You don’t need to be an aficionado of the Mission: Impossible franchise to know that the outcome of each film is actually Mission: Successful Against all the Odds.

Unfortunately, there is no such guarantee of a successful outcome when it comes to the looming crisis that seems certain to engulf personal licence renewals, and threatens to cause chaos for the licensed trade in Scotland. The complexity of the renewal process, compounded by the lack of clear guidance from the Scottish Government, means it’s quite possible that thousands of licence holders, and Licensing Boards, are facing a real ‘mission impossible’, with no hope of Tom Cruise swooping in to save the day.

The need for a personal licence holder

Every premises licensed to sell alcohol in Scotland is required to have at least one fully-trained personal licence holder to act as the designated ‘Premises Manager’, without which alcohol cannot be sold. This requirement applies regardless of the nature of the premises. So whether the premises is a restaurant, pub, supermarket, or convenience store, it still requires a Premises Manager with a personal licence.

Personal licences, which last for 10 years, were introduced under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. The first batch of personal licences were issued around 1st September 2009, meaning that every one of those personal licences, estimated to number around 40,000, is due for renewal on 1st September 2019, failing which it will expire.

Trouble ahead

While the requirement for personal licences to be renewed every 10 years seems like a simple concept on the face of it, contradictory sections of the legislation mean navigating the renewal process is anything but straightforward. Just like every good action movie needs a few plot twists to create drama, the lack of clear, consistent guidance from the Scottish Government is building the tension towards what could be a catastrophe for Scotland’s licensed trade.

The training requirement

The source of the confusion concerns the training that personal licence holders must undertake before they can apply for renewal of their licence. While the legislation appears to require only a full licensing qualification, with a refresher training certificate to be submitted at a later date, when the Scottish Government finally issued guidance in August 2018 (less than a month before the renewal application window opened) it indicated that only the refresher training certificate is required. However, the suggestion that the refresher training must be completed before submitting an application for renewal of a personal licence – in clear contradiction of the timescales specified in the legislation – merely added to the confusion.

Clinging on to the train(ing)

Apparently intent on playing the antagonist, the Scottish Ministers then “issued” an accreditation document (although this is not yet available on their website), the effect of which was to “clarify” that the refresher training certificate is not necessarily required before a personal licence renewal application can be submitted. Yet simultaneously Scottish Government social media channels continue to assert that refresher training is a mandatory requirement for any renewal application.

The plot thickens

Even if personal licence holders can overcome this confusion surrounding the administrative requirements of a renewal application, the plot takes another twist. The next obstacle for our protagonists is whether or not the already under-resourced Licensing Boards can actually cope with the volume of applications they are likely to receive. Personal Licence holders can submit applications to renew their licences until 31 May 2019 but, given the vast number of personal licence holders throughout Scotland due to renew their licences before next September, there is genuine concern that even if renewal applications are submitted before the deadline, Licensing Boards simply will not have the capacity to process and grant all of the renewals before the expiry date of 1 September 2019.

Doomsday scenario

If the Licensing Boards cannot process all of the renewals in time, any unrenewed licences will expire. Without a licence, these unrenewed personal licence holders will not be allowed to act as premises managers, so some businesses could find themselves prevented from selling alcohol unless they can find another personal licence holder (for obvious reasons likely to be in short supply), or until the individual has obtained a completely new personal licence, at significant cost and after even further delays.

A ticking time-bomb

The next few months are likely to be fraught unless or untiI clear guidance is forthcoming. The fallout from this current debacle won't be known until later next year, once the deadline approaches and in its aftermath. But the cliff-hanger is already here – if urgent action is not taken now, thousands of personal licence holders are at real risk of losing their licences. Even if they comply with the application requirements by the May deadline, there is no guarantee that the Licensing Boards are prepared for this, frankly, insurmountable task.

Licensing Boards and Personal Licence holders appear to be facing a true mission impossible, and the fear is that the hero will be too late to stop the credits rolling.

For further guidance on the renewal process, and on the documentation you will need, please contact Lynn Simpson using the contact details provided on this page.

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