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Personal licences: the uncertainty continues

15 April 19

Licensing briefing: the Government has clarified some but far from all of the confusion surrounding the pending personal licence renewal deadline, and at least one vital issue remains unresolved

by Tom Johnston

Two articles ago, I warned of the very real dangers being faced by those whose personal licences expire on 31 August of this year. I was critical of the Government for what many perceive as dithering. Six months on, what progress has been made?

Well, at last we received an official guide on what form of training would be required for those seeking to renew their licences. It was decreed that a certificate of refresher, as opposed to full, training would suffice. That was welcome; however, damage had been done in that those offering training courses had been unwilling to run them, for fear of selling the wrong product. More confusion was caused by the announcement that new revised training courses are under preparation. Fortunately, assurances have been received that these will not be introduced for the current batch of renewals.

When time runs out

Last time, I commented on another Government paper which had just been published. This suggested that, contrary to the terms of s 87, a refresher training certificate, whenever issued, would suffice. Ah, they said, we didn’t mean that. (They might have added, “Oops!”, but there’s no shaming some people.) They did, however, stick with the guidance published online. In that document we are told that you are required to provide your training certificate at the same time as the renewal application.

And what if you cannot get booked on to a refresher training course in time? That’s tough, is the official reply – you’re goosed.

Yet again they got it wrong. Section 87(1) makes it crystal clear that a personal licence holder with a 31 August expiry date has until 30 November to produce the training certificate, provided the renewal application is lodged by 31 May. 

If the legal position is clearer, the situation in practice is much less so. One clerk told me that with 10 weeks to go before the deadline, she had received renewal applications from barely 15% of licence holders. Three months is not a long time to process a sackful of last minute applications, especially when that three month period spans the summer holiday season. If an applicant has simply failed to advise a board of a change of address, that will result in a hearing being required. And how many people may have failed to notify a licensing board of minor convictions? One can easily imagine bottlenecks. 

But if your application has not been processed by 31 August, even if you applied timeously, your licence expires. This is in contrast to any licence granted under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. In such circumstances, a licence would remain in force beyond the expiry date, until the renewal application is processed. The Government was alerted to this danger by the Law Society of Scotland and SOLAR at least two years ago, but has declined to take any action. A bill to resolve this would have needed three clauses and would have been simple to draft. It is too late now.

Minister’s message

Fife Licensed Trade Association, of which I am secretary, sought the help of Willie Rennie MSP. He wrote to the Minister for Community Safety. The Minister’s reply was mostly quotes from the online guidance referred to above. Interestingly, he then continued by correcting that guidance, making reference to the correct law on production of a training certificate. And his answer to the concerns regarding applications being unable to be processed in time? “We are conscious of the concerns raised by stakeholders… We are in close contact with licensing boards as to their workload… We will therefore continue to monitor the situation and are reviewing what options are available should there be an issue with outstanding applications as the year progresses.”

That letter was sent at the end of January. Will it be of any comfort to “stakeholders” who lose their licences through no fault of their own? You decide. In the meantime, all we as lawyers can do is to spread the word to everyone in the licensed trade to act without delay. And to cross their fingers.

Tom Johnston, Ormidale Licensing Services

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