THE GOVERNMENT’S ALCOHOL REFORMS
The Government is determined to ensure that alcohol is no longer the driver of crime and disorder and unacceptable harms that it has been over the past decade. Nearly half of violent crime (almost a million crimes) is believed to be carried out by individuals under the influence of alcohol. The Government has legislated via the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (PRSR Act) to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003 and to rebalance it in favour of local communities. The new measures give the police and licensing authorities in England and Wales more local powers to tackle irresponsible premises and crack down on unacceptable sales of alcohol to children. Going forward, the Government’s new Alcohol Strategy sets out in more detail the wide range of action that it is taking to tackle the issue of excessive alcohol consumption.
Timing for commencing the alcohol provisions in the PRSR Act
The Government intends to bring into force all the PRSR Act alcohol reforms on 25 April 2012, except for those that require complex secondary legislation, including: early morning alcohol restriction orders (EMROs), the late night levy and locally set fees. We expect to introduce these measures in October 2012 or April 2013.
The measures intended for implementation on 25 April 2012 are as follows.
- Sending out a strong message that the Government will not tolerate the sales of alcohol to children by doubling the fine for persistent underage sales to £20,000, and making it easier to shut down businesses found guilty. The new legislation also increases the period of voluntary closure, as an alternative to a fine, from 48 to 336 hours (Section 118 of the PRSR Act).
- Giving licensing authorities (LAs) greater powers and flexibility by making them responsible authorities in their own right under the Licensing Act 2003. This gives them stronger powers to, for example, remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, premises that are causing problems without having to wait for the police or another responsible authority (section 103 of the PRSR Act).
- Giving health bodies a greater say by making them “responsible authorities” so that they are automatically notified about new premises applications and can make representations, although these must be relevant to the existing statutory licensing objectives (Section 104). Applies to Primary Care Trusts in England (primary health functions of local authorities after NHS reform) and Health Boards in Wales.
- Increasing flexibility for, and reducing the burdens on, licensing authorities by lowering the evidence threshold for decisions made under the Licensing Act 2003 (sections 109 to 111 of PRSR Act).
- Allowing licensing authorities to suspend premises licences due to non-payment of annual fees (section 120 of the PRSR Act).
- Giving local residents a greater say by scrapping the ‘vicinity test’ so that anyone can make representations about licensing decisions regardless of whether they live close to the premises concerned and requiring LAs to publish more information on-line (Section 105 -108 of the PRSR Act and changes to Licensing Act Regulations 2005).
- Reforming the system of Temporary Event Notices (TENs) to prevent it being exploited by unscrupulous operators e.g. allowing environmental health authorities (EHAs) powers to object to a temporary event notice in addition to the police; extending the grounds on which the police and EHAs can object to all four of the statutory licensing objectives: crime and disorder; public safety; public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm; giving LAs the discretion to impose any existing licence conditions on a TEN if there are objections from the police or the EHA. Alongside this, reforming TENs to increase flexibility e.g. by extending the period that may be covered by a single TEN from 96 hours (four days) to 168 hours (seven days) and introducing a new process to allow a limited number of late TENs submitted up to five days before an event (sections 112 -117 of the PRSR Act).
- Reducing the burden on LAs by changing the frequency for publication of Licensing Policy Statements from 3 to 5 years (section 122).
- Adding various offences to the list of relevant offences at Schedule 4 of the Licensing Act 2003 – to be taken into account by LAs in granting new personal licences and, in the event of convictions, for the suspension and forfeiture of personal licences following convictions for relevant offences (section 123).
- Requirement that the Secretary of State reviews the effect of amendments five years after their commencement (section 124 of the PRSR Act).
Statutory and other guidance
In April 2012, the Government also intends to issue new statutory guidance under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003. As announced in December 2010, it is also intended that the new guidance will include various other changes including express guidance to LAs to accept “reasonable representations” from the police; that cumulative impact policies will have a lower evidential hurdle for introduction; allowing LAs to adopt measures such as fixed or staggered closing times; and a requirement on licensing applicants to give greater consideration to the local area. The Home Office will also produce separate guidance for health bodies on their role as responsible authorities and is consulting representatives of health bodies in England and Wales on this. We will make preliminary guidance sheets available on the website as soon as possible. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs/alcohol/licensing-act-next-steps/
PRSR Act measures for implementation later in 2012/13
The Government is in the process of consulting publicly on the detail of the two measures in the PRSR Act that specifically target problems of late night drinking – EMROs and the late night levy (section 119 and sections 125 to 139 of the PRSR Act). The public consultation closes on 10 April and is available via the Home Office website. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/late-night-drinking/
The Government expects to introduce the secondary legislation on EMROs and the levy for commencement in October 2012. At that stage, it also intends to repeal the earlier legislation on Alcohol Disorder Zones at the same time. Further information about plans for the implementation of locally set licensing fees will also be available later this year.
The Government’s response to the public consultation in December 2010 and a series of factsheets at the Bill stage that explain more on the policy aims behind the PRSR measures are available on the Home Office website.
Alcohol team, Home Office, 23 March 2012
 44% of all violent crime as perceived by victims. 928,000 violent crimes, British Crime Survey (BCS) 2010/11