Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Anger as alcohol licence fees rise

Smaller outlets say increase not fair

Kingsley Wood says the increases come to 400%. Photo / Richard Robinson
Kingsley Wood says the increases come to 400%. Photo / Richard Robinson

New fees as part of the Government's alcohol sale reforms have prominent wine retailer Kingsley Wood gargling at a 400 per cent hike in licensing fee costs from December 18.

The new fees are based on council administration costs and a premise's "risk" rating for breaking liquor laws.

However, Mr Wood said they lump in about 100 fine wine specialists, like his First Glass Wines on Auckland's North Shore, with big-scale bottle stores.

"We are grouped with the general term of 'bottle store' when we have spent a decade creating a situation where we are different to a bottle store because of what we do. If the category is based on enforcement, we have never had a visit from the police, never had an infraction, never had a warning, yet we carry the same risk as a bottle shop in Otara that (opens) to midnight."

Mr Wood said his store's fees could be due to its licence allowing evening tastings but it stops trading at 6.30pm.

"Up until now, off-licence premises, such as First Glass, were charged $793 for a three-year renewal of the licence. The new fee to renew will move up to $1023.50 but that's not all."

In addition, there is now an annual fee of $1035 payable.

"So in essence, the cost of the licence, that is, permission to sell alcohol for every three-year period, has gone from $793 to $4128 - a 400 per cent increase."

David King, general manager of the Ministry of Justice civil and constitutional unit, said the new fee system aimed to have the liquor industry pay the full costs of licensing. These were presently half-subsidised by ratepayers to the tune of $5.4 million a year. Currently, all licensees paid the same fees regardless of their trading hours, law breaking and demands on council time.

The new fees in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act meant low-risk suburban bowling clubs and winery cellar door operations would pay less than high-risk outlets that created higher costs, such as bottle stores, nightclubs and taverns. Territorial local authorities also had the flexibility to reward good behaviour by reducing premises' fee category by one step.

Councils also had power to set fee levels if the national fee did not cover costs. Richard Caro, of Caro's Wine Merchants, in Parnell, said the new fees "came out of the blue" and because they were not giving any extra service they were "another increased tax on alcohol".

Hospitality NZ's Auckland branch president Kevin Schwass said the categories for charging the new fees were too general - resulting in well-behaved premises having to pay for those who were not.

"It does not seem to be fair when you have a restaurant as a medium risk. On-licence premises only account for 25 per cent of alcohol consumed and they are up for all sorts of costs in regard to high rentals and regulation fees. It's difficult to pass these on when the public are not prepared to pay any more so we will have to absorb that.

- NZ Herald

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