Queries come along to this column like number nine buses - none at all, or three in a row. So it was with a flurry of calls on alcohol licences.

A retailer from Newport in Gwent, who prefers to stay anonymous, rang to ask if he could take a holiday, leaving a relative in charge who does not have a personal licence. I was able to reassure him that the personal licence holder does not have to be on the site at all times - it was a point that the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) fought hard to clarify when the new licensing regime first came to pass.

In fact, ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan sent me a copy of a letter received from central government back in 2005, clarifying its guidelines to local authorities on the subject. The letter does make the point, though, that should anything go wrong, the licence holder is responsible.

Shane suggests that the retailer should leave his written permission with the person who is filling in. The letter should also state that the deputy has been made aware of the finer points of the law as it applies to the sale of alcohol.

I further suggest that whoever is left running the place should adopt a Challenge 21 or even Challenge 25 to be on the safe side.

Should anything go wrong in a situation like this, bear in mind that a council may decide this is a good time to impose further restrictions on the licence.

I also had a call from Rama Varambhia at Snutch Newsagents in Leicester. She says that a nearby store, run by a husband and wife team, never had a personal licence holder on the premises because the role was filled by the couple's daughter, who was an office worker.

"So why did I pay £200 to get a personal licence and surely there is at least a minimum time that the licence holder must spend on the premises?" objects Rama.

Shane Brennan told me that this wasn't the first time he had heard of such a situation. He says: "The government's view is that the personal licence holder should be somebody who understands the business well and is on the premises at least some of the time."

This makes sense, although to Rama's question why she had to fork out £200 - well, somebody had to, and it might as well be Rama who understands the business and is there a lot of the time.

To go back to basics - every store must have a designated premises supervisor (DPS), named by the premises licence holder. To hold the position of DPS you must have a personal licence. There can only be one DPS per site (who may well be the owner) but you can have more than one personal licence holder.

And finally here's a tip from Londis retailer Steve Denham on serving those who might be underaged. Says Steve, who trades in West Chiltington, West Sussex: "The key lesson I learned when writing a guide called Age Watch in conjunction with West Sussex Trading Standards is that retailers must never, never be judgmental - and that goes for

staff too. If you're not absolutely sure of their age, then make sure you ask."

Staff clearly need to know that it's a criminal offence with a fine or prison sentence attached if you get it wrong. They need refresher training and an epos prompt where possible.

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