The Licensing Act 2003 – a briefing note

United Kingdom

Preparations for the introduction of the new licensing regime continue. On 21 January 2005 Tessa Jowell announced the new fee structure for licensing authorities who will now be responsible for running the new alcohol licensing regimes in their own areas. The fees are higher than expected and have been fixed by reference to the rateable value of premises, with a multiplier applied to town and city centre pubs. A one-off payment for a new licence will be between £100 to £635 (up from the previous proposal of £80 to £500) and the annual fee will be £70 to £350 up from £40 to £225. City centre premises may have to pay in excess of £1500 for their licences.

The new fees come in on 7 February 2005, which is also the "First Appointed Day", that is the beginning of the Act's transitional period from which applications for conversions of old style justices' licences to the new licences can be made.

This briefing note highlights some of the main provisions of the Licensing Act 2003, it is not intended to be an exhaustive guide.

1. Summary and background

The Licensing Act 2003 received Royal Assent on 10 July 2003 and follows on from the white paper published in April 2000 which looked at reforming alcohol and entertainment licensing ("Time for Reform: Proposals for the Modernisation of our Licensing Laws CM4696").

The purpose of the Act is to promote four fundamental licensing objectives being:-

  1. The prevention of crime and disorder;
  2. The promotion of public safety;
  3. The prevention of public nuisance; and
  4. The protection of children from harm.

The Act unifies the various different licensing systems into a single integrated scheme licensing the sale of alcohol, the provision of public entertainment and late night refreshments.

The licensing authorises the provision of "licensable activities" through a system of:-

  • Personal licences;
  • Premises licences;
  • Club premises certificates; and
  • Temporary event notices

The Act received Royal Assent on 10 July 2003. The Secretary of State's guidance under Section 182 was issued on 7 July 2004. At this time licensing authorities began preparing their new licensing policy statements.

The "First Appointed Day" from which licences can be applied for under the new system is now fixed as 7 February 2005.

The "Second Appointed Day", which is the day when the new system will come into force proper, will be 10 months after the First Appointed Day.

2. Personal licences

These authorise individuals to sell or supply alcohol or authorise the sale or supply of alcohol for consumption on or off premises. To qualify for a personal licence an individual must be:-

  • 18 or over.
  • Possess an accredited licensing qualification which will ensure that the licensee knows the law but is also aware of the broader social responsibility that comes with the sale of alcohol.
  • Have a clean criminal record (subject to some exceptions).

Personal licences last for 10 years and are renewable unless they are suspended, surrendered or forfeit by the Court.

Under so called "grandfather" provisions, most people currently holding a Justice's Licence can convert the existing alcohol licence into a new personal licence.

3. Premises licences

This authorises the holder of the licence to use the premises for "licensable activities". A licence can be held by an individual or by a corporate entity and the licence details the licensable activities to be undertaken at the premises. An operating plan or schedule is a new feature of the Licensing Act and is central to the application for a premises licence. It consists of a description of the style and character of the business to be run from the premises and should include:-

  • Details of the times during which the licensable activities are to take place;
  • If open at any other times, when the premises are open;
  • If the licence is required only for a limited period what that period is.
  • Where the licensable activities include the supply of alcohol the details of the designated premises supervisor;
  • Steps which the applicant proposes to take to promote the licensing objectives.

The premises licence will incorporate operating conditions fixed on the basis of the operators requirements and residents views as well as police and Fire Authority assessments. As before, these licences are transferable. They may also be varied on application.

4. Designated Premises Supervisor

The sale of alcohol is considered to have greater responsibility than other regulated entertainment and that is why a personal licence is required by individuals who supply or sell alcohol. The "Designated Premises Supervisor" is required to ensure that there is always one specified individual among probably a number of personal licence holders working in a premises identified as having the day-to-day responsibility for running the premises. It is considered essential that the Police, Fire Officers or Licensing Authority can immediately identify the designated premises supervisor as their point of contact. The designated premises supervisor is to be specified on the premises licence and if he/she changes the new designated premises supervisor is to be notified to the Licensing Authority.

5. Local Authorities as Licensing Authorities

Previously the responsibility for granting and monitoring the various licences was divided amongst different authorities, for instance, local authorities dealt with cinema licences whereas the local licensing justices dealt with alcohol licences. Under the Licensing Act the new Licensing Authority is the Local Authority. The Licensing Authority has to promote the four licensing objectives of the legislation and in carrying out its licensing functions has to do the following:-

  1. Have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003. (This currently extends to in excess of 150 pages).
  2. Every three years to publish its own policy with respect to exercising its licensing functions after consultation with the local police, the Fire Authority and other relevant local bodies. The rationale being that at the same time pursuing the licensing objectives the Local Licensing Authority can tailor its policy to take into account the specific needs of the licensing area, for instance the needs of Covent Garden will differ radically from the needs of a community in rural Wales.

6. Other provisions

  • Flexible opening hours is a key feature. The Licensing Act brings with it the potential for up to 24 hour 7 days a week opening in order to minimise the social disorder and binge drinking associated with the current regimented 11pm closing time. There is detailed guidance on permitted opening hours of which ultimately will be subject to consideration of the impact on local residents.
  • Fees are to be set centrally with no local authority discretion to vary them.
  • There will be a new system of temporary permitted activities which allow extensions for premises licences and the sale of alcohol by non-licence holders within permitted limits after a straightforward notification process. This will allow specific events to be held, for instance, a wedding reception, parties for sporting events i.e., world cup final etc.
  • Boats undertaking "licensable activities" will require a premises licence as will wholesalers when selling to the public.
  • The sanctions available to local authorities are much more wide-ranging and flexible and include the suspension and forfeiture of licences.

7. Transitional phase

Although conversion from an old licence to a new one is not automatic, if an application is made the existing licence will generally be converted into a licence under the new scheme, however, it will include all the restrictions and limitation of the old licence. If licensees wish to take advantage of the more flexible range of opening hours or to diversify their business, they will need to make an application for a variation of the existing licence. As an applicant will in any event have to do the work by producing an operating schedule as part of the application for the premises licence, it would be prudent to make any application for variation at the same time as the initial application to convert the licence rather than waiting for the new system to come into force.