Lawyer says process should be delayed
SCOTTISH retailers are facing “absolute disaster” over the pending renewal of personal licences, according to a leading licensing lawyer.
Applications for renewal are now officially open, but the Scottish Government still hasn’t clarified several details about what is required of retailers.
Licensing expert Janet Hood said that the Scottish Government “have been absolutely refusing to understand the issue.”
Under current licensing rules, all retailers whose licences came into effect in September 2009 must submit a renewal application and training qualification to their local licensing board by 31 May 2019.
By 31 August 2019 licence holders must have completed a personal licence training course, and by 30 November 2019 they will be required to provide the board with evidence of this training.
However, there are plenty of crucial questions still to be answered.
It remains unclear whether retailers whose licences are set to expire will need to undertake the full SCLPH course again, or the somewhat lighter refresher course, which personal licence holders are required to take within five years of obtaining their licence.
In a bid to combat the confusion, the Scottish Government published guidance on the issue last month but, according to Hood, this has only further muddied the water.
The Scottish Government has recommended that the refresher course would be appropriate, however government recommendations are not laws and Hood believes there is scope for licensing board administrators to reject applications supported by refresher training certificates.
The guidance also states that, despite the renewal deadline being set for 31 May, retailers who “leave it that late” are “at a real risk” of losing their licence.
The document advises: “If a lot of applications come in at the last minute then yours may not be approved in time and will be lost.”
Hood said that this will cause “enormous difficulty”, and has asked the government to defer the renewal of personal licences for one year to enable them to address the issues that have arisen within the process.
According to Hood, current personal licences should continue to be valid during this period, as if licences can’t be passed in time then it could “close many businesses” where the personal licence holder is the premises manager.
“The Scottish Government appears to have shut its ears to the requests of interested parties,” she said, “and I have no faith that they will sort this issue out.”
There is also confusion surrounding the issue of licence renewal fees, with an open Scottish Government consultation asking whether or not a £50 renewal fee should be introduced.
As Scottish Grocer went to press, no conclusions had been reached about a potential fee.
When approached for comment, the Scottish Government said the licensing system is operated by independent licensing boards.
A spokesperson said that the government was “keen to support the renewals process” and reiterated that retailers should book refresher training as soon as possible.