Scots pub bosses are having to fork out hundreds of pounds towards licensing fees despite their premises being closed during the current lockdown.
Licensing boards in some parts of the country are insisting bar and restaurant owners pay their fees as normal – in some cases as much as £900 a year.
Scottish shadow rural affairs minister Finlay Carson has now written to the Scottish Government as well as licensing boards urging them to clarify the situation – and consider pausing fees.
The Scottish Conservative MSP said: “It seems grossly unfair to expect businesses that have been closed for months now are facing another financial hurdle.
“In the circumstances I think it is only right that these fees should be waived in order to ease the financial burden facing many of the businesses at this time.”
He added: “I have been approached by a number of businesses within the licensing trade who admit they are already struggling to reopen when they are finally allowed to do so, without facing more financial pressure.
“From what I can gather it is only some licensing boards who are demanding payment while others are taking a different approach. It needs to be a universal approach and not left to the individual licensing boards to determine what happens.”
One restaurant owner in Wigtownshire revealed their premises closed on Christmas Eve and is unlikely to reopen within the next couple of months.
The restauranteur said: “I cannot understand why we have to pay for something which we are not entitled to benefit from. It’s like charging you for meals which you have neither ordered nor received.”
Wigtownshire Licensing Board confirmed its hands were tied over licensing fees by the Scottish Government.
It said: “I understand that this is an extremely difficult time for the licensing trade due to Covid-19 but, unfortunately, the Scottish Government have not issued any guidance on changes that could be made to payment of annual fees.
“Therefore, the licensing board is required in law to continue to collect annual fees as normal.”
Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensing Trade Association confirmed they are due to meet the Scottish Government this week to seek urgent clarification.
He said: “We will be asking the Scottish Government if there can be a nationwide policy over the payment of licensing fees as some licensing boards are still collecting them while others are not.
“Those who are still having to pay can face a bill of £900 a year depending on the rateable value of their property – and during these times that is a lot of money when people are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Licensing fees are supposed to be cost neutral and when no costs are being incurred at the moment it would be wrong to expect people to pay.”