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Confusion reigns in trade as Licensing Act deadline looms

Published:  23 July, 2008

With the deadline for the enforcement of the Licensing Act less than two weeks away, confusion still reigns in the trade as applicants continue to receive conflicting advice from the government and local authorities over whether or not they require a licence - and, if they do, what kind they require.
Wholesalers and distance sellers are at the centre of the confusion, and the Wine & Spirit Trade Association claims that it has lost count' of the number of calls it has received asking for advice on the new legislation.

All across the country we're getting different feedback from traders,' said the WSTA's policy and recruitment executive Alex Tottenham. Traders' local authorities appear to have different interpretations [of what is required]. James Purnell [the minister for broadcasting, tourism, licensing and the creative industries] and the Department for Culture Media and Sport need to take a lead on this; there has been a lack of leadership.'

Tottenham added that the confusion over distance selling, as reported in Harpers earlier this year (20 May), has never been cleared up'. 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.

A further complication has been the case of wholesalers who may wish to retail a small amount of wine, in wholesale quantities, to family and friends. One such wholesaler, Mark Harrison of MH Wines, told Harpers that he had been asked to apply for a Personal Licence by his local authority (Reigate and Banstead in Surrey) since he does not own a shop or warehouse and therefore could not apply for a Premises Licence. In order to qualify for the Personal Licence he was told he would have to go on a course to obtain a BIIAB Level 2 National Certificate. However, according to Tottenham, the act stipulates that you either have neither [type of licence] or both - you cannot have just one'.

Despite the confusion, the government is pressing on

with the 24 November deadline. Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, told the House of Commons that almost all (97%) of licences had been granted already and that virtually' all those who wanted a licence would have one by the deadline of 24 November.