You may recall that we advised you a few weeks ago about changes to the Licensing Act which would allow Local Authorities to suspend Premises Licences for non-payment of the annual fee. This measure came into effect on 25 April 2011.
We have been made aware that a number of Licensing Authorities are already embracing these new powers.
The Law requires Local Authorities to make a demand for payment. This is now being done by some Authorities in the form of a letter giving fourteen days notice to pay. If payment is not received by the end of that fourteen day period then the Local Authority can move to give the Premises Licence Holder notice of their intention to suspend the Premises Licence by giving not less than two working days notice. Local Authorities are encouraged to give longer notice.
If there is a dispute as to liability or payment has not been made because of an administrative error (either by the Licensing Authority or the Premises Licence Holder) there is a mechanism which provides for a further 21 day grace period providing, in the case of a dispute as to liability, that that dispute is raised before the initial period for payment has expired.
We have discovered that a number of Local Authorities are trying to go back and claim unpaid fees for previous years. This they are not allowed to do, the right to suspend a Premises Licence for non-payment will only attach to the Premises Licences fees which fall due after the 25 April 2012. We have even come across one instance of a Local Authority who was determined to “try it on” to see if they could get some fees back even though they are fully aware that the Law does not allow them to recover prior years.
It does seem quite certain however that Local Authorities are going to embrace this new mechanism for raising revenue and enforcing payment and it is therefore important that all Premises Licence Holders should take action to ensure that Licence fees are paid promptly.
Should you have any queries about the suspension of a premises licence, please contact our Alcohol & Entertainment Licensing team on 01332 226 151.