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Licensing Act confusion surrounds distance sellers

Published:  23 July, 2008

The licensing of distance sellers is the latest problem to strike the new Licensing Act, which comes into force this summer.

Barry Sutton, deputy chairman of The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), said: In addition to the mountain of forms and confusion among local authorities about whether or not the designated premises supervisor has to be present for each sale, there are also serious issues around warehousing and distance selling.'

For distance sellers, the Act stipulates that the location where the alcohol is stored, selected and dispatched directly to the consumer - therefore, in many cases, the warehouse - should be licensed. However, several warehouses have been told by their licensing authorities that they do not need licences. This is in direct contravention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) Guidance,' said Sutton. The WSTA is working with the UK Warehousekeepers' Association and DCMS to try to sort out the problem.

One WSTA member, who has a low level mail-order business, rents a small self-contained unit in a large warehouse. Although his stock occupies less than 1% of the total area of the building, the Act says he needs a licence. However, his local council tells him that the fees will be based on the rateable value of the whole warehouse. Sutton continued: Under these conditions, the council could charge the same large fees to several companies all sharing the same warehouse. Clearly this is not acceptable, and we are working hard with our contacts in Government to secure swift clarification.'

Leon Stolarski, who runs an eponymous web-based wine company, commented: While there are some worthwhile aspects to this new legislation, the needs and circumstances of small (or even large) Internet-based retailers have not been considered at all. The cost of having these "premises" licensed may well double our storage overheads. And all of this despite the fact that no customer ever sets foot in there!'

The WSTA said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office and is pushing for consistency of approach among licensing authorities. It is also urging local authorities to obtain licences for farmers' markets in order to preserve this important route to market for small domestic wine producers.

The British Institute of Innkeeping is currently petitioning the Government to extend the compliance deadline from 6 August to 7 November before the Licensing Act becomes a disaster'.