Coronavirus advice for business
As the Coronavirus measures have stepped up, the UK & Scottish Governments have declared that all pubs, clubs, restaurants and non-essential retail should close. Lockdown is firmly underway.
On-sale licensed premises can remain open for the purposes of take-away and delivery (though many are opting only to offer contact free delivery for health and safety reasons).
What should operators do?
Since the Government advice regarding these closures has changed from advisory to mandatory, we would reiterate our recommendations to operators that they should give careful consideration to all policies of business insurance to ascertain whether or not they are covered for losses that they will incur.
We can also provide tailored advice around the various Government schemes in place to safeguard employment, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which is intended to safeguard jobs while employees are unable to work. The UK Government is expected to propose further assistance schemes for the self-employed after mounting pressure to equalise the financial rescue packages available to employees and business. When this is available we will be on hand to assist.
The Scottish Government issued Coronavirus (COVID-19): Business and Social Distancing Guidance on 25 March. For a business that has not been specifically ordered to close e.g. for premises operating as takeaway and delivery only, or indeed for many off sale premises which are essential food businesses, the guidance seeks to offer clarity on the recommended steps where the business is operating and therefore members of the public are not at home. The guidance provides:
- Ensure a distance of two metres between customers and shop assistance and take equivalent measures to protect workforce consistent with fair working principles;
- Let people enter the shop only in small groups to ensure spaces are not crowded
- Ensure queue control consistent with social distancing advice outside of the shop and other essential premises that remain open
The Guidance further confirms the "retail" premises that may remain open:
Supermarkets and other food shops, health shops, pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies, petrol station, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, laundrettes and dry cleaners, garages, car rentals, pet shops, and corner shops. Off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol including those within breweries, newsagents, post offices and banks.
Licensing laws - update
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was published on 31 March 2020 to pass through all stages of the Scottish Parliament on 1 April. The Bill continues a number of provisions to deal with some of the inflexibility in alcohol and other licensed legislation to meet the challenges faced by operators and licensing authorities due to the movement and other restrictions which are in place as the UK seeks to combat the spread of the virus. Our previous update on advice for licensed premises holders can been read here.
It is expected that the amendments will run from 1 April to 30 September 2020, though the Bill empowers the Parliament to reduce or extend the provisions as the situation develops.
Allowing more time
The standing theme of the various amendments is to allow more time for all parties to do things, so examples are:
- Currently the holder of an alcohol premises licence must notify the licensing board within seven days if the premises licence manager ceases to work at the premises, and if they do so, they can continue to sell alcohol providing they apply to appoint a new manager within six weeks of the date when the manager ceases to work at the premises. The Bill proposes to change these deadlines to 28 days and three months respectively. The Bill also proposes extensions to the renewal periods of personal licences and for providing evidence of refresher training.
- In the Civic Government licensing scheme, covering taxi licensing, late hours catering (relevant to premises operating as takeaways only), the renewal dates are not shifted but the Bill proposes to change the period to allow an application to be received though late on the giving of a good reason from 28 days to three months. One would anticipate that the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus would offer a good reason for lodging late.
- The Bill also empowers licensing board and licensing committees to determine applications which would have required a hearing to take place, but without such a hearing being convened, providing they afford any person who would have been entitled to attend the meeting the chance to do so, by any doing so, in writing, on the telephone or via video link.
- Lastly and of note, the Bill encapsulates the undertaken given to licensed premises to operate as takeaways, even if their licence did not strictly state so by amending the conditions of licence as follows: "If food is sold on the premises but the operating plan contained in the licence does not contain an express term to the effect that food may be taken away, or delivered, from the premises for consumption off the premises, a term to that effect is to be implied into the operating plan.
It is important to remember that while certain rules around deliveries of food and takeaway might be regarded as "relaxed", the rules around delivery of alcohol remain in force. Equally there has been no relaxation of rules around areas of display and capacity of alcohol within licensed premises. Therefore any premises that wishes to alter this will require to apply for consent to vary their licence.
As most licensing boards are operating on a restricted basis, please seek our specialist advice on what changes might realistically be achieved at this time before making any changes to the layout of your premises. Whilst the famine for on sale premises is a short term feast for off sales premises, the strict rules under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 remain in place.
Key contact - Andrew Hunter
Andrew is the lead partner of the Licensing team and is accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a specialist in licensing law. He is the principal contact for the firm's liquor licensing clients, which include Belhaven Brewery Company Limited, Lidl UK GmbH and BP Oil UK Limited. View full profile.
Alcohol, gambling and civic licensing law advice
Our team has extensive experience in all aspects of licensing law in Scotland, and is recognised as one of the country’s leading practices.
We have specialist knowledge of all forms of alcohol, gambling and civic government licensing and can also help you with any licensing board appearance work.
We advise both private and public sector clients, ranging from owner-operators to public limited companies.
Licensing clients include pubs, nightclubs, bookmakers, hotels, restaurants, brewers, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, filling stations, convenience stores, landlords, taxi operators and more.
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With offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, our solicitors represent clients across the length and breadth of Scotland, utilising strong relationships and working knowledge in all 32 local authority areas to ensure you receive the best, most effective representation wherever you are.
If you would like to discuss any licensing issues you have, and get an idea of the timescale and cost involved, please contact a member of our team.
Call us for free on 0330 159 5555 or complete our online form below for legal advice or to arrange a call back.
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Dealing with regulations and authorities
We ensure that you are never on your own when dealing with licensing regulation or authorities. We can assist with:
- Attending the licensing boards and licensing committees on your behalf across Scotland
- Dealing with licensing appeals in the Sheriff Court and Court of Session
- Assisting you where criminal proceedings and review hearings have been brought against you for breach of any licensing obligations
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- Variations and transfer of licences
- Gaming permits for alcohol and club licensed premises
- Advice on licensing appeals
- Public entertainment licences
- Houses with multiple occupation licences
- Taxi licensing, including vehicle, driver and booking office licences
- Theatre licenses
- Late hours catering licences
- Permissions to host marriage ceremonies on non-religious premises
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