The late-night levy
Alec Samuels discusses the operation of a levy intended to limit alcohol-related disturbances in public places in the early morning
Unitary, district, and London borough councils may introduce the late-night levy (LNL) upon pubs, clubs, and places of late-night refreshment (i.e. holders of a premises licence or club premises certificate for the supply of alcohol or late-night refreshment) after midnight.
The justifications for the LNL are the direct and indirect costs of policing alcohol-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour in the early hours of the morning, especially at weekends and on student nights, and of the council officers on duty, voluntary street pastors (subsidised), taxi marshals (subsidised), all-night buses (subsidised), permanent or temporary toilets, and the next morning cleansing of the detritus. The council is anxious to promote the night-time economy, but in a safe and clean environment. Better that the trade should be required to pay than the local taxpayer.
The objections from the trade are that the trade acts responsibly, does not serve unfit customers, and should not be made to pay for the consequences of criminal and anti-social behaviour of individuals beyond their control in the street. The LNL increases the costs of running the business, leading to restricted opening hours and even to closures, thus restricting consumer choice. The night-time economy is damaged. Many pubs and clubs will close at midnight, leading to a midnight surge on to those premises still open, to the takeaways, and to the neighbouring district where there is no LNL. The LNL represents yet another tax, inevitably damaging to the economy. In the views of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the LNL should be a last resort.
The relevant law is to be found in chapter 2 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, as amended by section 142 and schedule 18 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017; the Late Night Levy (Expenses, Exemptions and Reductions) Regulations 2012; the Late Night Levy (Application and Administration) Regulations 2012; and the Home Office amended guidance on the late-night levy (October 2012).
The council must first consult the chief police officer, the police and crime commissioner (PCC), the trade, solicitors, and the public. Then the council must consider the costs of policing and council involvement and the desirability of raising the revenue. The final decision should be taken in full council. The LNL may apply throughout the whole of the council area or only specific parts. Many premises are exempt: hotels whose bars are not open to the general public after midnight; theatres and cinemas; bingo halls; community amateur sports clubs; community premises; country village pubs; and business improvement districts (BIDs). All premises are exempt on New Year’s Eve.
The LNL is based on rateable value, with a multiplier for premises in bands D and E to cover the larger premises. The LNL ranges from £299 a year to £4,400 a year. Non-payment will result in suspension of the licence. The revenue is shared 70:30 between the police and the council, and a joint committee or LNL board will discuss the overall expenditure policy. Administration costs of collection, enforcement, and variation may be taken from the levy. The money must be used in connection with costs of the night-time economy problems, and the council must publish a report showing how the money has been spent. Reductions of up to 30 per cent may be offered to pubs and clubs participating in a best practice scheme, with the decision delegated to a senior officer, and also to premises subject to small business rate relief with a rateable value of £12,000 or less. Adjustments of the levy may be made where during the year the premises cease to operate as a pub or club.
The following places have, have had, or are considering having an LNL: Camden, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, City of London, Hackney, Islington, Leeds, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton, Tameside, and there may be others.
The council is likely to review the operation of the LNL after a few years to assess the impact and appraise the value or otherwise of the scheme.
Cumulative impact policy
Every council must have a statutory cumulative impact policy (CIP) designed to limit the growth of licensed premises, pursuant to guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 and section 141 of the Policing and Crime Act.
The abuse of alcohol in public places in the early morning remains a serious problem. Simply taxing the trade is easy for local authorities. More money for preventive services is welcome, but improving behaviour will prove more difficult.
Alec Samuels is a barrister and former reader at Southampton University