Recent changes to licensing legislation, along with some little known caveats from the original act means that retailers may be at risk of ending up in front of a licensing hearing.
This is made even more problematic by many councils and police forces in the UK actively looking for licence breaches as an excuse to add new licensing conditions, such as beer and cider ABV limits.
While underage sales and illicit trading are the two obvious examples, we’ve detailed some conditions that are catching retailers out.
In one licensing hearing, Gill Sherratt, director of Licensing Matters represented a retailer who received a visit from an undercover licensing officer 10 minutes before their licensed hours began. When the staff member was asked why they’d sold alcohol to the officer outside of the licensed hours, the staff member said they didn’t expect the customer to be a problem drinker because she was wearing a suit and purchasing a bottle of wine.
Do it: train all staff not to sell outside the hours, regardless of what the customer is buying or what they look like.
Every off-trade and on-trade alcohol licence is issued alongside a legally binding floorplan, denoting where alcohol is to be sold. Often, when the store is refitted and units are moved, the retailer forgets to either ask for a licence amendment or follow the existing floorplan.
"Retailers are being brought in front of licensing committees for not following the floorplan their licence specifies," said Sherratt. "It’s happening every day and it’s because of a lack of knowledge of their licence."
She adds that many retailers are unaware as councils often forget to send out a copy of the floorplan when a duplicate licence copy is requested by retailers.
Do it: Check your floorplan. If you can't find it, request it from your council. If you need to change it, check whether you can log it as a minor variation rather than a major variation as this will reduce the associated fees.
Changes made to the law in April this year means an alcohol licence can be revoked if staff you have employed don't have the right to work in the UK.
Even if a staff member has the right to work in the UK when hired, if they later lose this right the retailer is still liable for prosecution (and a licence hearing) if they are still employed in store. "It's the retailer's responsibility to check and ensure there's no period where they don't have the right to work," said Sherratt. "Retailers really have to be on the ball."
Do it: Read the right to work checklist from the Home Office
VAT and Duty
In one case, an underage shopper test was conducted on a retailer. Despite correctly refusing to sell to the police informant, an undercover police officer in the store at the same time found cans of beer for sale 8p below the duty + VAT price. They were brought before a licence review and had their licence revoked.
Do it: Check the minimum duty and VAT price calculator on the HMRC website
All additional conditions added to alcohol licences have to be related to one of the four licensing objectives stated in the Licensing Act:
- the prevention of crime and disorder
- public safety
- the prevention of public nuisance
- the protection of children from harm
Sherratt warns that in many instances there is little evidence to support some of the terms added, such as the Reduce the Strength initiative and display bans of alcohol in shop windows. However, these terms are legally binding and a breach could lead to licence suspension, revocation and/or additional conditions being added.
Do it: Look through your licence for conditions made as a result of representations from trading standards, the police or the local health authority.
AWRS added to licensing act
Compliance with the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme is mandated by law, but also by an update to the licensing act which makes compliance a condition.
As Retail Express covered previously, to not be liable to prosecution or licence hearing, a retailer must do more than simply get an AWRS number from the wholesaler.
Do it: Read the list of retailer checks required to remove liability
Since April 6, 2017, councils have had the power to suspend a personal licence for six months if the licence holder has been convicted of a criminal offence listed in Schedule 4 of the licensing act.
Do it: see the full list of offences covered in Schedule 4.