Pub owners in Fife have called for a reduction in licensing fees after being charged in full, despite being forced to close for more than half of the year.
To sell alcohol premises must be licensed under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.
The amount each licensee will be charged depends on which category their premises fits under, with fees ranging from £180 to £900.
But pub owners say they should be given a discount due to the months they were closed during lockdown.
Indoor-only pubs were forced to shut from October until July, while pubs with outdoor seating could serve outside, apart from between January and April.
Licensee for the Crown Tavern in Burntisland, Jane Lewis, said she couldn’t believe they had been charged their full annual fee despite being closed for around 10 months.
She said: “When I got the letter saying it was due I just couldn’t believe the cheek of them wanting a whole year when we’ve been shut since October.
“I didn’t have a beer garden or anything, so I didn’t get to open until July.”
‘Bit of a cheek’
When Jane emailed Fife Council to query the fee and request a reduction, she was informed the council were not responsible for the closure of pubs and that the Scottish Government had issued grants to help pay for fees.
“I thought it was a bit of a cheek.” Jane added.
Despite being forced to close, many pub owners across Scotland had to continue paying monthly contract payments for appliances there were not in use to ensure their bars could reopen when restrictions allowed.
Jane said: “There was absolutely nothing we could do away with.
“We did get grants but by the time you’ve kept all your other bills going and then you’ve obviously got your house bills to pay, you’ll be lucky if I was left with £400 a month.
“I just can’t believe that they’re actually charging us for a year when they know we’ve been shut.
“I think they could have done it better and worked out how many months we had been opened and gave us a bit of a reduction for the months that we were shut.”
‘Kick in the teeth’
She said: “It is an extra blow of publicans just now to be asked to pay that when they haven’t been trading for so long.”
Morag is also the Scottish representative for ‘Campaign for Pubs‘, which works to “promote, support and protect” licensed premises.
She added: “I think it would have been fair for them to give us a discount this year.
“They did the same last year and they asked for the whole annual fee but over the year I think we’ve been open less this this year.
“I have outside space so others have suffered more than me.”
Fife Council said they cannot give discounts as fees are “controlled by regulations” but the Scottish Government said the fee system operates “independently of government” and that licensing boards have the ability to provide a reduction.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Fees are set and paid directly to licensing boards.
“These are matters for licensing boards and we are aware of the approach taken by some, such as Aberdeen City to reduce fees by one-third.
“We recognise this has been an extremely challenging time for licensed premises and that is why we have provided £3.7bn in support to businesses and the hospitality sector since the start of the pandemic, including licensed premises.
“We have also encouraged licensing boards to take a sympathetic and pragmatic approach when dealing with licensing matters throughout the pandemic.”
June Barrie, Fife Council’s legal services manager, said: “Annual fees to maintain a licence are a condition of the licence and the amount of the fee is controlled by regulations.
“The board is required by the regulations to make sure that the full costs of running the alcohol licensing system are met by the fees paid by the licence holders.
“Unfortunately the cost of running the system has to be met by the fees paid and that means flexibility is limited.
“A fee reduction would have to include all premises that sell alcohol which would also involve those businesses that were able to remain open during the pandemic.
“A system of grants and support was available to help those licensed premises that had to close to help with costs.”
Elsewhere, Angus Council confirmed they charged their full annual licensing fee this year, while Dundee City Council have said their fees are due on October 1.
A spokesperson for Perth and Kinross licensing board said there are “no plans” to reduce fees.