Victory for Somerset’s network of 329 village halls

unnamedA Home Office ruling on licensing fees is being hailed as a victory for Somerset’s network of 329 village halls.

Hall committees had feared that Government proposals to set fees locally would lead to an increase in charges.

However, after listening to the views of volunteers who run the halls, the Home Office has decided that fees will continue to be set nationally.

Community Council for Somerset (CCS) says the decision is a victory for village halls and community buildings. The charity, part of the ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) Network, runs a dedicated advice service for village hall management committee members.

ACRE told a Home Office consultation on licensing fees that allowing charges to be set by local authorities would lead to increased charges – with community groups ultimately footing the bill.

ACRE Village Halls Manager Deborah Clarke said: “Licensing fees have been set centrally since the Licensing Act 2003 came into force. Village halls were rightly concerned by recent Home Office proposals to allow local councils to set the charges instead.

“They told us it would force them to put up the cost of hiring the halls, making it more expensive for the clubs, associations and communities who use them.

“We shared the letters and emails we received from village halls with the Home Office and are pleased we have been able to help these small charitable organisations by giving them a voice.”

CCS’s Village Hall adviser Nicola Greenslade said: “Village halls are at the heart of community life, and are often the only place in the village for people to meet. Some halls are struggling to keep going and increased costs would only add to their difficulties. We’re very pleased that the Home Office has listened to the views of committee members and taken them on board.”

ACRE acknowledged that the Government would have imposed caps on locally-set fees but said this would still have resulted in increased charges.

The Government has also decided to consider allowing licence holders to nominate their own payment date, if they wish, by notifying the relevant licensing authority, rather than introducing a universal date. This change will particularly benefit businesses that hold multiple licences, such as a chain of pubs, without imposing unnecessary change on small businesses and community premises.

ACRE, as a member of the Home Office technical advisory group on licensing, will continue to ensure that village halls’ views are represented.