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What licensing challenges and opportunities should pubs be aware of during lockdown?

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

On the outside: Pavement licences could be invaluable – even in colder months
On the outside: Pavement licences could be invaluable – even in colder months

Related tags: Pub, Public house, Beer, Alcoholic beverage

Since the Government announced we should avoid non-essential contact and, in particular, confined spaces such as pubs and restaurants, our world of hospitality has changed beyond all recognition.

The focus has been, understandably, on the tragic impact of the closures and their effect on employees and business owners alike. 

If you have already decided on any takeaway/delivery options, you may think there is little else for you to do but wait for relaxation of the lockdown, but there are a few issues to bear in mind that might just put you ahead of the pack further down the line.

Firstly, many licensing authorities are taking a pragmatic approach to demanding payment of the annual fee (and multiplier and levy if appropriate), but be aware that while even the most ardent of licensing authorities can only suspend your licence for non-payment and pursue it as a civil debt, you don’t want to be in a huge backlog of requests to lift the suspension when lockdown is relaxed. Find out your local authority’s stance and try and keep one step ahead.

Secondly, outside areas may well play a significant role in licensed premises being able to reopen (we say this on no particular authority other than common sense and watching the Government briefings). If that is true, consider how any outside area near you might work with social distancing – do you need to amend conditions relating to off- sales, or sealed containers, or door staff, noise monitoring, etc? Might you need heaters or temporary fencing/planters to ensure social distancing? If the land isn’t yours, can you speak to the owner (perhaps even the council) about using a nearby area? Check your planning and other consents.

Thirdly, now is not the time in my view to let any pavement licence lapse – these can be the devil to re-apply for and you might need your outside space like never before (even in winter) – check the terms, the hours, and your council’s policy.

Fourthly, the ability to offer food is likely to be key. Explore your options, including with external food suppliers if you don’t have a kitchen yourself.

There are also opportunities to decide whether to submit applications to tidy up a licence, add licensable activities or extend hours. Adding off-sales is an obvious one, but whatever you apply for you may find the authorities and residents alike just a little more sympathetic to your application than prior to lockdown. We are all social animals after all. If you had previously been trading in breach of a condition and were hoping not to get found out (it does happen), this is the perfect time to remedy that breach, either by fixing the offending issue or amending the condition it breaches.

This period of closure is also the perfect opportunity to engage with your local authority to understand, for example, changes that could be in motion for licensing policy, and local schemes such as Pubwatch, Best Bar None, and working with local BIDs.

Finally, you may want to withdraw any temporary event notices (TENs) you submitted if the event can’t go ahead, in order to retain your annual allowance for, hopefully, happier times later in this calendar year.

For any legal enquiries please visit Poppleston Allen's website​.

Related topics: Licensing law, UnitedWeStand

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