We encourage our clients to make the most of the space they have and post covid challenges mean all hospitality businesses are thinking more creatively about what they can do to maximise trading areas and potential sales.
This needs to be done with one eye on compliance as the last thing we want is to fall foul of the local authorities. Head of Licensing for Harrison Drury, Malcolm Ireland, explains.
Protecting licensed premises from an increase in enforcement
Malcolm Ireland: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thebeerlawyer/
During lockdown and for some time after, it is safe to say that there was an element of sympathy towards the trade and (at least in part) for that reason, enforcement authorities seemed less eager to take action against licensed premises.
Unfortunately, it is also safe to say that whilst some sympathy may remain, given the challenges that those in the sector are facing, the more relaxed approach to enforcement which was briefly enjoyed has passed and enforcement is well and truly back. Since the start of 2022 we have seen a notable increase in enforcement, whether that has taken the form of reviews, noise abatement notices, or test purchases.
With that in mind, it’s worth a reminder of some of the ways in which operators can fall foul of their licensing obligations.
Make sure you are familiar with the permitted timings on your premises licence. The pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in some changes to consumer behaviour and several clients in the trade are telling us that they have changed the way they operate as a result – whether that is catering to a different (perhaps later) customer base, or offering brunch to generate revenue at a time when a premises was previously not traded.
Make sure that any licensable activities are carried out within the times permitted on your premises licence.
Times change and as they do, the way premises are operated changes as well. We quite frequently come across issues with premises licences that contain conditions which are breached as a result of them no longer being consistent with the way a premises is operated. A classic example is the condition preventing customers from being in an outside area after a certain time – something that was fine before the smoking ban came in, but which will cause issues post-smoking ban if you need to utilise your outside area to cater for smokers.
Much has changed as a result of the pandemic, so a review of all of the conditions on your premises licence to make sure they are still appropriate for the way you operate is advisable.
A plan which accompanies a premises licences is a part of the licence and as such, it should reflect the current layout of the premises, but this is something that is often over-looked.
Time and again we come across licences that have not been changed for ten years or more, yet in that time the premises may have been refurbished two or three times – often resulting in changes to the layout of the premises which should have been reflected in a change to the plan.
Compare the plan which accompanies your premises licence to the current layout of the premises and make sure they match.
The pandemic has undoubtedly resulted in greater use of external areas and, whilst care needs to be taken with neighbours (see following paragraph), in many cases this has been a useful tool to boost revenue.
It is worth noting that the more streamlined process for pavement licence applications that was introduced during Covid was extended in July, so will now continue until the end of September 2023. At the time of writing, the associated relaxation for off-sales (which is due to expire on 30th September 2022) had not been extended, but the Home Office has indicated an intention to do so until September 2023.
We have found that during the course of the lockdowns, many people who live close to a licensed premises got used to there being no activity there, and in several cases that reset their understanding of what noise is acceptable and what is not. We have dealt with a number of instances where residents have seemingly become unable to differentiate between nuisance and the low-level noise that one would expect to experience from the general day to day activities of a licensed premises. This has resulted in actions that have had to be defended.
Whilst it may not be possible to alleviate that noise, engaging with your neighbours proactively can go a long way towards managing their expectations and heading off potential issues early.
Despite the fact that several commentators are citing the current cost crisis as a greater threat to hospitality businesses than the pandemic, the hands-off approach to enforcement that we saw during covid has seemingly gone. Whether that is fair or unfair, operators can reduce the risk of enforcement by making sure they are fulfilling their licensing obligations.