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Out-Law News 2 min. read

'Targeted' late night levy for English licensing authorities proposed

Licensing authorities in England and Wales could be able to target specific streets and areas under proposed reforms to the late night levy, rather than having to impose it on the whole area.

The UK government has also proposed strengthening cumulative impact policies (CIPs), which are designed to limit the growth of licensed premises in particular areas, by giving them statutory force.

The potential changes have been put forward as part of the Policing and Crime Bill, which is currently before the UK parliament. They are due to be debated by the House of Lords when the draft legislation reaches committee stage on 26 October.

Licensing authorities in England and Wales were given the power to impose late night levies on local businesses in 2011. The policy is designed to enable licensing authorities to collect a contribution towards policing the night time economy from late-opening businesses that sell alcohol.

Under the current rules, licensing authorities that choose to impose a late night levy must do so across the whole of the area they cover. However, they can choose the period during which the levy applies every night between midnight and 6am, and are able to set exemptions and reductions from a list set out in regulations.

Licensing law expert Christopher Rees-Gay of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the policy change could "lead to more licensing authorities adopting levies, as they will be able to focus a levy on those areas within their authorities that they deem should pay extra for operating later hours".

"Obviously this would be a clear benefit to the licensing authorities, but it would be a further tax for operators in these areas to pay and could have a negative impact on the trade," he said.

CIPs are currently governed by statutory guidance issued under section 182 of the 2003 Licensing Act. Under the current rules, a CIP can only be applied by a licensing authority to an application for a licence if it has received "relevant representations" about the potential cumulative impact of the grant of the application in question from one of a number of a 'responsible authorities', which include police, fire authorities, health and safety authorities and neighbouring licensing authorities.

Rees-Gay said that it was "unclear" why the government was proposing a change in the status of CIPs, as the current system already allowed licensing authorities to adopt and use CIPs as a control measure.

"It has always been my belief that CIPs can lead to areas stagnating, as new operators can find it very difficult to obtain new licences in these areas," he said.

"Again, for operators, it is difficult to see what benefit there will be for them if these changes are implemented. One positive, if the proposals are adopted, will mean that CIPs will have to be re-assessed every three years, rather than just 'regularly' as the section 182 guidance currently states. In areas where they are adopted, it will give operators some comfort that they are being re-assessed in a timely fashion," he said.

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