Before advertising a new offer on social media, make sure your premises licence authorises the activity, warns Michael McDougall
Social media can be an indispensable tool for raising the profile of a business with its customers. It is, however, increasingly important to remember that the easy proliferation of social media posts can mean that offers and words are scrutinised by not only potential customers, but also the regulator. How can I ensure that my social media activity doesn’t have any unwelcome, unintended consequences?
The licensing systems north and south of the Scottish border – the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Licensing Act 2003 respectively – share a common thread in that they expect licensed premises to operate in a responsible fashion and comply with the licensing objectives of preventing crime and disorder, protecting public safety, preventing public nuisance and protecting children from harm (and in Scotland, protecting and improving public health). Furthermore, premises must at all times comply with the terms of their licence and any conditions attached to it.
There have been well-publicised examples of premises receiving visits from council or police officers following social media posts that suggest they are operating contrary to licensing law. This attention is best avoided; the consequences range from the revocation of your premises license to sparking an avalanche of criticism on social media. When engaging with social media, consider how the post will portray your business to all audiences – directly and indirectly.
• Licence holders have a responsibility to manage their premises in accordance with the licensing objectives. You should consider any promotions carefully in the context of these objectives and your overarching duty of care to your customers.
• You never know who is reading your posts, so before advertising a new offer via social media, make sure that your premises licence authorises this activity. For example, if you intend to televise the World Cup, then your licence should stipulate that you have permission to show televised sports.
• If you are advertising a one-off event that requires either a temporary event notice (England and Wales) or an occasional licence (Scotland) then lodge your application in plenty of time. You do not want to disappoint your customers.
• While not strictly related to licensing, you should bear in mind your responsibilities and obligations under the Equality Act 2010; you should not treat someone less favourably due to that person’s sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability or age. Therefore, it is important that any promotions on social media do not target or exclude specific groups.
• You should also keep an eye on what staff and customers are posting on your social media profiles. It may be that such posts are defamatory or wrongly suggest illegal acts, and you may wish to take steps to remove them.
In Scotland, stay clear of promotions that could be either construed as irresponsible or as an illegal variation in price (see paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 3 to the 2005 Act). For example, any advertisement for a “bottomless boozy brunch” would – on the face of it – be an irresponsible promotion as it offers an unlimited supply of alcohol for a fixed price. Offering reduced price cocktails for a limited time could breach the price variation provisions and constitute a criminal offence, jeopardising your premises licence.
Failing to present your business as a responsible licensed premises that takes its duty of care seriously can have disastrous consequences. A review of your premises licence by the regulator can lead to a warning, the imposition of conditions or even its revocation. A misjudged Tweet or Facebook post can also warp public perceptions of your business, leaving you with an uphill struggle to restore your reputation.
Michael McDougall is a solicitor at TLT (Michael.McDougall@TLTSolicitors.com)