There was a chaotic start to the new alcohol-licensing regime this week, with a warning from a senior local government figure that the off-trade is “seriously unprepared” to cope.
With reports of councils wildly misinterpreting the new regulations, confusion over how to apply and a last-minute change of the forms, there were fears retailers would be unable to meet the August 6 deadline.
The Association of Convenience Stores, which has been flooded by calls from worried retailers, said it had heard “horror stories” of councils’ ignorance.
In North Norfolk, some retailers had been wrongly
advised the licence holder had to be present in the shop at all times. In Portsmouth, there have been discussions about applying an extra charge for problem town-centre pubs to the off-trade. The council told The Grocer it acknowledges there was a flat fee for off-licences.
Trish O’Flynn, policy leader for the Local Government Association, said it was no surprise councils were confused as government guidance and fee levels had only been published a few weeks ago.
The government also made changes to the online application form last Friday - forcing retailers who had filled them in to start again. “Very few councils have received any application forms, which will cause an administrative nightmare if they all flood in at once,” said O’Flynn.
“I get the impression the off-licence sector is not up to speed, they are seriously behind compared to on-licences.”
James Lowman, from the Association of Convenience Stores, said in some cases councils were motivated by a political clampdown on problem drinking. “They are doing this against a backdrop of hysteria about binge drinking and are looking for ways of being stringent. In some cases, they are overstepping the mark.”
Lowman urged retailers not to panic, make sure they had all the forms they needed and build a good relationship with their licensing officer.
Independent retailer and director of licensing advisory service Lockett, Chris Mitchener, said: “There have been massive delays and I don’t think most licensees are really sure what’s happening. There’s an awful lot of work to be done.”
Claire Hu