Published: 21 January 2016
Q: I own a bar which operates on the ground and first floor. A couple of years back I made some changes to my ground floor requiring a Minor Variation. I submitted the plan showing the new layout of the ground floor and this was granted. I have had no issues for the last two years but last week there was a multi-agency inspection of my premises and the Licensing Officer at the Council said that my first floor is not licensed at all. He has said that I cannot trade the first floor until I make a new licence application for the whole of the premises. In the meantime, I can only trade on the ground floor as this is the only floor that is shown on my licensed plans. What do I do?
A: This scenario is sadly not unique and can arise variously from administrative incompetence at the Licensing Authority to a badly prepared or inaccurate variation application on the part of the operator.
What appears to have happened is that when you made your minor variation two years ago you submitted simply the ground floor plan (no doubt because this was the only floor where the layout was changing) and when the Licensing Authority processed the application they binned your old plans (with the ground and first floors), replacing them simply with the ground floor. This error has now only come to light following the on-site inspection. As I cannot see your original minor variation application I do not know how you described your proposed changes, but it is perfectly permissible at law to “vary” one floor of a licensed premises whilst retaining the other floors as they are. What is critical, however, is that this is made absolutely clear in the variation application not least to prevent an administrative officer at the Licensing Authority simply binning all the old plans and replacing them with the new.
To avoid this eventuality it is often safer simply to submit plans of the whole of the premises including those floors where there are no changes. Conversely, if in your minor variation application you stated something like “to replace the existing plans with the plans attached to this application” then it is quite possible that you have inadvertently de-licensed the first floor, and indeed have been trading unlawfully for the past two years on that floor.
We frequently see issues with licensed plans as one of the most common areas of confusion and potential breaches of licensing law. I would advise you to go back to your correspondence file, check what you actually applied for in the application and whether it was made clear that the ground floor alone was being varied. If so, this is an administrative error on the part of the Licensing Authority. If it is unclear either way then you could argue that it was perfectly obvious that you did not intend to de-license your first floor (which I assume was fully trading at the time of the application) and that if there had been any doubt on the part of the Licensing Authority they should have contacted you to clarify it when the application was made. If you do have to make a new licence application you may be able to use TENs (including late TENs) to cover your busy periods in the meantime.
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