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Train your staff in licencing laws

Training staff working in off licences to be aware of the provisions of the Code of Practice established by RRAI is extremely important

Darragh McElligott, The Training Store Limited

Darragh McElligott, The Training Store Limited

When you think of the licensing laws and the RRAI Code of Practice, it’s safe to say that Batman and Robin probably don’t spring to mind.  It’s a downright weird analogy, you might think, but somehow, it is oddly appropriate – Batman and the licensing laws, as forces of law and order, assisted by the trusted Robin, or in the retail world, the RRAI Code of Practice.   

The link between this duo was further strengthened recently, when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern announced his intention to make non-compliance with the RRAI Code a statutory ground on which someone could object to the renewal of a mixed trader’s liquor licence.  

Retailers have always had a duty to sell and display alcohol lawfully, in compliance with the licensing laws, and retailers who do not obey the licensing laws are punished accordingly. The law promotes social responsibility in this way, with criminal sanctions acting as a deterrent against unlawful conduct – for example, we all know that a retailer can be criminally prosecuted for the sale of alcohol to a minor, and can face severe financial consequences for such an offence.

Why is proper staff-training crucial?

The overwhelming majority of mixed trading retailers are now members of the RRAI, and must adhere to its Code of Practice.  Under the Code, its members are obliged to ensure that all staff who sell alcohol are given adequate training in the relevant areas of the licensing laws.  

Furthermore, under the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 2008, the maximum fines for certain licensing law offences, such as the sale of alcohol to a minor, have more than doubled, whilst the minimum length of a temporary closure order has also increased.
Refresher training and testing should be carried out on an annual basis, and when new staff-members are hired.  No staff-member should be allowed to sell alcohol without first receiving the appropriate training.

In addition, as mentioned above, the Minister for Justice intends to make non-compliance with the RRAI Code a statutory ground for objecting to the renewal of a mixed trader’s liquor licence.  The potential impact for retailers is huge.  
It is not yet clear what the precise scope of such a statutory provision would be, but with a new Sale of Alcohol Bill due to be published in mid-2010, the likelihood is that this provision will be enacted into law sooner rather than later.  If a retailer does not train their staff adequately in the licensing laws, that constitutes a breach of the RRAI Code, and in the near future, that could conceivably lead to an objection in Court against the renewal of the retailer’s liquor licence.

Finally, proper staff-training is also required on the provisions of the RRAI Code itself.  Stores that are members of the RRAI are liable to be selected for the RRAI’s independent audit of compliance. To ensure that a store successfully passes any such audit, its staff needs to be fully trained in the provisions of the Code.

What can happen if you don’t train your staff properly?

Last year, 3,254 licensing law offences were recorded across the licensed trade in the Republic of Ireland.  That equals approximately nine offences per day.  That statistic covers the on-trade and off-trade, but it is reasonable to assume that a significant percentage relates to the off-licence sector.   

The consequences of licensing law offences can be extremely severe for a retailer, including criminal convictions, legal costs, heavy monetary fines, temporary closure orders, negative publicity, and even potentially the loss of their licence.   

One single mistake by a member of staff can literally cost a retailer thousands of euro.  For example, if convicted of selling alcohol to a minor, a licence-holder can face a fine of up to €3,000 for a first offence, and up to €5,000 for a subsequent offence.  Independent staff-training, provided by professional experts in the licensing laws, reduces the risk of such mistakes happening.  If staff know and understand what their legal obligations are, they are far better positioned to comply with those obligations, and to prevent offences from occurring.

Proper staff-training reduces the risk of offences taking place, but does not eliminate it entirely, as human errors can still occur.  However, the use of independent external training could be a mitigating factor in any court prosecution.  When deciding on the severity of a fine and the length of a temporary closure order, a Judge might be more lenient if the retailer shows that whilst an error has occurred, they do take their legal responsibilities very seriously indeed.  The use of expert external training in the licensing laws is a clear indication that a retailer takes their responsibilities seriously.   

For further information please visit www.thetrainingstore.ie, or email info@thetrainingstore.ie,
or call 01 496 6301.    

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