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When it comes to applying for an alcohol licence – or for a change to your existing one – there are plenty of preparations that retailers should have in place and plenty of obstacles that they should be ready to overcome. Councils and the police will challenge retailers trying to change their offer with regard to alcohol and you need to have your reasons and defence ready to counter any accusations.

Hiring professionals can prevent you from being overwhelmed with statistics and accusations, often resulting in success for your business. When Gary Dhaliwal and his family opened a store in Southampton in 2020, they had 60 people show up to the hearing to fight against them getting the licence, but because they had prepared their statements and answers, they were able to get their licence approved. “If you believe you can achieve then you can, 100%,” he says. “You just need to stay with the right group with the right mindset. You can’t let other people’s effort to derail things affect you. “If you let it affect you, your business will go down. If you think you can do it then go for it. You always need to focus on the positives.”

This took an enormous amount of time and effort, which was challenging, what with Dhaliwal at college and running two stores, so he looked for assistance. In these instances, it is often better to turn to expert advice, throwing some money at the problem to get the outcome that you need. Sometimes, changes to alcohol licences will come with conditions that have to be fulfilled. Being willing to accommodate while still sticking to your plans is a good way to get what you’re after without generating any ill will from those who object.

Whether it’s installing CCTV around the back of a store, promising not to sell beers that have an ABV or more than 6.5% or being flexible about your hours, if there are things you can do to get the licence over the line they are worth exploring, but don’t forget what you’re entitled to and don’t be bullied by anyone.

Make it part of a bigger refit

Following a store refit in 2019, Hitesh Modi, from Londis BWS in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, had to reapply for a new alcohol licence for his Londis store. “Previously I only had licensing for one area, but I decided to reapply for the whole premises.

“It costs nothing extra to do this and saves a lot of hassle in the future if you’re doing another refit, whether it’s a mini refurbishment or a complete overhaul. “The last thing you want to do is fill in a load of forms again and taking this approach will help future proof your shop as well. As part of
my refurbishment, I added a standalone area for alcohol.”

Modi completed the process himself, but said there are options for assistance with alcohol licensing. “It’s a fairly simple process. However, there people out there who can assist with the licensing application for a fee,” he explained

Changes can be made without new licence

The addition of a takeaway cocktail bar to Arjan Singh Rhoud’s Premier Morley Convenience in Leeds has been a lockdown success, with up to 400 cocktails sold per weekend. Although it didn’t warrant a change in his existing alcohol licence, he has taken extra steps to avoid any blurred lines.

“We notified the council that we were adding the bar, but when serving the cocktails we’re very stringent in telling customers they have to drink them outside the store, and we put a lid and sticker on them. “Additionally, when we advertise it on Facebook, we always make sure to put ‘for takeaway purposes or
delivery only’.”

Emphasising the delivery and click & collect-friendly aspects of the service also stops too many customers from queuing up outside and disrupting social distancing guidelines or making too much noise, allowing Singh Rhoud to enhance his alcohol offering without needing to change his licence.

Fight your corner

Gary Dhaliwal has two stores in Southampton and has changed the alcohol licence on both of them in recent years. Both changes saw considerable pushback from the council and local competitors, but with the help of The Licensing Guys he was able to make both changes happen.

“The second store – Dhaliwal Food Store on Onslow Road – was a big battle,” he says. “The off-licence across the road had lost its licence so we thought ‘why don’t we supply here now?’. “People did everything possible to stop us, but we’re businesspeople. We were told that our opponents wouldn’t be attending the hearing, thinking that we then wouldn’t attend and not get the licence. I was at college, but we were there at the hearing at 4pm, and by 5pm we had the licence.”

By getting a licence on his store, which is located between a nightclub and a pub, he’s been able to capture a new market, whether it’s people heading home or queuing to get into the club.

Get your plans drawn up

It has 20 years since Meten Lakhani changed the alcohol licence at St Mary’s Supermarket in Southampton, Hampshire.

“It wasn’t easy in those days,” he recalls. “We had to get a barrister and go quite high up in the court. The police objected on the grounds that there were too many off-licences in the area. Nowadays, they’re more interested in licence fees.”

He believes that things are easier now, but that preparation is still essential to success. “Get a plan of the shop drawn up. Do your professional licensing course. That was a must then, and it’s a must now. Fill out the paperwork.

“Then do a CRB check and make sure the environmental bit and fire extinguishers are in place. Then put a notice in the window. Solicitors can give advice so seek them out. It goes to a local council committee, and you then await complaints from the fire brigade and the police

Top tips from The Licensing Guys

Nick Semper of The Licensing Guys provides his five top tips for a successful application:

  1. Be absolutely clear from the outset what you wish to achieve from your licence.
  2. Think ahead five years and create a licence that will help your business grow.
  3. Do not accept what you are told or offered by the responsible authorities if this does not meet your business needs or expectations.
  4. Always ensure that your staff are trained in age verification in age-restricted products or responsible alcohol retailing as a good track record goes a long way.
  5. If you ever go to a hearing, never go unadvised or without a professional to guide you.