Spirit of Christmas must be managed

Plan a festive licensing health check, says Caroline Loudon

Christmas and New Year is one of the busiest periods for the licensed trade. Picture: Jacky Ghossein

AS EVERYONE involved in the licensed trade knows, the Christmas and New Year period is one of the busiest, best and most profitable of the year. Customer footfall increases and with the inevitable and often infamous office Christmas nights out, customers can be in high spirits.

Unfortunately, with the greater demand on the services you provide, and indeed greater demand on the space within your premises, incidents may occur that sour the party atmosphere. Remember the Police and Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs) within your local area are also gearing up for a busy festive period. There will be higher visibility patrols and greater numbers of boots on the ground.

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Licensing offences carry criminal sanctions: any person who sells alcohol or knowingly allows the sale of alcohol otherwise than in accordance with the Premises Licence – up to £20,000 fine, six months in prison or both. Know your licence conditions and any extensions granted by the Board.

Over-consumption can see licence holder/designated premises manager (DPM)/staff charged, convicted and fined if allowing the sale of alcohol to drunk persons, or allowing drunk patrons to behave badly, or are drunk themselves – up to £1,000 fine per offence. Selling to under 18s – up to £5,000 fine, three months in prison or both.

We have already seen some test purchasing activity (which aims to ensure that licensed premises are abiding by the law in not selling alcohol to under-18s) in Inverness in the run-up to Halloween and we expect this trend to continue through Christmas.

It is never possible to prevent all incidents occurring on licensed premises and unfortunately, it is our experience that, should an incident occur, it can be the tip of the iceberg as far as Police Licensing and LSOs are concerned.

Take the analogy of breaking the speed limit when driving your car. You are pulled in for doing 60mph in a 50mph zone but, before you get issued with your speeding ticket, the officer checks the details on your licence, verifies your ownership of the vehicle, checks your insurance and a variety of other things. Should any other defects be noted, you will be reported and fined for these as well.

The same procedure is being applied to incidents on licensed premises. When an incident occurs and the police are involved, it is common for a licensing follow-up. Police Licensing may be informed and perhaps attend the premises along with the LSO to discuss any perceived issues. At this stage, licencees have reported a “tick box” exercise being undertaken. What started as an isolated incident can lead to licensing compliance spot checks and issues can crop up. Checks are now routinely being undertaken to ensure the summary of premises licence is on display, staff training records are up-to-date and available for inspection, and so on.

Our advice is that before the Christmas and New Year party season is in full swing, do a “licensing health check”, remembering that:

• The summary of the premises licence must be displayed prominently so it can be read by your patrons.

• The premises licence or certified copy (comprising of premises licence, operating plan, layout plan(s) and conditions) must be available for inspection.

• Any personal licence holders working on the premises have their principal personal licence on site available for inspection. If applicable, has the personal licence holder done the refresher training?

• The DPM named on the premises licence must have a Scottish personal licence. If the premises manager leaves, you must inform the Licencing Board within seven days. The new premises manager must be nominated on the licence within six weeks of the DPM departing or alcohol sales are suspended.

• All other staff involved in the sale or supply of alcohol have had a minimum of two hours training covering the 16 mandatory points and records of this training must be kept.

• At every point of sale there must be a notice which states it is an offence for a person under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy alcohol.

• Are staff aware of acceptable forms of ID to prove age?

• At the entrance to on-sales premises there must be a notice advising patrons of conditions relating to access for those under 18. It should state times of access and in which areas of the premises under-18s are allowed.

• Every premises must have a Challenge 25 Policy.

Caroline Loudon is director and head of liquor licensing and gambling at Lindsays