Licensing law in England and Wales is governed by the Licensing Act 2003. In recent years there have been several reforms to this legislation, and a central plank of the WSTA’s policy work has involved liaising with government on these changes, to try to minimise unnecessary burdens on the vast majority of businesses that trade responsibly. The licensing regime needs to be able to deal swiftly and effectively with businesses that deliberately flout the law─ but there has to be a balance. An unnecessarily punitive regime damages businesses that play a key role in local economies.
WSTA members take compliance with the Licensing Act very seriously and have led voluntary initiatives to tackle underage sales, through Challenge 25 and Community Alcohol Partnerships.
Police and Social Responsibility Bill
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will introduce significant changes to the licensing regime. The WSTA has been working since the plans were first announced to highlight the implications of the proposed reforms for businesses. In particular we have sought to highlight the potential unintended consequence of the shift to localism: greater local power over licensing will significantly increase the level of inconsistency in the operation and enforcement of the licensing regime between local areas. This will increase the complexity and cost of engaging with the licensing process for businesses operating in different areas.
The Bill will extend the range of bodies that can object to a licensing application, reduce the burden of proof needed to reject a licence, double the maximum fine for persistent underage sales and give local authorities the power to introduce a late night levy. It will allow local authorities to seek full cost recovery when determining licence fee, meaning that the cost of obtaining a new licence is likely to increase. We are concerned that this new power permitting local authorities to charge more for late-night licences to recover some of the cost incurred through problem drinking applies to all outlets with late licenses. Such a blanket provision will mean that even licensees who may not have contributed to crime and anti-social behaviour in the area, will be still be subject to the levy.
Industry initiatives tackling underage drinking
WSTA members have been at the forefront of initiatives to boost compliance with licensing laws, particularly in the area of underage sales. Challenge 25 is a now widely used retailing strategy developed by the industry that encourages anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to carry acceptable ID if they wish to buy alcohol from stores. It has proved to be an effective tool to tackle underage purchases. Many retailers are also working in partnership with local authorities through Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAPs) to tackle issues related to underage sales.
More information on Challenge 25 and CAPs is available on the dedicated social responsibility pages.