Hospitality sector urged not to end up with 'dead licence'

John Finnegan and Patricia Arrell from Millar McCall Wylie
John Finnegan and Patricia Arrell from Millar McCall Wylie John Finnegan and Patricia Arrell from Millar McCall Wylie

A LICENSING law specialist is urging those in the north's hospitality sector to carefully check and renew their liquor licences before the deadline of September 30 and not end up with a 'dead licence'.

Bars, off-licences, hotels and restaurants must renew their licence every five years under the terms of the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, with more than 1,800 licence holders currently in the process of renewing.

And John Finnegan of Belfast law firm Millar McCall Wylie says the risk of not renewing a licence, or renewing it inaccurately, is significant.

He said: “During the pandemic, most hospitality businesses had to reshape their premises, utilise outside spaces and generally undergo changes in order to keep trading whilst complying with varying restrictions.

“It's advisable that operators immediately obtain a copy of the licensing plan for their premises held by the court and check it against the current layout on the ground. Steps can then be taken to remedy any discrepancy ahead of the renewal deadline.

“If a licence renewal is overlooked and a deadline missed, this can lead to damaging periods of closure or at worst a ‘dead’ licence, which could potentially be terminal for the business.”

He added: “Equally, it's vital to bear in mind that the licence applicant is confirming that no alterations have been made to the premises since the previous renewal without the consent of the court.

“If this confirmation is given and later proves inaccurate, there is a real risk that the licence can be deemed void at a later date,” added Mr Finnegan, whose firm is currently offering a ‘licence health check’ to help operators ensure they are renewing the correct licence for their business and to guide them through the renewal process.

The renewals come as new legislation introduced last October allowed pubs and hotels in Northern Ireland to apply to serve drinks until 2am up to 104 nights per year, and to extend drinking-up time from 30 minutes to an hour, meaning premises with the correct entertainment licences would not close until at least 3am.

The changes also included all additional restrictions on opening hours over Easter weekend being removed and opening hours on Sunday evenings falling in line with other evenings.