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Stormont officials slammed over ‘irrelevant’ memo about alcohol laws by funeral and wedding car sector

Stormont officials have been accused of ‘wasting their time’ by wedding and funeral car firm bosses, after being sent an email about changes to liquor licensing laws designed for taxi drivers.

he email, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, is about rules around delivering alcohol and was sent to all private hire taxi drivers.

Due to the rules here, wedding and funeral cars are classed as taxis. One wedding and funeral business boss said they are “hardly using our vehicles to do a beer run” and questioned why officials are continuing to treat them the same as taxi firms.

Wedding and funeral car businesses have long been campaigning for changes to the rules covering the sector. Unlike in the rest of the UK, wedding and funeral cars here are classed as taxis and have to follow the same regulations. These regulations include those relating to taxi driving tests, license application fees and Public Service Vehicle (PSV) tests.

Critics of the rules highlight the increased costs that come along with them. For instance, it costs £108 more for wedding and funeral cars to undergo a PSV test, as required for taxis, compared to a regular MOT.

Wedding and funeral car firms operate fleets of classic cars, many of these being decades old. As most of these firms have an average of 10-15 weddings or funerals annually, the requirements for cars and their drivers can have a significant financial impact on businesses. There has also been a drastic reduction in the number of licensed taxi drivers in Northern Ireland in recent years, which has had a knock-on effect for the wedding and funeral car industry.

In an email to private hire taxi drivers, which included wedding and funeral cars under the current legislation, a Stormont official advised drivers of changes to liquor licensing laws that may have an impact on them.

“The Department for Communities is responsible for the policy and legislation regulating the retail sale and supply of alcohol in Northern Ireland. New legislation, the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 (the Act), was introduced on 26 August 2021,” the official said.

“One of the changes the Act introduces is a new requirement for off-licences that places conditions on the delivery of alcohol which has been purchased remotely. Section 12 of the Act requires that any person (who is not employed by the retailer; ie whose services have been employed by the purchaser) who delivers alcohol to the purchaser of the alcohol should make the delivery without unreasonable delay and they must have with them a receipt from the license holder for the purchase of the alcohol.

“Non-compliance of this requirement is an offense and conviction for such an offense can result in a fine of up to £1,000. As a taxi driver, you may be hired to collect alcohol from a premises on behalf of the purchaser so it is important you are aware of the law and your responsibilities, should you find yourself in this position.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, one funeral and wedding car firm boss, who did not wish to be named, said officials would be better spending their time fixing the ‘broken system’ that governs them.

“We’ve been pushed from pillar to post with all these rules and trying to get them changed, it’s ridiculous,” they said. “Those ‘on the Hill’ need to be working to fix this, not sending us emails about booze that don’t apply to us. I’m hardly going to be using my vehicles for a beer run, it’s silly.

“It’s all because we’re classed as taxi drivers and these [wedding and funeral cars] are deemed taxi vehicles, when they couldn’t be more different.”

Another said officials need to focus their attention on helping the industry with the issues facing it, not “things that do not apply to us”, branding the current situation “farcical”.

The Department for Infrastructure, which handles taxi sector regulation, and Department for Communities, which is responsible for alcohol licensing, have been contacted for comment.

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