ETO has learned that a number of licensed retailers with shops in the Soho area of London are in the process of mounting a legal challenge in an effort to reduce the annual fees charged by Westminster City Council. Licence fees in Soho are currently fixed at almost £30,000 per year and the retailers are seeking a judicial review of the fees, which they say should be capped at a significantly lower amount.
Licence fees are supposed to reflect the costs incurred in administering and enforcing them but the retailers believe Westminster City Council could be using the sums it collects from licensed sex shops for other purposes.
Many local authorities in the UK have reduced their licensing fees over the last few years, and a lot of the credit for this should be given to trade body AITA – in particular committee member Stuart Inglis, who has campaigned and lobbied tirelessly on this issue. Westminster City Council is one of the few UK councils which have not yet revised its fees downwards to a more realistic sum. Its annual licence fee is £29,102 with changes charged at £782 and transfers at £1,334 – almost six times higher than the national average, according to a survey of local authority licensing fees published in the January 2010 issue of ETO, and an astonishing 60 times higher than the lowest fee charged by a UK council.
Retailers are required to have a sex shop licence if they sell R18 DVDs or a ‘significant’ percentage of their stock or sales is derived from sex-related products. The definition of what ‘significant’ means can vary almost as wildly as the size of the licence fee – from 10% to 33% – though many councils do not stipulate a percentage, preferring to treat each application on a case-by-case basis.