Should you bring a refit forward?

Andrew Hunter, above left, says if licensees are planning a refit and can afford to do it now they should do so ahead of licence overprovision changes. Audrey Junner, above right, thinks the new system could be a game changer.
Andrew Hunter, above left, says if licensees are planning a refit and can afford to do it now they should do so ahead of licence overprovision changes. Audrey Junner, above right, thinks the new system could be a game changer.

Changes to drinks licence overprovision rules could mean moving or extending your in-store licensed areas will become much more difficult.

ARE you mulling over a possible refit? If you are, and especially if you’re planning to move or extend the areas you currently have allocated to alcohol display in your premises licence operating plan, then maybe sooner might be better than later.
Because changes that were agreed by the Scottish Parliament when it passed the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015, and are now working their way through the system, could make it more difficult for many stores to make changes to licensed areas, Andrew Hunter, specialist licensing lawyer and partner at legal firm Harper Macleod told Scottish Grocer.
Alterations in the ways that Scotland’s licensing boards formulate their policies on overprovision of drinks licences in their local authority areas are likely to come into effect this autumn, he explained.
“It will give the boards a much wider ability to say ‘You know what, the whole of our area is overprovided’.
“And other factors can be taken into account including opening hours.”
In the event that a board does adopt a ‘full area overprovided’ policy it could mean that any change of a store’s operating plan that is not considered a minor variation, which would automatically trigger a new licence application, would see a licence application fail, perhaps with little chance of a successful appeal.
Some licensees may be thinking of such changes if they want to use current covered tobacco display areas for spirits in the future.
Hunter expects the new regimes to take full effect by around next June – after the Scottish local elections in May 2017, the election of each area’s new licensing board and the publication of each board’s policy.
But given that a refit that includes a major variation to a store’s licensed area is likely to require the arranging of finance, discussions with contractors, licence applications, objection notification periods and refitting work the lawyer reckons it would be wise to start as soon as possible.
“If licensees can afford to do it now then they should do it now,” he said.
On other aspects of licensing he was keen to highlight recent developments on a subject he recognised was “a bit boring” but important.
If a premises licence is held by limited company or limited partnership and the company is late in complying with business law requirements – like filing accounts – it could lead to it being struck off as a company, he said.
That in turn could lead to the police calling at the door to say that as the company is no longer on the register the store’s drinks licence is no longer in place.
“It has become more important recently because the keeper of the register of companies has become much more proactive about getting non-compliant companies off the register,” he said.
Licensees should also be aware of changes that result from Westminster’s recent Immigration Act. In particular if a licence holder loses the right to work in the UK they should inform the relevant licensing board immediately, even if the immigration decision is being appealed, he said.

• Audrey Junner, partner at Hill Brown also expects the new overprovision rules to commence in the autumn.
“I don’t know if it is going to have a massive effect but it has the potential to be a real game changer,” she said.
“I would say it’s going to be much easier to refuse either variations or new applications than it has been up until now.
“And boards can also look at anything else including licensing hours and any other matter that they consider relevant.”
She also expects the reintroduction of ‘fit and proper’ tests for licence applicants to be commenced in the autumn.
Under the new system police will be able to present information on an applicant to be used by a board in deciding whether he or she is fit and proper to hold a licence.
“I think it has generally been welcomed providing it’s used correctly,” Junner said.
“Boards will have a difficult task deciding what is relevant information. But there is plenty of jurisprudence on fit and proper.”