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Thousands of businesses to miss August deadline

21 July 2005
Thousands of businesses to miss August deadline

Applications under England and Wales's new licensing regime remain dangerously low and threaten to leave thousands of hospitality businesses operating illegally.

With only 11 working days to go until the 6 August licence conversion deadline, the summer of chaos predicted for councils hasn't materialised because there have been so few submissions for licences.

Research at an emergency licensing summit held last week in London revealed just 30% of qualifying premises had so far submitted applications, with only half (45%) expected to meet the deadline.

Meanwhile, a Caterer straw poll of local authorities backed up these findings and showed a big variation in application rates ranging from 10% to 50% of licensed premises.

Audrey Lewis, head of licensing at Westiminster City Council, said the Government was in denial about the scale of the problem. "We need urgent guidance from the Government about what to do if premises are unlicensed post 24 November," she said.

Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association Licensed Multiple Retailers, predicted many councils would not have the resources to process the remaining applications by November.

"The Government will not be able to adopt the ‘blind-eye' approach it did with the door-security industry because of insurance complications," he said. "I just hope that it has a plan-B ready."

British Beer & Pub Association communications director Mark Hastings said pubs were coping better than most, with 70% having applied. "My understanding is that other sectors such as restaurants and takeaways are the one's struggling," he said.

The Restaurant Association agreed. "It remains amazing the amount of restaurateurs out there who either don't realise they need a new licence or hold one and don't realise they must convert it," he said

Thomas Chan, chairman of the Chinese Takeaway Association, said many of his members were unaware of their obligations because of the language barrier. "Some believe they have until November to act, so there's definitely a problem," he said.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association added: "There will clearly be a real strain on resources as a result of how - and how many - applications have come in so far, but councils are aware and trying to make sure there are enough resources available."

So far licensing minister James Purnell has refused to revise the existing timetable, with new regime kicking in on 24 November.

What happens next?
As long as a valid application form reaches your council before 6 August you are guaranteed your current operating hours, even if the council fails to respond within two months.

Variations on your current hours that take longer than two months to process will not be granted, although existing operating hours will be maintained.

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