Published: Thu 25th August, 2022
We are starting a series of features about Council services to explain a bit more about what we do. First up is licensing.
The Council’s Licensing team currently have over 3,500 licences on record. That covers everything from taxis and scrap metal sites to premises selling alcohol and betting shops.
There are over 50 different types of licences handled by the team (there are more in other areas of the Council) and while the most common ones relate to taxis and pubs, there are more unusual ones.
We caught up with the Licensing team manager, Grace Dowson, to find out a bit more about the service.
In a nutshell, what does the Council’s Licensing team do?
We are responsible for processing licensing applications, advising people including taxi drivers, operators, and pub landlords on licensing issues and enforcing licensing conditions.
Our core purpose is public safety. We want to help those who need a licence understand what they need to do to get a licence, be clear on the standards expected so they can keep it and what may happen if they don’t meet those standards.
We are supportive but there is an element of enforcement when necessary.
The purpose of licensing is very simple – it’s to help keep people safe.
For example, the public needs to have confidence that when they step into a taxi, the driver is a fit and proper person, and the vehicle is in a good condition. Or when they visit a pub or event where alcohol is on sale, they are operated by fit and proper people.
If things are not being done correctly, we can take action to promote public safety.
What are the most relevant laws?
For licensed vehicles, it’s the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 and then for alcohol it’s the Licensing Act 2003 and gambling, the Gambling Act2005. However, there are more laws and regulations.
It’s a well-legislated area and our website is packed with information to help people understand what they are required to do and what to do if there are problems. We are also here to help and educate. You can find out more by visiting www.charnwood.gov.uk/licensing
Call a taxi!
Most people will have some knowledge that taxis need to be licensed and it is a large part of our work.
There are two different types – private hire vehicles and Hackney carriages (sometimes called black cabs although in Charnwood they are just normal vehicles and not like the black cabs in cities).
The differences are simple – you can flag a Hackney carriage in the street and get in. With private hire vehicles, you need to book in advance. If you get in a private hire vehicle in the street without a booking, you may not be insured if there’s an accident.
In Charnwood, you can tell the difference with coloured plates and stickers on vehicles. Hackney carriages have white stickers and plates while private hire vehicles have yellow ones.
We currently have 149 Hackney carriage vehicles in Charnwood and 64 private hire vehicles.
All vehicles need to have a licence, but drivers also need to be licensed themselves. Charnwood currently has 228 licensed taxi drivers. As you need to book private hire vehicles, they also need to have a private hire operator’s licence. There are 25 currently in Charnwood.
We set high standards for vehicles, drivers and private hire operators. We consider we work well with the local trade because as well as operating safely, we also want them to be successful.
Licensing is also there for their protection, in particular the drivers. They deal with some tricky situations, particularly if people have been drinking. Licensing makes it really clear what is expected by all parties, such as behaviour from passengers and drivers and charges.
We have clear processes in place to deal with complaints.
Do all Hackney carriages operating in Charnwood need to be licensed in Charnwood?
No. That used to be the case, but the law changed in 2015 so Hackney carriages licensed with one authority can operate in another authority’s area.
However, they can only operate in another authorities area if they are pre-booked via a local operator. They can’t pick up people in the street or stand on another local authority’s ranks.
If someone wishes to complain about a Hackney carriage in Charnwood and it is found to be licensed in another area, they must report it to the area where the taxi was licensed. We do not have the authority to enforce vehicles or drivers licensed with another authority.
How do you enforce licensing?
While we are proactive, supportive and advise people who require licences, there are occasions when complaints are made.
Licensing officers will investigate all complaints and we have well-established processes in place.
For example, we have an internal points system for taxi drivers where they can be issued points for failing to comply with the conditions of their licence. That could be for improper behaviour, failing to display their badges or issues with the vehicles (any safety issues must be rectified before vehicles can return to the road).
Once they accrue 12 points, they are called before the Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee which can suspend or revoke their licence.
For pubs, if a complaint is serious enough, licences can be revoked so premises can no longer sell alcohol or operating hours can be amended. Other agencies such as the Police and Environmental Health can be involved and will be asked for their views. They can also ask us to review licences if they have any concerns about a venue.
We also carry out inspections of premises to ensure licensing conditions are being met.
Clearly, by taking enforcement action we can affect people’s livelihoods, but the primary objective must be people’s safety. We will always be supportive and help people understand what they need to do to comply with their licences.
What about alcohol?
The other big area of work for us is alcohol-related licences.
The key point on alcohol is you need to be licensed to sell it. A premise needs a premises licence as well as someone to have a personal licence to be able to sell alcohol.
A premises licence for a venue selling alcohol will have conditions such as when alcohol can be sold. These must be strictly adhered to because if they are not, licences can be revoked, and they either may have to close or trade without selling alcohol which would clearly have an impact on customers and the business.
We have lots of events taking place in the borough which also require what we call Temporary Event Notices (Tens). You need a Tens if you want to carry out a ‘licensable activity' on unlicensed premises.
Licensable activity includes:
- selling alcohol
- serving alcohol to members of a private club
- providing entertainment, such as music, dancing or indoor sporting events
- serving hot food or drink between 11pm and 5am
We appreciate it can be tricky for people but as we’ve said, the laws are in place to protect people and for things like music and noise, reduce the opportunities for nuisance.
What is the Council’s role in gambling?
Most elements of the gambling industry are controlled by the Gambling Commission but as a Council we are responsible for ensuring premises such as betting shops, bingo halls, amusement arcades where there are slot machines and pubs that have slot machines. Small local lotteries (raffle tickets) may also need a licence from us.
We don’t license individuals – the Gambling Commission does that – but we do license the premises. In Charnwood, we have 13 licensed betting shops, three bingo premises, plus 75 premises selling alcohol with permits for gaming machines
What are the most common types of complaints you receive?
The most common complaints about taxis usually relate to possibly over-charging or a driver’s conduct. A common issue is someone losing something on a night out and then trying to track it down with very little information provided.
There’s some good info on taxis here: www.charnwood.gov.uk/taxi_customer_faq
For pubs, it is usually about operating outside of the hours covered by the licence or noise.
What are the more unusual types of licences you deal with?
You need a licence if you are a hypnotist and want to put on a show in the borough. The licence is for the person and entertainment only and not medical procedures or therapy.
You also need a licence for sex shops. We used to have a couple in Charnwood but there are none currently.
How do you keep up to date with changes in licensing?
We work hard to keep up to date with best practices and any changes to the laws and regulations.
That’s why we are members of the Institute of Licensing and the National Association of Licensing Enforcement Officers. They are also able to offer legal support and advice.
The world of licensing is complex and is always evolving. We need to keep up to date to ensure that what we’re doing is right and so the public and local businesses are getting the best service from us.
What role do Councillors play in licensing?
We have two committees that councillors sit on. The Licensing Committee is chaired by Cllr Mark Lowe and deals with policy. It has 15 councillors as members of the committee.
The Licensing Sub-Committee also meets to deal with practical matters such as reviews of licences. Its membership is the same as the Licensing Committee and a chair is elected at each meeting.
Would you recommend a career in licensing?
Licensing manager Grace Dowson, who has been involved in licensing since 1997, said: “I am passionate about licensing. I find it rewarding knowing that the work we do is helping to keep people safe.
“I also enjoy working with the local taxi and pub trade. Most drivers, operators and landlords do an excellent job and often in difficult circumstances.
“The licensing team at Charnwood are also fantastic and our primary goal is to engage with people and educate them about the licences and permits they need. It can be quite a complicated area, but we are always happy to give advice.
“When you’re in licensing you do the whole of the job from beginning to end, that includes processing applications and carrying out reviews to investigating complaints to taking enforcement action. It is very challenging at times but also very rewarding.”
Read our licensing infograph