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Scottish licensing boards to be swamped by personal licence renewals

Scotland's under-resourced licensing boards risk being swamped by the first round of applications to renew personal liquor licences since the new regime entered into force in 2009, an expert has warned.10 Aug 2018

The window in which applications must be made to renew the first personal licences granted under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 ('2005 Act'), which came into force on 1 September 2009, opens on 31 August 2018. Personal licence holders must submit a renewal application and complete refresher training by no later than 31 May 2019, or their licence will expire on 1 September 2019.

A new communication document, issued by the Scottish government, has now stressed to personal licence holders that they must apply for renewal and complete the necessary training as early as possible. The document warns that licence holders who wait until the deadline to submit the necessary paperwork risk losing their licences.

"Personal licence holders have a vital job within the licensed trade," the Scottish government said. "They authorise the sale of alcohol in both on and off sales businesses and ensure that each and every sale is legal. This is a considerable responsibility."

"If you do not undergo refresher training AND provide the updated certificate while renewing your personal licence in time, your personal licence will expire on the expiry date and so cease to have effect. If your personal licence expires you will need to submit a brand new licence application which could take several weeks or months to process. If you have to apply for a new personal licence then the Licensing Board may hold a hearing where a personal licence has expired or been surrendered within the previous three years," it said.

An application for renewal of a personal licence must be accompanied by evidence that the applicant holds a relevant licensing qualification. The absolute deadline for submitting a personal licence renewal application is 31st May 2019 so proof of refresher training must also be available by that date..

The Scottish government is urging personal licence holders to book onto refresher training even before the renewal window opens, citing "high demand". It is doing so despite confirming in the communication document that these courses are currently being updated.

A consultation on whether a £50 fee should be charged for a personal licence renewal application closes on 15 August 2018. Secondary legislation will, however, be required in order to give any fee legal effect. Licence holders are instructed not to wait until these fees have been confirmed before booking the refresher training.

Licensing law expert Frances Ennis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that it was "difficult to remember a time in the last 10 years since the 2005 Act came into force when stakeholders were not scratching their heads trying to figure out how to navigate uncertain regulation".

"This latest issue is no different: in fact, it is worse, because we are not simply talking about an obscure legal concept to be debated before a licensing board but about peoples' livelihoods," she said.

"With liquor licensing in Scotland, it is often difficult to reconcile rhetoric with reality: on the one hand as a nation, we expect ourselves to step up to the plate when it comes to domestic and international tourism and hospitality; on the other, we have an under-resourced and overly bureaucratic licensing system which disincentives investment from the trade," she said.