The first stage of the reform of the licensing laws six weeks ago means that 200,000 premises in the UK have to apply for a new-style licence to sell alcohol before August 7th – so far only a few hundred have been lodged nationwide.
Under the new legislation, all pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and takeaways have until that date to apply to their local council to transfer their existing licence, regardless of when it expires and whether or not they intend to vary their opening hours. Takeaways in Brighton & Hove have to apply for premises licenses for the first time since they were previously exempt.
Those premises that already hold a licence will have a fairly straightforward transition – due to so called “grandfather rights”. But businesses that do not apply within the time period will lose these rights and a new license will no longer be unconditionally given. They will have to start from scratch, pay a higher fee and face delays while the applicant’s criminal record is checked to ensure suitability to hold a licence. Moreover, businesses that do not have a licence when the new licensing regime goes live later in the year (probably November although the government has yet to set a date) will be unable to continue trading.
The responsibility for licensing has now passed to local authorities and they fear they could face a flood of applications in July just before the August deadline. If a lot of applicants apply near the end of the period added pressure would be placed on licensing authorities because the legislation states that applications not dealt with within two months will be deemed refused.
If a lot of premises serving alcohol choose to vary the terms of their existing licences, e.g. by asking for longer opening hours, as well as convert them, the task could be even more overwhelming than anticipated, as these licenses may receive objections from residents thereby triggering committee hearings. Although early evidence suggests that very few establishments will apply for 24 hour opening it is highly likely that increased numbers will apply for later opening hours than they currently enjoy.
Publicans complain that part of the problem is the 27 page form that has to be completed as part of the application process. Many may well still be trying to find the time to wade through it.
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