The prospect of Licensing Officers, Environmental Health Officers or the Police visiting your premises, scrutinising the way you operate your premises and looking for every non-compliance, is a daunting prospect regardless of whether you have managed a pub for 20 years or 20 minutes.
Whilst there is a theme of deregulation around the Licensing Act 2003 at the moment, it is important to remember that there are a number of offences under the act which, in the event that you fall foul of one or more could have serious implications, including the possibility of prosecution, a fine of up to £20,000 or a Review of your premises licence.
A proactive approach prior to any enforcement visit could save time and reduce stress in the long term. Here are our tips to consider:
- Check your premises licence conditions fully and make sure that your staff are trained on their content. There is nothing worse than the authorities turning up at your premises and asking questions about the conditions only to realise that you do not know the answer or even worse, that you have actually been breaching the conditions. Also look out for conditions on matters such as staff training or incident logs and ensure that they are kept up to date and are available for inspection.
- A new code of practice relating to the use of powers of entry was published at the end of 2014 and is expected to come into force in April 2015 subject to Parliamentary approval. This recommends that the authorities should consider giving at least 48 hours’ notice before utilising their powers of entry and that those powers should only be exercised at a reasonable time. Clearly this will only be considered where pre-notification of a visit would not defeat the purpose of that visit or where the circumstances do not dictate that an urgent visit is required.
- Check the plan which attaches to the premises licence and ensure that it reflects the layout of the premises. It is an offence to trade otherwise than in accordance with those plans and some Licensing Authorities will insist on a full variation over and above a minor variation where they discover that the premises have been trading otherwise than in accordance with their plans.
- Consider any dispersal policy you have and, if you have regulated entertainment at your premises, the levels of noise from any entertainment. It is important to ensure that complaints are not being made to the Environmental Health Officer due to the levels of noise at your premises. If there is a persistent problem, you could face a review of your premises licence. In some cases, where the Environmental Health Officer determines that there is a ‘statutory nuisance’, you may be served with a noise abatement notice which if breached can carry a maximum £20,000 fine per incident or the possibility of a Court Order seizing equipment, such as speakers.
- Sometimes the simplest things can turn what had the potential to be a flawless inspection into something which needs closer attention. Basic requirements such as ensuring that your premises licence summary is displayed and that the correct weights and measures information is displayed or available to customers are good examples.
In the event that things do go wrong during an enforcement visit, the main thing to remember is to co-operate with and take on board any comments from the Authorities. The majority of Enforcement Officers will be happy to provide helpful feedback and it is a good idea to take advantage of their experience in order to help your business.