The government looks unlikely to grant an extension period to retailers reapplying for licences to sell alcohol, leaving them in danger of facing jail time.
Organisations representing independent retailers, including the Association of Convenience Stores and the Rural Shops Alliance, have been lobbying the government to give shopkeepers more time.
But with less than a month until the initial August 6 deadline, Rural Shops Alliance manager Sean Carter said that the chances of that happening were now slim.
“Licensing minister James Purnell [minister for media and tourism] seems to have made up his mind that the thing is a minefield. He understands that it’s heading for disaster, but I don’t think he’s prepared to bend at this stage.”
Carter said at least three quarters of independents had still not applied to renew premise licences and obtain personal licences under the requirements of the 2003 Licensing Act. Local government licensing regulator Lacors last week issued a long-awaited guide to local councils on how to handle applications and introduced a qualification for licensing officers.
Carter’s reaction was mixed. “It should have been out in March, but I suppose this is better late than never.” A spokesman for the ACS, which published its guide for retailers in March, added:
“I don’t think Lacors should be blamed for this situation. It should lie with the government. It looks like there’s going to be chaos.”
Retailers may be unable to renew existing licences if they do not apply by August 6. That could leave them without a licence for Christmas.
The Rural Shops Alliance has teamed up with solicitors Morgan Cole, offering to complete licensing forms on behalf of independents for £100 more than current application fees.