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More enforcement please, we’re licensees

The vast majority of licensed trade businesses are run by sensible, decent people who understand their responsibilities.

They appreciate the consequences of not playing by the rules and try their best to avoid risking their neighbours’ and their businesses by being reckless.

But what about those who couldn’t care less?

A good operator should be entitled to expect protection from the bad.  Much is said about “partnership working” but that works both ways.

The problem is that if alcohol-related issues, such as disorder and nuisance, manifest themselves in a particular area, the response from the authorities is often to blame the trade as a whole rather than focussing on individual operators who may be trading irresponsibly.

As an example, the issue of street drinkers is an ever-present problem in some parts of Central London.  But instead of targeting the individual retailers who help to fuel the problem, new applicants or even well-established businesses that want to vary their licences can often be penalised, even though they have no intention of doing any wrong.

Even nationally renowned responsible operators are sometimes forced to consider onerous conditions or to restrict their hours.

For example, in some areas, new convenience stores are being objected to unless they agree not to sell alcohol until 9am (or later) even though the shop opens at, say, 7am.

There is no logic to this.  Effectively, they are being told that before this time, they can’t be trusted to promote the licensing objectives.

It makes no sense to prejudice good operators and their customers and leave the bad effectively unchallenged.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to use what little resources are now available for enforcement by focussing on those operators that are causing problems rather than creating artificial barriers for those that understand what is expected of them and wouldn’t dream of letting anybody down?

If, following the example mentioned above, there is a street drinker problem in a particular area, it can’t be the fault of a retailer that doesn’t yet trade there.

So why then, if they make an application for a new premises in the locality, should they be obliged to adopt onerous conditions or restrict their business when established businesses, which in some cases may be the cause of the problem, don’t?  This does nothing to resolve the problem and in a sense can effectively protect bad businesses.

By supporting responsible retailers, and trusting them, whilst at the same time investigating and challenging the bad, Licensing Authorities and police forces have the opportunity to genuinely make a difference.

What can police forces and Local Authorities do?

The Licensing Act 2003 always has had robust enforcement provisions available to those with an inclination to use them.

Whilst it’s not uncommon for premises to have their licences reviewed for under-age sales, it is increasingly rare for proceedings to be issued for any other reason. Enforcement agencies may say that a lack of resources restricts them from taking direct action but wouldn’t it be better to invest time investigating and reviewing bad operators rather than trying to mop up the problems that they cause?

And it’s not just up to the police to keep everyone in line.  Local Authorities can take action too. Reviews also act as a deterrent to others.

Also, proceedings can be issued against licence holders in the Magistrates Court.  If found guilty, licensees can now be subject to unlimited fines.

What can the trade do?

It’s always good practice to develop constructive relationships with enforcement agencies but it ought to go beyond that.

With the hardening attitude towards the sale of alcohol generally, it makes sense for licensees to get to know Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators, residents’ groups and ward councillors.  By working with them, and pointing them in the right direction, pressure can be brought to bear on enforcement agencies to act against irresponsible operators.

Whilst there is a natural reluctance to “tell tales”, isn’t it worth helping the authorities out if ultimately it’s in the interest of your business?

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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