PLH guidance ‘fatally flawed’

Government advice on licence renewals under fire

FEARS that thousands of personal licences are under threat and licensed trade businesses at risk of closure heightened again this week as Scottish Government-issued guidance on the personal licence renewal process was branded “fatally flawed” by one licensing lawyer and “utterly inadequate” by a licensing board convener.

Licensing lawyer Janet Hood said the ‘communications document’ published by the Scottish Government on August 6 – less than four weeks before the renewals application window opens on August 31 – “does not take account of the law” and is “open to challenge”.

Under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, personal licence holders (PLHs) whose licences are due to expire on August 31, 2019 must submit a renewal application and training qualification to the licensing board by May 31, 2019; the five-yearly refresher training requirement for personal licences must also be completed by August 31, 2019 and evidence of that refresher training submitted to the board by November 30, 2019.

However, Scottish Government guidance is “recommending these processes (renewal and refresher) should be dealt with at the same time by sitting a further refresher training course”, and adds that the currently-available half-day refresher training is the “appropriate course to take”. (The current full and refresher SCPLH courses are in the process of being updated to reflect changes in licensing in the last five years.)

The Scottish Government is also in the process of setting a renewal fee. A consultation on a proposed £50 fee runs until August 15 but some experts say it could be October before this is in place, meaning boards will have to process some renewal applications at their own expense.

Janet Hood is now calling on the Scottish Government to extend the renewal deadline by a year.

“This is such a mess and the Scottish Government advice is fatally flawed and does not take account of the law as it is written,” she told SLTN.

“This is wrong in law, open to challenge, dangerous to local authorities and dangerous to the licensed trade.

“I would urge SLTN readers to write to their MSP and call for an extra year to clear this mess up.”

Licensing lawyer Jack Cummins said the Scottish Government’s document has “served to prompt further concerns”, and that dealing with the renewal and refresher requirements at the same time 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,” he said.

“The ‘recommended’ approach could be placed on a proper footing by secondary legislation – but that cannot be achieved in the time now available.”

The guidance was also criticised by councillor Ronnie McNicol, convener of North Ayrshire licensing board.

Describing the advice as “utterly inadequate”, McNicol said it raises more questions than answers, “does not offer the clarity required for personal licence holders and will cause major bureaucratic issues”.

“It is simply unacceptable that here we are, just a few weeks before the application process opens on August 31, and we’re still none the wiser on so many key elements,” he said.

“We still don’t know what the fee for renewal is [and] there are big question marks over the training, which will be out of date.”

SLTN contacted the Scottish Government requesting clarification on the guidance.

A spokesman for the government said: “Information has been provided by the Scottish Government to assist in the administration of the renewal and refresher training processes.

“Within that document, to make this process as straightforward as possible, the Scottish Government is recommending to personal licence holders and licensing boards that these processes should be dealt with at the same time, by sitting a further refresher training course and then sending the certificate to the relevant licensing board along with the renewal application.”

The Scottish Government said it estimates that around 24,000 (43%) of personal licences will require to be renewed by August 31, 2019.

View the Scottish Government’s Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 – Personal Licence Holder Communications Document here