In a letter sent out today (8 April) to all licensing authority councillors, the Minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse said authorities should consider delaying any license suspension for a business where the deferral in payment is related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He wrote: “Local authorities have discretion when considering non-payment or late payment of an annual premises licence fee or a late-night levy charge.
“While section 55A of the Licensing Act 2003 requires that the licence be suspended, it is possible to delay when that suspension takes effect. Where businesses are experiencing difficulties, I would expect them to make their licensing authority aware.”
In the letter, Malthouse also says councillors should take a “considered and pragmatic approach” to breaches of licence conditions and procedural defects caused by the pandemic, particularly where they “do not have a significant adverse impact” on the licensing objectives.
“Retailers may be operating under licences with conditions that may prove difficult to comply with in the current period due to absenteeism,” he wrote. “These include, but are not limited to, conditions that mandate the minimum number of staff or door supervisors on site, training requirements or attending external meetings.”
He added that licence holders “must rectify any breaches as soon as reasonably practicable”.
Other issues addressed include delivery windows, with councils advised that they should consider allowing deliveries outside of normal times.
Trade body UKHospitality, which has been in close discussions with the Home Office regarding a more adaptable approach to working with licensees currently affected by the crisis, has welcomed the recommendations.
“This additional flexibility for licensees is some welcome positive news at a moment when any good news is needed. The Government has shown a great deal of common sense in advising local authorities to act more pragmatically and flexibly during the outbreak,” says UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls.
“Hospitality businesses are currently under a huge amount of strain. The majority have no revenue whatsoever at the minute, and those that are operating in some capacity are working hard to support the needs of their communities and key workers. Pursuing a tactic of “business as usual” would have only heaped more pressure on businesses and stretched council resources even further.
“This scope for greater flexibility while the crisis is still in full swing is exactly the kind of lateral approach to business support we need.”