It’s probably a familiar scenario. It’s 7.30am on a Monday. A customer comes in to do their shopping on the way home from a night shift. They want to buy a bottle of wine. They appear to be a responsible, sober member of the local community. You may even know them. Yet you have to say no. The law says so.
Similarly, a European tourist is bemused that the shop they are in has to rope off an aisle stocking alcohol because it is a certain time of day.
Well, the good news is that the law is changing - for the better. We are giving licensees more freedom to tailor the service they provide to their customers. That’s good for the customer and it’s good for business.
This means grocery stores, mini markets and corner shops will, provided there are no reasonable objections, be able to serve alcohol during the hours they want to.
It’s a change that treats adults like grown ups and recognises that the vast majority of store owners and managers are responsible and follow the law to the very letter.
What’s the catch? Well, if you currently sell alcohol and want to continue to do so under the new laws you need to apply to renew your licence to your local authority. Everyone has to do this, whether or not they want to change the hours they operate. And they have to do it soon.
All licensed premises have until August 6 to convert or vary their existing licence. It doesn’t matter whether you recently renewed or obtained a new licence from the courts - these existing licences will no longer be valid once the new system comes into force. This means if you haven’t already sent off the application form, or begun to fill it in, you need to do this now. Licensees that apply after August 6 will lose their grandfather rights - the rights they already have, such as existing opening hours - and have to apply for an entirely new licence.
You can get the application form from your local authority. We have tried to make the form as simple to fill in as possible.
We have also issued clear guidance to local authorities on how they should run the licensing systems in their areas. They can attach conditions to licences, but only to anything new that you wish to do. In fact, provided you make a valid application before 6 August, and the police have no objections, your application to convert your grandfather rights should be granted.
I know some people may find the
application process confusing or daunting. If this is the case, they should contact their local authority’s licensing department who should be able to help. Help is also available from trade bodies, such as the Association of Convenience Stores, and also from www. culture.gov.uk/alcohol_and_entertainment
No one likes form filling. That’s why we’ve designed a licensing system that will cut bureaucracy in the long term. It streamlines six separate licensing regimes - alcohol, public entertainment, cinemas, theatres, late night refreshment and night cafes - into one. This means licensees won’t have to apply for multiple licences and there will be less need for licensing hearings in the vast majority of cases.
And once you have your new licence, you shouldn’t ever need to apply for another one for your shop, unless you want to vary your licence terms.
We estimate that in the first 10 years of the new system, the total number of applications, plans and hearings should be slashed from around 17 million to an estimated two million; this would include a cut in licensing hearings from 2.4 million to just 40,000 - saving industry as a whole an estimated £2 billion in the first 10 years.
That means you’ll have more time to run your business without being tied up in red tape.
Change is never easy. We all have a tendency to put off what we could do today until tomorrow. I know I’m frequently guilty of doing that. But this is one time when it is essential to act sooner rather than later and get that application in now.