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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 12th Oct 2022 - Legal Briefing

Drink-driving can lead to the loss of more than one kind of licence by Leigh Schelvis

Part of our day-to-day work as licensing lawyers includes assisting clients with their applications for a key tool within their careers – their personal licence. A personal licence permits the holder to authorise others to sell or supply alcohol on any licensed premises, and so can be an important requirement for career progression for many within the industry. On the rare occasion (including an instance that happened to me recently) we are instructed to defend a personal licence when it has become vulnerable and could potentially be cancelled by a licensing authority.

Under the Licensing Act 2003, a personal licence holder has a duty to notify the licensing authority of any convictions of a relevant offence (Schedule 4 of the Act details relevant offences) as soon as reasonably practical, and a similar duty applies under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. If you fail to inform the authority, you could face a potential fine. However, the ramifications of these offences have a much larger impact than a simple donation to His Majesty. Depending on the conviction(s), these mistakes can severely prejudice a hospitality worker's career and future prospects, which in turn can affect an individual’s mental health and life as a whole. Drink-driving is one of these “relevant offences”, and on top of being a very serious and dangerous crime to commit, it can severely affect your role in the sector. 

Recently, we were working with a client who admitted to driving while under the influence, and they were punished by the court with a fine as well as a driving ban. The client involved was not only a personal licence holder, but also a designated premises supervisor (DPS) and general manager. This means that they hold responsibility for the day-to-day running of the business and authorising the sale of alcohol. In addition to the drink-driving conviction, which is grounds for revocation on its own, was the failure to notify the licensing authority of the conviction and failure to inform the court they were a personal licence holder. The client was facing a potential suspension (maximum six months) or even the full revocation of their personal licence. The matter went before a licensing sub-committee, and despite strong arguments from the licensing authority and police, we managed to persuade the committee that the client had learned from their mistake and was still able to promote the licensing objectives. In this instance, their licence was saved. 
While this client had a serious lapse in judgement, they held no previous convictions, nor had any recorded enforcement taken against their personal licence or related venue premises licences. The client on this occasion was lucky in so many ways, but the consequences could have been significantly worse for both their drink-driving conviction and offences under the 2003 Act. We ask that people keep in mind how serious of a crime drink-driving is, and how easy it can be to end up over the limit. If you believe that your personal licence could be threatened due to a drink-driving conviction, it is vital that you reach out for legal support as soon as possible so that we can assist with mitigation and prevent it from further affecting your career.

Should a holder lose their personal licence, the indirect consequences are substantial and not immediately obvious. Let’s say that the licence holder was a retailer/franchisee of a brewery pub and DPS of their venue. The loss of a personal licence would mean the venue would require a new DPS, which could result in nominating and training an individual from the pre-existing team, or even employing an external DPS. This extra expense could prove quite costly for the business’s profits. Regarding the individual who has lost the licence, it could be that they might struggle to find further employment in the sector. If they are someone who has aspirations of management or even running their own premises, the loss of a personal licence could remarkably distort their career timeline as you cannot apply for a replacement until after a whole five years.

Even for those working in hospitality and the surrounding sectors who do not require a personal licence, it is important to note that they could be equally, if not more so, reliant on a driving licence for their careers. Whether the staff members are employed by operators, suppliers and logistics (wet and dry products), services providers (eg finance and hostech industries) or others where possessing a driving licence is crucial to their role, its loss could mean demotion or even the termination of that position. With staff shortages and supply chain issues already shaking the industry, employers need to ensure their staff are aware of the risks of drink-driving, not only for the sake of the law and safety of society, but also to maintain their staff, their personal licences and reduce disruption to their business.

Lately, we have seen an increase in strike action on public transport systems, which in turn has put a strain on taxis and private hire companies. These alternative transport options can also be quite costly, and so many of us are now looking for ways to save money during an ever-looming cost-of-living crisis. There may be a temptation for people to “chance their arm” and drive home after they have had a drink. The combination of late-night hours, a lack of transport options and the casual “drinking on the job culture” might mean hospitality staff could be more likely to take that drink-driving risk. It should be noted that under the 2005 Scotland Act, a responsible person in relation to a licensed premises commits an offence if they are “drunk on the job”. While there is no specific UK law stating that a person cannot consume alcohol while at their place of employment, as soon as they begin to drive after consuming alcohol, the drink-driving laws come into play.

Businesses in the sector arguably have a social responsibility to encourage their staff to develop a greater awareness of the consequences of drink-driving. While pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants do not hold a legal duty of care in preventing staff and customers from drink-driving, there is a real benefit in providing those working in your establishments with the tools to educate customers and themselves about the dangers of mixing alcohol consumption with operating a motor vehicle. It could save lives as well as keeping your business in good reputation. 

Our friends at the TTC Group provide rehabilitation courses to a variety of audiences. Its training sessions are not just for those who have been convicted of drink-driving offences, but also for businesses who look to inform and advise their employees. TTC’s focus is to reduce reoffending, essentially breaking the cycle by changing behaviour, with the ultimate goal of promoting road safety in general. By completing a drink-drive course, drivers are up to three times less likely to reoffend. TTC will be the first to say that alcohol affects everyone differently, and so there is no right answer as to how much you can have before getting in a car. It is much safer to not drink at all if you know you are going to be using your vehicle. TTC aims to help offending drivers return safely to the roads, but are firm believers that prevention is better than cure.

As the weather turns colder and summer looks to be behind us, the hospitality sector is ready to welcome in the thriving market of the upcoming seasons. Hallowe’en, bonfire night, Christmas and now the football World Cup in Qatar (it could be coming home!) are all brilliant opportunities for strong revenue and a delighted customer base. There is no doubt that there will be many people looking to celebrate these occasions in licensed premises across the UK. Hospitality would benefit from a vibrant celebratory season after a series of difficult periods. However, in doing so, let us remind both customers and staff to heed the risks and exercise their judgement accordingly regarding alcohol and their transport choices.
Leigh Schelvis is a senior solicitor at John Gaunt & Partners

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