A The police are certainly putting pressure on off-licence bosses as part of the general crackdown on premises deemed to be "problematic". During visits to stores, informal advice may be offered and in some cases that advice may appear to be more of an instruction than a friendly suggestion.
It has been known for retailers to voluntarily withdraw superstrength beers following talks with the local constabulary, usually to help an area deal with a particular street-drinking problem. Recently, OLN has also heard about incidents where police have told stores to stop selling fortified British wine and 2.5-litre bottles of white cider.
Some stores have indeed agreed to increase the minimum age for alcohol sales to 21, and in some areas they appear to have done so under threat of actions being taken to withdraw their licence.
The Association of Chief Police Officers confirms that there is no general guidance about this. Legally, the police cannot impose conditions on the licence that go beyond the law of the land and the conditions laid down in the original licence. But they are allowed to make judgements about the way licensed premises are being managed - and it may well be that they will take non-compliance with a demand to restrict sales to those over 21, or refusal to stop selling superstrength lager, as evidence that the licensee is being irresponsible.
In these circumstances, it will be for the licensing committee or ultimately the magistrates to decide whether the retailer is indeed being irresponsible.
QI'm told I can make much more money out of spirits if I move them from behind the counter and put them on open display. Is there a licensing implication for doing this?
A There may well be. If you specified in your premises licence application that spirits would be restricted to a certain area, you would need the consent of the licensing committee if you planned to make a change. This may seem like a lot of hassle, but it should be fairly straightforward to persuade the committee that you are not being reckless.
Presumably you will be fitting spirits bottles with security caps to discourage shoplifters; you should also make sure that the new spirits display is not too close to the front door, ideally with the counter well positioned to deter opportunist thieves.
QCan you clarify the position regarding the legal age for buying tobacco? Is it going to vary between England and Wales and Scotland?
A No. All three nations will raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 16 to 18 on Oct 1 this year. This will bring Britain in
line with countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia.
Worryingly for retailers, there are stiff fines
promised for anyone caught selling to minors and test purchasing activity is expected to enforce the new legislation. Yet it is not a criminal offence either to attempt to buy
tobacco when under-age, or to buy tobacco to give to a minor.
What's the thinking behind sizes?
QWhy are we forced to package wine in standardised bottle sizes, ie 25cl, 75cl and so on? What is the benefit of these regulations?
A The original idea of harmonising bottle sizes was partly to do with consumer protection - making sure shoppers were easily able to compare products and prices.
Harmonisation of wine bottle sizes was introduced in 1985
EC bureaucrats deemed it "necessary"
and required all non-approved pack sizes to be withdrawn from the market.
The international wine trade, and its bottling and logistics partners, have grown used to the system and may
find 30cl or 1.2-litre bottles a tad complicated. But there are critics who argue that retailers and suppliers should be free to choose
any size of bottle they like.
"Sectors where sizes have been fixed have not changed pack sizes much
while, in sectors
where sizes are flexible, size is considered to be an element in product innovation," said a discussion paper put to the EU in 2002.
"Consumers will demand more variation, flexibility and client responsiveness. Producers will remain under pressure from supermarkets to be flexible."