Late drinking set to be cut by new charge

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The Independent Online

Up to half of late night licences could go under plans to give licensing authorities the power to charge premises which open past midnight.

An annual levy of up to £4,480 could be imposed on large nightclubs that mainly sell alcohol to fund the additional policing costs.

The power, introduced in the Government's Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, is aimed at tackling problem premises but could be introduced across entire local authorities.

Up to half of the pubs and clubs that currently open late are expected to amend their licences to avoid having to pay the levy when it is introduced, an impact assessment released by the Home Office found.

The move is expected to bring in between £9 million and £15 million as around 50%-75% of the 24,111 late-opening premises choose to pay the levy - between 12,000 and 18,100 premises.

Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said it was unclear how many local authorities would want to take up the late night levy.

But he added: "The levy will work by raising a charge locally based on the existing bands for licences and 70% of that would be ringfenced for policing, the remaining funds being available for local authorities to use, for example, for taxi marshals and other practical issues.

"It will be for local authorities to decide whether they wish to use this or not, given that there are other means by which they are able to control the late night problem, for example deciding pubs and clubs should be closed between 12 and 6am."

Home Secretary Theresa May said the greater powers will give "communities at a local level a much greater say on what happens over licensing in their local area".

"Everybody will be allowed the option of commenting on licensing applications, not just those who live close to premises, and health and policing concerns will be considered more widely," she said.

"So the impact of licensing on crime and disorder and public safety will be taken into account."

Mrs May has said 24-hour licences have failed to produce the benefits of a "cafe culture" and tougher action is needed to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder which costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion each year.

With the introduction of late-night levies, there will be greater penalties for serving under-age drinkers, with fines doubling to £20,000 for persistent offenders.

There was no mention of banning the sale of alcohol below cost price in today's Bill.

But Mrs May said: "It is still the Government's intention to bring in the ban on low-cost sales."

Chris Sorek, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: "Tackling the UK binge drinking problem will require a range of measures and giving tougher penalties for underage alcohol sales is an important part of the solution.

"Not all young people drink alcohol but those that do are drinking more and more often - risking their health, personal safety and education."

The new measures will also give power to communities to end 24-hour drinking in their area.

Licensing authorities will be able to make an early morning alcohol restriction order, effectively banning premises from selling alcohol during set times - such as between midnight and 6am.