Problems with provision

Obtaining a licence for the sale of alcohol can be a difficult task for a petrol forecourt, so what are the key points to consider when applying? Andrew Hunter, a licensing lawyer and partner at Harper Macleod LLP, considers the issues.

Andrew Hunter of Harper macleod LLP
Andrew Hunter of Harper macleod LLP

Is it possible to obtain an off-sale premises licence for a garage premises in Scotland?
Yes, although premises which sell fuel are treated as “excluded premises” which cannot be licensed unless they satisfy exemption criteria set out in the Act.

What are the exemption criteria?
In order to satisfy the exemption criteria, the premises must be relied upon to a significant extent by local residents as their principal source of fuel or groceries. This is different to the “primary use” test you may have heard for English petrol stations.

Why exclude petrol stations at all?
The test arguably came about to prevent off sales from petrol forecourts (in line with a general “drink driving” policy message) but to preserve licences of forecourt shops which were part of more rural communities.  The exemption provisions, however, were far more widely drafted and have allowed for the grant of licences in both rural and urban areas.

What steps should I take before applying for an off-sale premises licence?
There are certain steps that require to be undertaken by any operator looking to apply for a licence in Scotland for any type of premises and expert legal advice should always be sought on that. In addressing the exemption criteria, market research and customer interviews are recommended to understand their buying habits and use of the premises.

How does the statutory exemption criteria work in practice?
The court has explained the exemption as follows: “Reliance to a significant extent as the principal source of fuel or groceries” means that there is a recognisable number of persons resident in the locality of the premises, who are not necessary constituted as a group or collective but more than a handful, who by virtue of their purchasing habits see and treat the premises in question as their principal source from which they ordinarily obtain either their groceries or fuel.
These customers will properly regard themselves as materially disadvantaged or inconvenienced if the shop does not provide that fuel or grocery. Independent market research can put these propositions to customers and be used as evidence before the licensing authority.

Does it matter that people rely on my premises for fuel more than they do for groceries?
No.  The legislation does not differentiate between reliance on the premises for fuel as opposed to groceries.  Reliance for either is sufficient.

If I can satisfy the exemptions, will I be granted a licence in Scotland?
Satisfying the exemption criteria is only part of the application process. The licensing authority will still consider other relevant grounds for refusal, such as inconsistency with the licensing objectives or an overprovision of licensed premises in a particular locality.
What else should I know if I am considering applying for an off-sale premises licence for my premises just now?
Assuming your premises can be treated as an exception, you should consider the board’s policy on overprovision of licensed premises before embarking on the application process. Many licensing boards are now producing overprovision policies that restrict that the grant of new licences in specific areas and, in some cases, the whole licensing board area. You should carefully consider this policy before incurring the potentially expensive exercise of market research, preparing layout plans and paying licensing application fees.