Following an evaluation of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced earlier this year that it would be introducing a card alert scheme designed to give licensing authorities which choose to adopt it a new method of cracking down on violations of licensing conditions and excessive drinking. Some local authorities have begun adopting the scheme, under which ‘yellow cards’ can be given in order to apply tougher licensing conditions. A yellow card will put the problem premises on immediate probation and impose tough and uncompromising sanctions. If problem establishments fail to improve, they are at risk of being given a ‘red card’, which will mean the immediate loss of their licence. This is similar to the card alert scheme used to tackle individuals who cause trouble when out drinking.
Concerns have been expressed that adding this scheme to the existing legislation will only serve to confuse people. It has also been suggested that the Licensing Act already gives sufficient powers to licensing authorities and that this scheme will do nothing further to solve the problem of binge drinking.
The principle behind the scheme is that it will give licensing authorities who choose to endorse it the ability to formalise the informal discussions that take place with licensees. However, so far there has been a mixed response to the scheme. Some regions claim that it will hardly be used whilst others are keen to encourage its implementation.
Although the majority of licensees take their responsibilities seriously, there are worries that enforcing authorities are not exercising the powers given to them under the Act to take action against those who do not. It remains to be seen whether the card alert scheme will do anything to achieve better results in the fight against binge drinking, but it is clear that in certain areas licence holders may face added regulatory pressures.
Interestingly, recent data show that more than 60 per cent of all licensed premises closures in England and Wales for the year to March 2009 took place in Humberside and Leeds.
Letter from Minister of Sport to Licensing Authorities, 2 September 2009.