Articles | Premises licence fees get tough  

Tim Child explains why Licensees must ensure that they have proper diary systems in place so that the annual licence fees are paid promptly - and what will happen if they aren't.

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It's a tough environment for licensees at the moment with pub closures continuing on a regular basis.  Many business owners are having to juggle their finances, deciding their priorities between creditors.  In those circumstances, the annual licence renewal fee was sometimes allowed to drift, as the local authority had little by way of immediate enforcement options.
 
That has now changed - from 25 April 2012 the local authority not only can but must suspend a premises licence where the fee is unpaid. 
 
The licensing authority has to serve at least two days' notice that the licence will be suspended, but this need not be a separate item - in practice many councils are likely to incorporate this notice in the payment demand.  In theory, the licence-holder has 21 days in which to pay or dispute the fee.  However, those three weeks run from when the fee falls due, not from when the invoice is received from the licensing authority.  Not all authorities are efficient about sending out licence-fee reminders, and if the notice from the authority is received outside that 21 days and the fee is not paid immediately, the licence could be suspended as little as two days later. 
 
Suspension of the licence will in practice mean that the business has to close.  It can re-open again once the fee is paid, but in the meantime if the business carries out any licensable activities (e.g. sells alcohol) a criminal offence will be committed, which as well as bringing you before the local magistrates is likely to result in a review of the Premises Licence and/or the Designated Premises Supervisor's Personal Licence.
 
Licensees must, therefore, check the date for payment of their premises licence and diarise carefully to ensure that this is paid promptly, without waiting for a reminder from the Council.  If a bill is received which has not already been paid, it must be paid immediately.   If a business-owner is about to go away, one of your pre-flight checks will now have to be to ensure that your licence fee will not expire while you are away - or you may have no business to return to!
 
If you have any questions about this or any other licensing matters, our experienced team will be able to help you.  Contact Tim Child, our head of regulatory and licensing, on 0118 951 6341.