Many local authorities' policies on licensing reform are too vague, because councils still don't know what fees they will charge to fund the reforms, claim solicitors.
The start of the eight-week consultation on fees has already been delayed from August to October, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that this could slip into early November.
While 90% of local authorities have published, or are consulting on, their policies in time for their 7 January deadline, neither they nor the trade know how much the new regime will cost.
Norwich solicitor Brian Hardie, from Howes Percival, said there was some poor advice being offered by local authorities. "Some are a bit wishy-washy, possibly because they are waiting for fees information."
The most restrictive approach has been taken by the London boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, while Ipswich has surprised observers by demanding that all fire points are included in premises' plans.
Chris Hepher, of solicitors Kidd Rapinet, reckoned that city boroughs with several nightclubs would face falling income and increased administration, while rural councils could benefit from the changes.
Both believed the Government had vastly underestimated the volume of paperwork that would hit them from 7 February, when councils start to process the new licence applications.
Councils will face applications from new sources such as village halls, circuses and Punch and Judy shows, while the number of personal licences required by restaurant chains, for instance, will outstrip the current number of licence holders.
As licence costs are likely to be linked to rateable values, Hepher anticipated "a mad rush" for businesses to submit applications before the business rates revaluation that starts in April, so they can pay a lower fee.
As a result, solicitors fear applications will be delayed, and if they are not handled within two months, they will be deemed to have been refused, triggering the need for an appeal.
- The cost of a premises licence is expected to fall between £100 and £500, with personal licences costing from £30 to £100. A quick guide to local authority policies on licensing reform can be found at www.beerandpub.com