Licensing Act 2003 – Applying for a Premises Licence

I have dealt with a number of cases recently where applicants for Premises Licences under the Licensing Act 2003 have made life harder for themselves because they have not completed the Application Form correctly or have failed to provide adequate or sufficient information; a properly completed application can avoid a great deal of hassle for the prospective licensee and improves the chance of your application being granted.

Consider the Licensing Objectives

Many councillors sitting on Licensing Sub-Committee hearings like to ask the applicant to name the four licensing objectives – they (the objectives but also to a large extent the Councillors) provide the foundation and focus for the licensing regime.

The Licensing Objectives are:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm

and as an applicant you need to demonstrate that you know, understand and appreciate (in both senses) them. The Application Form gives you the best chance to “get your retaliation in first” and to head off potential objections from the police, neighbours and others, by showing that you have considered, and minimised, the inevitable impact of your proposals on the neighbours and the local area.

Although the regime is supposed to encourage the grant of licenses, as an applicant you need to look at your application from the point of view of Councillors, the Police, Licensing and Environmental Health Officers and neighbours who are primarily worried about alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour and nuisance, especially late at night. Your application needs to address those fears and the Licensing Objectives directly and to show that your premises will be a benefit to the community rather than adding to existing problems or creating a new hot-spot!

Read the Guidance

The Application Form includes “Notes for Guidance” and additional guidance is available on the website (search for “premises licence guidance”) – they both provide useful information in particular as regards activities which do not require a licence, primarily;

  • certain activities between 0800 and 2300
    • where the audience does not exceed
      • 500 (e.g. plays, films, dance, live or recorded music where the premises are already licensed for the sale of alcohol) or
      • 1000 (e.g. indoor sporting events, boxing or wrestling or martial arts) or
    • where the activity takes place in a community premises (e.g. a church, village or community hall)

An application for a licence which includes items you do not need a licence for gives the impression that you do not understand the licensing regime (and therefore also the Licensing Objectives). However, for the avoidance of doubt, you should clearly identify any activities will be taking place in your premises when it is open.

For example, an application for late night refreshment should (usually) only refer to sales during the hours between 2300 and 0500; while it may feel late if you are serving food at 10:30 pm after a long day, it doesn’t require Light Night Refreshment cover.

Know what you want (and include it)

The old application form included a section for adult or sex entertainment and, as many applicants were advised to include everything they could conceivably want in their application, they would tick the relevant boxes and ask for hours that matched their opening hours. Of course, neighbours reading such an application would conjure images of the premises becoming a centre for all sorts of activities which would impact on their quality of life and house prices; in my experience it is far better to have a clearly focussed business plan and to ask only for what you really want and need as part of that plan.

By way of examples from cases I have dealt with;

  • an applicant applied for a Premises Licence for what appeared to be a bar serving some food. The premises were near to a number of pubs with “colourful” histories and regular cut-price deals on alcohol – the neighbours objected (claiming, albeit irrelevantly, the area was already saturated with premises with off- and on-licences) and rather heated correspondence and a hearing ensued. In fact, the premises were intended to be a high-class bistro restaurant with a Michelin-trained chef with a small selection of fine (and expensive) wines and a couple of locally-sourced craft beers which would have been positively welcomed by the objectors; but this was simply not clear from the application.
  • a small village pub faced enormous local objections when the rumour went around that they were planning to open a strip club because the applicant had ticked the adult entertainment box on the “old” form.

This focus on what you actually want should also extend to the plan and physical aspects of the application – if you want to include the beer garden in the licensed area make sure it’s included in the plan, and consider what positive steps you can take to reduce the impact on the neighbours.

It also helps for the application to be realistic – I recently dealt with a case where the applicant wanted to include in his license an area on the opposite side of a road from his premises – clearly he had not considered the issues of customers having to cross and re-cross the busy road with their drinks (and having consumed their drinks) during the course of the evening.

Cover the Essentials

The best advice as to the local situation will usually be available from the Council’s Licensing Officers – talk to them about your proposals, listen to their comments and be prepared, where possible, to adjust your plans to accommodate their concerns. Find out what the local “standard” conditions are and make sure you include them in your applications.

Usual conditions will often include

  • Adopting “Challenge 25” (if you don’t know what this is, I suggest you should get some professional advice before you go any further)
  • Provision of a CCTV system and a requirement to retain recordings for at least a month and to provide them to the Police or Council on request
  • Noise controls – a noise limiter to be included in any sound system (often with the levels set by the Council’s Environmental Health department) and, sometimes, a requirement that doors and windows are kept shut except for access after a specified time
  • Control of smokers e.g. provide a designated smoking area with bins, etc. in a location where smoke, noise, etc. won’t be a nuisance
  • Signage asking customers to consider the neighbours when leaving the premises (I am always sceptical about the value of such notices, but it demonstrates the applicant’s appreciation of the effect of their activities on the neighbours).
  • Some locations require conditions relating to the use of polycarbonate (plastic) “glasses” and bottles, either always or just after certain times, and/or provision of SIA-approved door staff – the Licensing Officer will usually be happy to provide details if such conditions would be appropriate for your application.

In addition, I would suggest offering, if possible, conditions that

  • the Premises Licence Holder or a Designated Premises Supervisor (PDS) or Personal Licence Holder (PLH) will be on site whenever the premises are open to the public
  • regular staff training will be provided (and documented) for all staff
  • a Refusals Book and Premises Day Book will be kept and available for inspection
  • a contact number is available (as a minimum for the neighbours or, for example, on the premises’ website) for any complaints or concerns and a record kept of those complaints and the actions taken as a result

Any conditions should be necessary, proportionate and relate to the Licensing Objectives, i.e. any one or more of the four, but offering a condition (even if it was, in fact, already part of your business plan) shows how seriously you take your responsibilities and your application!

Read your application

After you’ve completed the form, I suggest you leave it for a couple of hours and come back and read it again, from the perspective of a neighbour – check that anyone reading the form for the first time gets a clear and unambiguous picture of your proposals for the premises and the measures you will have to avoid problems. If it’s not clear and simple; change it until it is. Ideally get someone else to read it (properly) too and check they understand what you mean – if they don’t, change it!

Don’t be afraid to Get Advice

Alternatively, get your application completed by a professional; it often surprises me that prospective licensees are happy to invest and spend significant time and money on the premises, staff, décor, etc. (and even the arty photos for the menu) and then simply “throw together” their licensing application with little or no thought and fail to prepare properly (or get representation) for the hearing before the Licensing Committee. Without the licence all the other effort is wasted!

A well-presented and thought out application should,

  • demonstrate an appreciation of the Licensing Objectives,
  • explain exactly what is proposed,
  • show that thought has been given to minimising the impact on neighbours and how you will avoid problems arising in the first place, and deal robustly with any situation that does develop.

While I cannot guarantee that any application will sail through with no objections, at the very least your application form will provide you with a solid base for your, or your advocate’s, presentation to the Licensing Sub-Committee.

Advice for making licensing applications is available from a variety of sources; licensing consultants, solicitors or barristers (either via a solicitor or under the Direct Access scheme).