The lack of response from retailers who must reapply to sell alcohol has been quantified by local government research, sparking fears of licensing black holes nationwide.
Retailers must update their existing premise licences and apply for personal permits to continue selling alcohol by August 6, under new rules laid out in the Licensing Act 2003.
They also need to reapply for licences to sell hot food after 11pm and before 5.30am.
But with half the application period now having expired, fewer than 5% of the expected applications have so far been received, according to licensing regulator Lacors and the Local Government Association. Surveys of 82 councils relating to both off-trade and on-trade premises were carried out.
Major chains such as Tesco or Asda are expected to get their applications in by August.
However, councillors fear that many smaller businesses are simply unaware of the new licensing requirements.
Lacors and the LGA are holding an emergency meeting to create an action plan to tackle the situation.
Councillor Bryony Rudkin, chairwoman of the LGA’s Safer Communities Board, said the situation could be disastrous for local retailers.
“With just two and a half months to go until the deadline,
significant numbers of local businesses could be prevented from selling alcohol altogether.”
The Grocer has also learned that the cost of the licences, which can run into hundreds of
pounds, appears to be dissuading shop owners from putting in applications.
In a letter to The Grocer this week, Jackie May, manager of J&J May Stores, an independent c-store in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, said: “Many retailers think there must be a mistake. In our case, the cost has risen from £30 for three years to £190 per annum, plus the cost of individual licences.”
Sean Carter, manager of the Rural Shops Alliance, confirmed that the cost of updating licences was putting off many of its members.
“Most of our members get a rates rebate of up to 100% as rural retailers.
“We have suggested to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and to Lacors that they should be looking at a discounted structure for licence applications for those shops.”
Rod Addy