the ‘good operator’ particularly looking to invest in a difficult area with a saturation policy does not get sufficient credit for trading without problems and with good operating practices and, indeed, in certain areas such abilities and record is specifically excluded.

Licensing has inevitably become a more administrative planning type process with the premises itself and the question of impact becoming more significant than the quality of the company or individual, which has effective responsibility and, in my view, that remains one of the unintentional and unfortunate consequences of the current process.

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