In a recent blog we flagged concerns that applications to renew over 50,000 personal licences threatened to swamp Licensing Boards’ resources - a tsunami that could wash away thousands of licences and result in business closures.
The window for the submission of applications (1 September) is now just three weeks away; and the recent publication of a communications document by the Scottish Government has served to prompt further concerns from licensing lawyers, Board clerks and trade associations.
As we explained in the last blog, where a personal licence came into force on 1 September, 2009 the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 requires the submission of a renewal application no later than 31 May 2019 and the completion of refresher training by 31 August 2019. The renewal application must be supported by a “licensing qualification” (the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders); and evidence of refresher training (the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (Refresher)) requires be supplied to the Licensing Board no later than 30 November 2019.
Those affected face double jeopardy. Failure to submit a renewal application on time will result in the personal licence lapsing on 1 September. If the refresher training procedure isn’t followed, the Licensing Board must revoke the licence.
On any view, these processes place a complex, unnecessary burden on the trade. According to the new communications document, the Scottish Government is “recommending” that they should be dealt with “at the same time”. Personal licence holders should simply sit a further refresher course and then send the certificate to the relevant Licensing Board along with the renewal application.
It adds that:
But this proposed streamlined approach has failed to quell anxieties. Some Board clerks may well take the view that they ought not to follow a recommendation that departs from the dual requirements of the 2005 Act. The “recommended” approach could be placed on a proper footing by secondary legislation - but that cannot be achieved in the time now available.
There’s also disappointment that the Scottish Government hasn’t responded to a suggestion that, where a renewal application is lodged by the 31 May deadline, new secondary legislation should provide that the licence remains in effect until the application is determined. A proposal from a Licensing Board convenor that the deadline should be extended to 31 August 2019 has also been rejected.
In fact, the communications document issues a stark warning: leaving the submission of a renewal application “late” puts the holder “at real risk” of losing the licence.
As an added complication, no fee has yet been set for renewal applications. A Scottish Government consultation on a proposed fee of £50 closes on 15 August but secondary legislation will be required and is unlikely to be in place until October. As a result, Boards will require to process some applications at their own expense.
When the first round of refresher training took place in 2014, around 8,000 personal licences required to be revoked where licence holders had failed to complete training in time or didn’t meet the deadline for supplying their certificate to the Licensing Board. There is every reason to believe that next year will bring an even worse disaster. On social media, expert lawyers and trade associations are already predicting “chaos”, “a major crisis”, “a disaster waiting to happen” and “a meltdown for the trade”.
In the run-up to the full implementation of the 2005 Act on 1 September 2009, a huge backlog of unprocessed personal licence applications threatened to leave thousands of businesses unable to trade for want of a premises manager. One month before “D-Day” the Scottish Government introduced emergency secondary legislation making provision for a “deemed personal licence” to address the crisis. Unless the Scottish Government takes early steps to tackle the present chorus of concerns we can expect a re-run of that drama - or the closure of licensed businesses across the country.