Retailers caught selling alcohol without a new licence are committing a crime and will face the full force of the law as a result, local councils have warned.
As many as 25% of traders failed to apply for new
personal and premises licences by the August 6 deadline for transfers under grandfather rights. Councils contacted by C-Store have confirmed a small percentage had still not applied by the November 24 cut-off point when the new licensing regime came fully into force.
Those few remaining outlets who are caught selling alcohol without a new licence will be committing a criminal offence which could lead to a maximum fine of £20,000 and six months imprisonment.
A spokeswoman for London Borough of Hackney Council said it was prepared to take a “hard line” against the 8% of licensed premises in her area that had failed to apply for a new licence.
The spokeswoman said the council had carried out an extensive campaign to warn licensees about the new licensing regime and the application timetable.
She said: “Each licensed premises has received three letters explaining what was happening and what needed to be done. We have also made personal visits to stores, put on roadshows and distributed helpful postcards, so the message to retailers has been clearly put across.
“We are now finalising a list of those who did not apply for a new licence and they will each be receiving a visit from a uniformed police officer to see if they are still attempting to sell alcohol. If so, the appropriate actions will be taken to make sure they stop.”
Leeds City Council has processed more than 2,000 applications for new licences from pubs, clubs, off licences and takeaways in the nine-month transitional period before the November 24 implementation date. However, about 100 off licences still remain without proper legal permissions.
Leader of Leeds City Council Mark Harris said: “Despite major efforts to ensure compliance, such as sending staff to premises and offering to help proprietors fill in the necessary paperwork, many businesses are now at risk of prosecution. We will soon be sending teams out to check on these premises. People must understand that we are not attempting to prosecute people deliberately. However, we have no option but to enforce the law.”
Some local councils have already started this process. A Reading Borough Council spokesman commented: “Our officers have already visited premises that we suspected would miss the deadline. If we do come across any stores that are selling alcohol and the retailer has not updated their licence, then they will be instructed to remove the items from their shelves and apply for a fresh licence.”
David Patient, Nearbuys Convenience Store, Canvey Island, Essex: “Although the relaxation on hours is welcomed, the whole system needs streamlining.
“In terms of what extended hours will mean to us, the impact will probably be fairly small as it’s only the first couple of hours of trading that have been added.”
Richard Paltridge, 24-hour Spar, North Hill, Plymouth: “We got a 24-hour alcohol licence which we have used over the past few days. We’re selling a restricted line of 30 products from behind the counter, and the response from customers has been great. Sales have been encouraging and our customers have given us no trouble.”
Gloria Williams, Village Shop, Hook Norton, Oxfordshire: “We haven’t gone for a change in our hours as we didn’t want to complicate the issue. The only hours that we will be open during which we won’t be able to sell alcohol will be two hours early on Sunday morning and we don’t think that will be a big deal.”