Christmas Licensing Advice

Opening for a few hours on Christmas Day is an opportunity many small retailers won’t want to miss. But a quirk in the licencing law means some licensees may be at risk of breaching their terms. It’s not too late to get a “minor variation” and avoid a costly fine, says Trevor Colebourne, head of licencing at Vincents Solicitors.

It’s the one day of the year when the big boys close their doors for 24 hours and small businesses can really make the most of the convenience store trade. On Christmas Day, the traditional family grocery store or the local corner shop can be a real saviour for those last minute essentials, or a bottle of fizz and a box of chocs for an unexpected guest.

A large proportion of these smaller retailers will hold a licence to sell alcohol and may not even think twice about opening on December 25th like any other. There is, however, a risk for anyone whose licence is more than 10 years old, that they may be in breach if they open between the hours of 3pm and 7pm, and face prosecution or even having their licence revoked.

In 2005, when the 2003 Licencing Act came into force, most existing licences simply converted to the new type. A legal hangover from that change was the clause prohibiting opening on Christmas Day, which was retained in those existing documents. Very few people realise they’re in breach but, when the authorities are clamping down and licensees are being scrutinised like never before, its not a risk worth taking.

Checking the permitted hours is quite straightforward, a call to the local authority’s licencing department or even a search of their website can bring up the documentation. Anyone who finds their licence is restricted can apply for a “minor variation”, often online or the forms can be downloaded. It should be determined within the next 15 days, just in time for Christmas, and if no decision is given within that time, then it is considered granted.

And, as today’s the 10th, there’s still just enough time to get it sorted.