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The next phase of lockdown easing will be important for the licensed trade.  Pubs, restaurants and other licensed premises could be allowed to open within weeks.  However, the trading landscape will be very different and premises licence holders will need to consider appropriate premises licence changes.

Minor Variations

As mentioned, the trading context and environment for many licensed premises will be very different from pre-Covid-19 days.  There is ongoing debate about the appropriate social distancing measures that must be adopted to support the leisure sector.  Whilst this is yet to be decided on, it is certain that social distancing will be part of everyday life for the foreseeable future.

With this in mind, there will be a need for premises licence holders to revisit their premises licence to check its Covid-19 “compatibility”.

Whilst we wait for Government guidance, it should be assumed that each licensing authority will take its own approach to managing the opening of pubs, restaurants and other licensed.  There are a range of issues licence holders need to be aware of such as:

  1. The need for licensing additional space, most likely outdoors
  2. The need to review licensing conditions that might restrict trading flexibility
  3. A review of licensed hours to adapt to a new way of trading

May of these changes to your premises licence can be made through a minor variation application.

Minor variations are a light touch process for applying for – as the name suggests – minor changes to a premises licence.  Some changes must be done through the full variation process, but not all changes.

A minor variation takes a statutory 15 working days to determine and consultees are limited to those the licensing authority deems relevant based on the nature of the variation. 

Example

Within the context of trading under current restrictions, we anticipate many licensed businesses will seek to utilise outdoor space more than they have done in the past.  It will be necessary to license additional areas for the sale of alcohol. In other words, it might be necessary to submit a minor variation application to extend the scope of the plan attached to your premises licence.

You might have conditions on your premises licence that might prove to be restrictive under the circumstances.  A minor variation application could be used to amend or remove these.

Operating schedule

Minor variation applications are subject to consultation. It is worth considering whether you need to also revisit your operating schedule (i.e. premises licence conditions) to check if any additional measure might be necessary.  This might give potential objectors confidence that you have thought about how you will operate in the future.  This could help address potential objector’s concerns and their decision to object, or not, to your application.

Be aware

  1. Although a minor variation is a simplified and lighter touch process, there is no right to refer your application to a sub-committee if objections are submitted. In law, if a minor variation application is refused, you will have to submit a full variation application.
  2. You cannot use a minor variation to add the sale of alcohol to your licence or to authorise an increase in the amount of time on any day during which alcohol may be sold by retail or supplied.

Stephen McCaffrey

Regulatory defence barrister specialising in alcohol and entertainment licensing law, appeals and defence.

Premises licence legal issue?

Licensing Defence Barristers are leading licensing barristers dealing with all legag matters relating to alcohol, entertainment and late-night licences.