The Licensing Act 2003: Licensing policy

Under the terms of the Licensing Act 2003, each local authority is required to produce and publish a licensing policy. This is vital to the new licensing system. It gives both those in the licensed trade and members of the public an indication of how the council is going to deal with applications made to it, and what considerations they are going to take into account. Although much of the policy will be aimed at the on-trade, off-sales, particularly in respect of children, will be covered as well.

The policy must be based on the four “licensing objectives”, which are spelled out at the beginning of the Licensing Act. These are:

a. the prevention of crime and disorder

b. public safety

c. the prevention of public nuisance

d. the protection of children from harm.

It is important to recognise that the council must not stray outside these objectives and must ensure that each aspect of the policy complies in some way with one or more of them. If they attempt to impose some form of control which is seen as outside the objectives, an appeal to the courts can be made.

For off-licences, this means that any condition which is imposed must be for one or other of the above reasons. In the past, undertakings have been extracted from off-licence holders on a variety of matters which may not fit within the four objectives. Where this is the case, it is likely that they will not be renewable on the new premises licence.

Every local authority licensing policy was subject to consultation with existing licensees and other representative organisations before the First Appointed Day (Feb 7 2005) when transition began for existing licence holders. Any revision of the policy, however small, must also be subject to consultation, which includes local traders or representative organisations for the off-trade or licensed stores. In particular, the policy must be reviewed every three years to ensure that it is relevant in meeting the four objectives.

Policies vary widely, and there is no consensus on what is included, even though the Government published Guidance for local authorities on what might be included. The size of polices also varies widely – from 10 pages to over 100. Much of it is not of direct interest to the off-trade, but where you are considering a change of operation under the new laws, it is essential to be aware of what the policy says. In fact, all off-licence holders should obtain a copy of the policy.

In the past, several off-licence holders have wanted to expand their business to allow for some forms of on-consumption. To do this under the old law, a fresh application had to be made to the justices for a new licence. Under the new law, what is required is a variation of the operating conditions, but representations may be made by a variety of people. The policy will give you an indication of how this can be done and may help you decide on whether you wish to go ahead.

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