Licensing role sets a standard

What to expect if a licensing standards officer pays a visit

LSOs were introduced as part of the 2005 Licensing Act.
LSOs were introduced as part of the 2005 Licensing Act.

By Jack Cummins

IN my last legal column I looked briefly at the role of the Licensing Standards Officer (LSO).

I was discussing the handling of complaints arising from the operation of outdoor areas and suggested that it was often a good idea to invoke the help of a local LSO to achieve a satisfactory resolution.

This month, I’m taking a closer look at the functions of LSOs and what to expect on a compliance visit.

The role of the LSO found its way into the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 as a result of a recommendation by the Nicholson licensing law review committee, based on a system operated in the Canadian Province of British Columbia.

Under that system the licensing authority employs “enforcement officers” who can report breaches of licence conditions and impose a variety of sanctions on those who have transgressed.

But the role is also holistic: a considerable amount of energy is expended on constructing good relations with the licensed trade.

The 2005 Act broadly follows the British Columbia model.

LSOs are available to provide “information and guidance” to “interested persons” on the operation of the legislation, and supervise licence holders’ compliance with the Act and the conditions attached to licences.

Importantly – and this is often overlooked – they provide mediation services for the purpose of avoiding or resolving disputes or disagreements between licence holders and “any other persons” concerning compliance matters.

As a result of a change to the law back in May 2017, LSOs have authority to inspect substances, articles or documents on licensed premises coupled with seizure powers.
It’s really not clear why this change was introduced: oddly, so far as I can gather, it wasn’t generated by LSOs’ concerns that their work was being hampered by the absence of these provisions.

If you receive a compliance visit from an LSO what can you expect?

He or she will carry out some basic checks.

For example, is the premises licence summary on display? Are staff training records available? Are so-called Section 110 notices (notices warning customers that purchases by persons under 18 are an offence) on display at points of sale?

Particularly in the case of off-sale premises, the alcohol displays will be carefully checked against the approved layout plan. It’s not uncommon for shops to enlarge these displays when they ought not to do so without the board approving a major variation application.
Where there’s an outside drinking facility, the LSO will check that it’s properly marked out and that you’re complying with the relevant conditions attached to the licence.

Where anything is found to be amiss, in the majority of cases a light touch will be taken, with the licence holder simply advised to put matters right ahead of a return visit.
But if appropriate action isn’t taken a Section 14 notice will be issued. This sets out the breach requiring to be remedied and sets a time limit.

It’s not to be ignored: non-compliance will inevitably result in a review of the premises licence.

A review may also be initiated where the LSO considers that premises are not being operated in a manner consistent with one or more of the licensing objectives.
There may well be circumstances in which you find yourself at odds with the LSO on a particular issue.

For example, the lawfulness or otherwise of alcohol promotions is apt to be a particularly complex area with plenty of room for uncertainty.

In that situation the only sensible course is to take specialist legal advice.

Your lawyer may well tell you that the promotion really does need to be withdrawn; or if it looks to be perfectly legitimate a discussion with the LSO will follow.

In every case, there’s one golden rule: do not stick you head in the sand – and if you’re in any doubt about your position, get legal help.