The Licensing Act 2003: How the new system works

10 June, 2007

With the old system, you needed a different type of licence depending on what type of premises you operated. The justices granted an off-licence to premises where no sales were made for consumption on those premises, and it is an offence to allow people

to consume their purchases on or near the store or shop.

Under the new system, all licensed activities, whether for sales on or off the premises, are covered by the same licence, but are tailored to the specific nature of the premises by means of operating conditions. Once these conditions are agreed, you must only operate the premises in accordance with them, and breach of the conditions will be a serious offence.

This new licence will be known as a premises licence. It will be granted to a named individual or a company, and if the holder changes (eg when the off-licence is sold) a transfer of the premises licence will be needed. The person who holds the premises licence need not be the same person who actually runs the business on a day-to-day basis.

The premises must be operated in accordance with the terms of the licence. If you want to change the way in which any of the licenseable activities are run (eg provide an area for consumption of alcohol or extend the hours of operation) you must apply for a variation of the licence. If no one objects, then the licensing authority must grant what you have asked for. If there is an objection which is considered to be in accordance with the new law, then the licensing authority must hold a hearing to decide whether or not to grant what you request.

The new licensing system does not provide for permitted hours. Each set of premises, whether applying for sales on or off the premises, or both, must declare its hours of operation and, once they are agreed, those will be the hours when sales may be made. The local council cannot fix permitted hours, and if they receive no objections they must grant the hours requested. They can curtail the hours only on specified grounds and then only after hearing both sides of the argument.

Unlike the present system, the premises licence does not require renewal on an annual or three-yearly basis. It lasts as long as the premises continue to operate. However, the licensing authority will charge an annual fee for the licence, probably payable on the anniversary of the grant of the licence. They will also charge fees for applications and variations, as they did before.

Those people who wish to run premises where alcohol is sold require a personal licence. As its name suggests, this is a licence for an individual, which recognises that he or she is qualified to run any type of premises where alcohol is sold or supplied. However, unlike the old system, the personal licence itself will not be linked to specific premises. Once a person has this licence, they are qualified to sell alcohol at any premises holding a premises licence, or being used on a special occasion for a temporary event.

It is not now a requirement to own or operate licensed premises in order to hold such a licence, and most personal licences will be granted initially to people who have recently passed a licensing qualification, prior to taking over or managing a pub, bar or off-licence.

Once granted, a personal licence lasts for 10 years, at which point it will require renewal by the licensing authority which granted it in the first place. However, by then it may be that a central database has been set up and renewal may be made electronically or by applying to one specified address, as with driving licences.

Although the personal and premises licences are distinct and separate, it is a requirement that each set of premises selling alcohol has a designated premises supervisor who is responsible for the operation of the licence. The person must be the holder of a personal licence, although he or she does not have to make or authorise each and every sale on the premises in question. In general, the designated premises supervisor will be the owner, manager, tenant or lessee of the off-licence or store. If the named person leaves or gives up running the premises, then a variation of the premises licence will be needed to name a new premises supervisor.

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