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Thu 26th Feb 2015 - Government rules out locally set licensing fees 'at the present time'
Government rules out locally set licensing fees 'at the present time': The government has announced that it is ruling out letting local authorities set their own charges for licences "at the present time", because of a lack of evidence on how much administrating licensing actually costs local councils. Instead, it says, it will "invite local government to provide evidence of its costs before proceeding'. However, solicitor John Gaunt, a licensing specialist, said the announcement today "is likely to push any further or final determination on this long-standing issue into the distant future." The Home Office started a consultation on locally set fees under the Licensing Act 2003 last year, which closed in April. Today it published its response to the consultation, which attracted 681 responses, more than two thirds of them from the fee-paying side. Fee-payers were, in general, "strongly opposed to the introduction of locally set fees", the Home Office said today. Many also argued that the proposed caps on fees should be lower and were worried that fees would rise to the level of the caps. Licensing authorities were generally more content with the proposals, generally considered that the proposed caps would be sufficient for them to recover costs. However, only 20 of 350 licensing authorities responded to the government's request to complete a survey of their costs for each fee-paying process. As a result, the Home Office said today: "The responses make it difficult to set the caps, as the responses are not sufficient to indicate the extent to which authorities reporting higher costs are outliers or not. Likewise, the responses to the surveys do not provide clarity as to whether licensing authorities are experiencing a deficit overall. The government is committed to ensuring a vibrant community sector and avoiding undue burdens on business. Therefore, the impact on community groups and businesses in the licensed trade, many of whom are small operators, must be properly assessed. Additionally, the limited response from local government implies that not all licensing authorities have the necessary capacity to estimate their costs, which is a pre-requisite for setting fees. For these reasons, the government has decided not to introduce locally set licensing fees at the present time. The government is, however, now inviting local government to provide representative and up-to-date evidence of licensing authorities costs in delivering licensing functions, and their capacity to measure them." The Home Office has also ruled out introducing a single payment date for annual fees in England and Wales. More than half – 56% –  of fee-payers in the online survey opposed the proposal and only 31% supported it, while the majority of responses from local government also disagreed with the proposal. However, it said, it "sees merit" in letting licence holders who wish to nominate a date of their choice to do so by notifying their licensing authority. "This would remove a significant administrative burden from businesses that hold multiple licences without enforcing change on those who do not want it."

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