Off-Licence Saved from Revocation

Off-Licence Saved from Revocation

Published: 21 October 2013

Whether you agree with the practice employed by Trading Standards officers to make undercover test purchases to catch out the unwary, it remains a tried and tested way for local councils to ensure that their licensees are complying with the law.

Our client fell foul of the licensing objective of "protection of children from harm," and failed 3 out of 4 test purchases carried out over a 4 year period at his supermarket and off-licence in London. Local Authority Trading Standards sent in several police cadets who were aged 16-17 years old to buy alcohol and each time (bar one) the licensee or his staff failed to ask for proof of age and made an illegal sale to a minor.

On the last occasion however the licensee stopped the undercover customers, asked how old they were, and reversed the sale. By then, however, technically the sale had taken place. Trading Standards argued that in a real life situation the youths might simply have run off with the alcohol.

So far so bad, but in his favour, the licensee  had taken significant steps in recent months to tighten up his Challenge 25 procedures, had a petition of more than a hundred signatures in support and had gained considerable respect in his local community. Letters of support stated that this shop not known for underage drinks sales (one mother said that friends of her 16 year old son knew that this was not the shop to go to if they wanted alcohol - although they knew one around the corner that was).

Another mother said that her teenage daughter sought refuge in the off-licence when she was being followed and was protected by staff. Supporters wrote in to say that they'd never seen an underage sale take place in the shop but had witnessed refusals. What's more, a few years ago one member of staff was beaten up and hospitalized by a youth for refusing to make an underage sale.

We were able to show the Licensing Committee new and improved staff guidance and training procedures. Importantly, the licensee held his hands up and admitted that there had been mistakes.

In the circumstances we managed to argue that a revocation was too severe a penalty. However as a salutary warning to other licensees in the area the Committee decided to suspend the licensee's premises licence for 3 months.

A cautionary tale then. Whereas our client did not lose his livelihood as other off licences in the area had, he faces the penalty of 3  months without alcohol sales.  

It's a criminal offence to sell age restricted products such as alcohol to an under 18 year old. Various sanctions apply with fines.

There is nothing in law making shops demand to see ID for anyone who looks under 25, but if this is a condition on the premises licence and it is not followed then this is a breach of licensing conditions, the sanctions for which include a review in front of the Licensing Committee who can decide that the licence be suspended or even revoked, and further conditions can be added to the premises licence.

If a licensee fails 2 test purchases within a period of 3 months, this is classed as persistently selling alcohol to children. If prosecuted, then the maximum fine is £20,000. There is the option of a period of "voluntary" stop on alcohol sales agreed with Trading Standards or the Police, instead of prosecution, with the period being a maximum of 2 weeks. There is a possibility that there could be a review of the Premises Licence.

Applying the basic principles of Challenge 25 is not difficult and can make the difference between keeping a licence and losing it.

Here at Fletcher Day we are happy to provide training on age restricted products, and help you to assess your procedures to check that you are not putting your livelihood at risk.

If you are facing a review of your premises licence you can instruct us to help by clicking here.  if you wish to ask us any question about licensing law or issues that you are having with your (or someone else's) licensed premises, please click here.

For further advice and assistance please contact Maria Guida, Licensing partner at Fletcher Day LLP, Solicitors by email at maria@fletcherday.co.uk or telephone, 0207 632 1432.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.