Your questions answered
A caveat first, the answers below is not based on any specific circumstances and is of general relevance. Please contact us directly for more specific advice based on your individual circumstances.
If my DPS is self-isolating, do I need to make an application to vary the licence to specify a new DPS?
A Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) is an individual who holds a valid personal licence and is named on a premises licence which authorises the sale by retail of alcohol.
The role of the DPS is to authorise the sale of alcohol and generally responsible for the management of the premises that is licensed. If a nominated DPS is unable to fulfil their statutory duty because they have to self-isolate, there is no legal reason why they licence should be varied in the interim.
In practice, a DPS can sub-delegate their duty to another personal licence holder. This should eb sufficient to comply with law. We recommend that this delegation is in writing and that a record is kept on site in case of an inspection by a licensing authority or police.
If the Government’s advice is that all pubs, bars and other leisure venues should close, am I legally obligated to do so?
Yes. The recently enacted Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 makes closures on a statutory footing.
Under the Regulations, it is an offence for any person who is responsible for carrying on a business (owner, proprietor, and manager), amongst others, of bars, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, cinemas to trade. Failure to comply is a criminal offence that carries an unlimited fine.
What is prohibited under the Regulations?
During the relevant period:
- close any premises, or part of the premises, in which food or drink are sold for consumption on those premises, and
- cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises; or
- if the business sells food or drink for consumption off the premises, cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises during the relevant period.
A person designated by Secretary of State may take such action as is necessary to enforce closure. The Secretary of State is yet to make an announcement on enforcement officers.
How can I protect my premises licence if its issued to a company?
There is no doubt that the leisure sector will face significant challenges over the next few months. As such, there is likely to be an increase in the number of companies facing the prospect of liquidation.
Whilst this is serious for any business, the current Covid-19 outbreak will be temporary and it may be that once it is over, business may want to restart. At this stage, licensees should not have to worry about how to relicense.
If your premises licence is in the name of a company, you can apply to transfer it to an individual. This is important because the Licensing Act 2003 includes provisions to the effect that a premises licence will lapse if the licence holder becomes insolvent or passes away. You can avoid your licence lapsing by transferring to yourself.
Can I open even if I cannot find enough doorstaff due to the outbreak?
If your premises licence requires you to have doorstaff, you will be required to comply with that requirement otherwise you may be committing an offence.
However, you could submit a Temporary Events Notice to overcome this on a temporary basis. Alternatively, if you require a longer-term solution, you could apply for a minor variation of your premises licence to temporarily disapply this condition. The licensing authority will most likely consult with the police who could object.
You have to consider the impact of reduced doorstaff on the running of your business and safety of customers. In some cases, it may be that a venue will need to scale back their hours to mitigate the impact, cancel events or reduce capacities.
Do I need to pay my annual premises licence fee?
If you have a premises licence, you are required to pay an annual maintenance fee. Liability to pay the annual fee is a statutory requirement and a licensing authority has the power to suspend you premises licence for non-payment.
Technically speaking and despite the Covid-19 outbreak, your premises licence can still be suspended for non-payment. However, as the leisure sector is bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 outbreak, it will be extraordinary for any licensing authority to suspend a premises licence for non-payment.
There is technically no discretion in law when it comes to annual fees. However, the current situation is not business as usual and there is an expectation that licensing authorities should be pragmatic where the circumstances deem this necessary.
If your annual fee is payable but due to the circumstances you cannot make the payment, we advise that you initially speak to your licensing authority to request a deferment.
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