Q&A with Jack Cummins
SLTN’s legal columnist Jack Cummins answers readers’ questions on the licensing implications of the coronavirus pandemic
Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN. Do you have a legal question for Jack Cummins?*
Q: The premises manager in my shop has mild Covid-19 symptoms and is self-isolating for the next two weeks. Do we need to notify the licensing board or take any other action in relation to the licence?
A: The licensing board must be advised in a number of situations, including the cessation of the premises manager’s employment at the premises and where he or she “becomes incapable for any reason of acting as premises manager”. In those cases, certain steps must be taken. Firstly, the board must be notified “not later than seven days after the occurrence of the event”. Secondly, within six weeks after the event takes place, a variation application must be made to substitute a new premises manager. A spell of short-term illness is not regarded as an “event” triggering these procedures, but you should keep the position under review.
Q: I’ve managed to keep our pub open for the collection of takeaways ordered by phone. We only allow a maximum of five customers to come into the premises at any one time and we operate a self-distancing policy in accordance with government guidelines. Some customers are asking if they can have a tea or coffee while waiting for the order. We wouldn’t serve alcohol but can we supply other drinks?
A: The short answer is “No”. Scottish Government guidance makes it clear that the use of restaurants, cafés and pubs is limited to food delivery and takeaway. (“Food” includes alcohol.)
Q: I’m due to complete refresher training in the next couple of weeks to ensure that my personal licence isn’t cancelled. For obvious reasons, even if courses are available, I don’t want to take the course exam in a group setting. What are my options?
A: A number of training providers can set up online e-learning for the teaching part of the course, but the actual exam needs to be invigilated. I understand that at least one awarding body has managed to set up a “qualify at home” solution. I suggest that you speak to a training provider for more information. Your licensing lawyer can point you in the right direction. Please also be aware that I expect the Scottish Government will take early steps to address this problem, possibly by pushing back deadlines or allowing individual licensing boards to do so.
Q: Is there any way in which I can extend my off-sale hours beyond 10pm to cope with extra demand during the current emergency?
A: Unfortunately not. The maximum off-sales hours - 10am to 10pm - are set in stone and can’t be extended by any means. However, remember that alcohol can be delivered at any time (except during the period between 12 midnight and 6am) provided that payment is made during licensed hours.
Q: I operate a “specialist” off-sales and apart from a limited selection of soft drinks and snacks we only sell alcohol. Do we need to provide groceries if we stay open?
A: No. According to Scottish Government guidance, “off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol” can remain open.
Q: With my restaurant now closed and business restricted to takeaways, I’ve found myself unable to sell alcohol as my premises licence is restricted to on-sales. Can you think of any solution?
A: I always advise restaurant clients who are applying for a premises licence to include a request for off-sales. In my experience this is unlikely to meet with an opposition from the licensing board, particularly since the alcohol offer is likely to be priced unattractively compared to the usual off-sale outlets. The only way to remedy the situation is by means of a major variation application which requires to be advertised and considered at a board meeting. Plainly, at the moment that option isn’t available, but there is at least a faint glimmer of hope. With so much disruption to licensing board business, the Scottish Government is bound to be giving thought to emergency measures to keep the system running as normally as is possible. In your case, the solution would be an extension of the list of matters that can be dealt with by means of a “minor variation” which the board “must” grant. So, if the addition of off-sales became “minor”, legislation – no doubt temporary – might provide that (a) the application would be sent to Police Scotland for their consideration; and (b) in the absence of an objection or adverse representation, the application could be granted by the board’s clerk subject to any conditions considered appropriate. We shall have to wait and see.
Q: My personal licence will be expiring soon and I’m not willing to sit an exam in a group environment even if courses are available. Do you know how boards are dealing with this problem?
A: The Glasgow licensing board has announced that licences (of all types) due to expire on or before May 31 will be automatically extended by a period of three months, subject to government guidance on Covid-19. As to the position elsewhere, those affected by this problem should check with the licensing staff at their local council offices.
*Jack Cummins is unable to enter into personal correspondence on readers’ questions. The advice offered in SLTN is published for information only. No responsibility for loss occasioned by persons acting or refraining from action as a result of material contained on this page or elsewhere in SLTN can be accepted by the author or publisher.