Business

Glenn Reid: If you are subject to the liquor licence renewal deadline, seek legal advice

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Glenn Reid

EVERY five years, bars, off-licences, hotels and restaurants must renew their licence under the terms of he Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. That time is upon us again, with more than 1,800 holders of a liquor licence in Northern Ireland having to renew their licence by a deadline of September 30.

A liquor licence is one of the most important and valuable assets owned by those in the hospitality sector that sell alcohol. In fact, without it they cannot legally conduct their business.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic shook the world, our hospitality sector contributed £2 billion annually to the local economy and was the fourth largest private sector employer, according to Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill.

Now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted for the first time in two years, it's time to rebuild. It is important that our hospitality leaders bounce back without unnecessary self-imposed restriction such as neglecting to renew their liquor licence.

In the past, some well-known venues that grace our city high streets and rural towns have failed to renew on time and either ran afoul of the law or were obliged to shut their doors until Court orders were granted.

Every five years, no less than six weeks before the deadline, The Department of Health and Social Services will publish a notice for the upcoming renewal deadline due date in two national newspapers. As per the Order, it is recommended that renewals take place no less than three weeks before the deadline; however, licensing solicitors would suggest doing so much further in advance.

Katie Campbell of McCartan Turkington Breen Solicitors advises: “Early preparation allows time for any issues that arise to be addressed prior to renewal and avoids the additional financial burden of an application out of time.”

Many bars and eateries have made alterations to their premises in recent years to meet consumer demand for outdoor dining and drinking. Licence holders that did so should note that if such alterations have been made since their last renewal, they must make an application for approval prior to renewal, if they have not done so already.

Failure to renew a liquor licence on time is not without consequences and often, they are much more than a slap on the wrist. Although the Department of Communities is responsible for the legislation surrounding liquor licensing, it is the PSNI that is responsible for its enforcement.

Officers may, at any time, request to inspect a licence, the licensing register or the court approved licensing plans. If the renewal date is missed without good reason, the premises may be forced to close immediately and remain closed until the licence can be renewed.

If the renewal date is missed by more than 12 months, licensees must apply for a new grant of the licence at an even greater cost. As you can imagine, this could be devastating for those in our hospitality trade, including employees.

So if you are subject to the licence renewal deadline, now is the time to seek legal advice.

:: Glenn Reid ( glenn.reid@mtb-law.co.uk) is a legal marketing specialist and marketing manager of McCartan Turkington Breen Solicitors (https://mtb-law.co.uk/)

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