A new age of licensing

THE Holyrood red tape machine has been busy producing even more regulations for the licensed trade to deal with.

Not content with the maelstrom of paperwork and confusion it whipped up with the transition to the 2005 licensing Act – a system which continues to have board members, operators and their legal representatives reaching for the Nurofen – it’s churned out another major piece of legislation for the trade to contend with.
The 2010 Alcohol Act comes into force on October 1 and one of the most immediate changes it brings for operators is a legal requirement to introduce an age verification policy.
From that day a mandatory condition will be attached to all premises and occasional licences to the effect that bar staff must request age-verifying identification (from a short list of approved documents, including passports and European photocard driving licences) if a person who looks under 25 attempts to buy alcohol.
In some ways I understand the logic of ‘challenge 25’, given the issues our society appears to have with certain young people and alcohol.
I also appreciate the safety net it gives the retailer: the likelihood of selling alcohol to someone under 18 and thus incur the severe penalties involved, from the potential loss of a licence (and business) to criminal prosecution, will hopefully reduce if the person at the till is not convinced the purchaser is 25, let alone 18.
And it’s just as well: as solicitor Jack Cummins writes in this issue (page 18), there appears to be precious little latitude for operators in this area, with even businesses able to show that all due diligence had been taken to avoid an illegal sale facing licence reviews when honest mistakes are made.
But I’m equally sure there will be some operators who will curse the extra bureaucracy, costs and hassle challenge 25 brings.
Bars and shops with no issues on underage sales now have to invest in training to help staff prepare for the change and materials like signs and posters to tell their customers about it (though thousands of pubs will benefit from the SBPA’s challenge 25 campaign you can read about in this issue).
And there’s every chance that some customers will be annoyed. For every drinker who is flattered by being asked for ID, there will be many more who will be irked when all they want is to get their round in and rejoin their friends at the table. Other patrons queuing at the bar could also become disgruntled if service slows, which in turn could lead to lower sales.
Such arguments are now academic, of course, for in a month’s time challenge 25 will be enshrined in law and a mandatory feature of our increasingly complex licensing landscape.
It’s vital, therefore, that operators spend the next four weeks briefing staff on the changes and ensuring their customers are fully informed of what’s coming on October 1.