Solicitors across the country are predicting meltdown at council licensing offices this summer, as they expect operators to panic ahead of the 8 August deadline for alcohol licences to be converted.
Although the new licensing laws for England and Wales do not come into force until 7 November, operators with existing justices' licences face an August deadline to convert or vary them. The bottlenecks that might result at council offices could cause havoc, as businesses find themselves without a valid licence.
Chris Hepher, of London solicitor Kidd Rapinet, said: "I'm entirely certain that some licensed premises will have to be closed in November because they won't have a licence." He said that Richmond council, in Surrey, had become so alarmed it had started hand-delivering application forms to licensees.
"Council timetables are already almost out of the window, as we're five weeks into transition and nothing much has happened," he added. "There are a number of councils dreading June and July, as they expect applications to pour in and put them under horrendous pressure."
Birmingham council is also struggling, having received just six licence applications so far, five of which were rejected because the paperwork was not up to scratch. The problem is compounded, said Bevan Brittan solicitor Rob Westwood-Payne, because: "The Government, in its infinite wisdom, has made a point of specifying this six-month deadline in the Act."
Operators have been reluctant to risk being first with applications under the new process, while many have been frustrated by the late release of the application forms.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 17 March 2005