The premises renewal fees are beginning to hit the doormats of those good retailers who applied for their grandfather licensing rights early to beat the rush - as requested by all the local authorities. So now they are finding that they are being billed for their renewal fees early, too.

Councils are making up their own policy on this one because central government didn't spell out this particular little wrinkle in the new Licensing Act.

Joyce Wade rang me from her store, Wade's General Store and Off Licence at Ipswich in Suffolk, after she received a letter telling her that her fee was payable from the day it was granted - May 26.

"How do they justify this? I had a magistrates' licence last May and it was good until the new laws came in. They didn't even give me the premises licence until last year's deadline and then I had to
go to collect it personally so I sweated for five months over that."

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) tells me that it is lobbying the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for clarification. ACS has also had it looked at by its lawyers and tells me that not paying the renewal fee until November will not threaten your licence legally. It is a civil matter and the local authority cannot just withdraw it. "Basically, it is a mess," says ACS licensing specialist Shane Brennan.

Meanwhile, Joyce is still not sure whether to delay paying because, being 72 years-plus, she's afraid she may forget (I'm sure the local authorities will stump up for a second stamp).

Then I got a call from Michael Winter on the same subject. Michael, who runs M&L Family Stores at Thetford in Norfolk, actually rang the DCMS himself. "They advised me to pay now on the principle that it could be revoked if anything goes wrong. They used careful words."

He now wants a rebate for paying early.

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