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On Wednesday 08 April 2020, Kit Malthouse MP, Minister of State for Crime & Policing, has written a letter all Licensing Committees in England and Wales.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

The Minister sets out some key areas where licensing authorities may wish to consider a pragmatic and more flexible approach during the coronavirus outbreak while ensuring the licensing objectives are safeguarded.

In terms of hearings still proceeding, Kit Malthouse MP said:

“my view is that hearings should proceed, wherever possible. As you may be aware, the Coronavirus Act 2020 provides express provision for remote licensing hearings to take place. Regulations commencing those provisions were published last week.”

On premises licence conditions:

“A considered and pragmatic approach should be taken to breaches of licence conditions and procedural defects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly where these breaches or defects do not have a significant adverse impact on the licensing objectives. Licensing holders must rectify any breaches as soon as reasonably practicable.

Some licensed premises have restrictions on deliveries as licence conditions…Allowing deliveries outside normal delivery times will be essential in some stores in ensuring adequate supply.”

In terms of payment of an annual fee or a late-night levy charge:

“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. The authority should consider delaying any suspension of the licence where the delay in payment or non-payment is related to COVID-19.”

On advertising applications in local newspapers:

“During the current period it may not be possible for applications to be advertised in local newspapers. The regulations provide for flexibility in such cases to advertise in a local newsletter, circular or similar document.  I recommend that authorities make applicants aware of this. Authorities should also consider advertising all applications on local authority websites. With blue notices less likely to be seen, authorities should, at a minimum, inform local ward councillors and, where established, local resident groups of all applications relating to premises in their vicinity (for example by email) so they are made aware of relevant applications and are able to make representations in response during the consultation period if they so wish.”

Commenting on the letter, George Domleo, associate in our Licensing team said:

“These are very welcomed comments from the Minister in these unprecedented times and the hope is that licensing authorities react to this and work in partnership with the operators and all parties involved to hopefully get through this together.”

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