The European Court of Justice is expected to make a ruling in the coming weeks that Council licensing departments who levy enforcement fees as part of their charging structure to applicants for new licenses are doing so illegally and should only be charging up front for the administration costs. This expected ruling follows a referral by the UK’s Supreme Court to the EU Advocate General for a legal opinion on a case against Westminster City Council. The Advocate General concluded that charging for enforcement at application stage is unlawful and should only be charged to successful applicants after the decision has been made.
England and Wales has 600,000 licenses in place and with Councils potentially facing claims dating back 12 years, even from those who benefitted from the enforcement protection, local government could be hit with millions of pounds of repayments and face having to try and levy enforcement costs after a licence has been issued or fund the enforcement from within their revenue budget – significant further expenses for any licensing team.
Simon Hoar, Cratus Communications Senior Account Manager for Licensing said,
Charging for the costs of enforcement after a license has already been granted is likely to be difficult to impose on operators and require more Council resources to manage than the current method of simply charging for it up front and refunding the enforcement costs to any unsuccessful applicant.
Local government is seeing huge pressures put upon its general revenue fund to pay for necessary services, and has done for many years already. If this repayment becomes reality, along with the potential costs in directly funding enforcement work, then this ruling could see one more hole punched in the work of Councils who are forced to slice or completely cut out other services and could see enforcement scaled back, much to the detriment of local residents. This ruling appears to be more a victory for legal bureaucracy than common sense.