AALA licensing under lockdown

SWOAPG has received the following advice from HSE, following questions raised by Members about AALA licensing during lockdown.

The key point is that licence applicants (both new and renewing) may delay licence issue during lockdown but may in the meantime continue to claim that they have the licence and use the logo.

  • You asked whether there were any examples of remote Inspections

“AALA has already carried out several remote inspections and will continue to do so for as long as it is appropriate. The remote inspection involves an initial desk-top review of the application form and supporting documents, which now need to be submitted in advance. Following this, inspectors use a range of methods depending on the individual case to get more in-depth information. This may include a combination of video and phone calls with management, instructional and administration staff, as well as technical advisers; video tours of stores and centre facilities; requests for further evidence such as documents, photographs, screenshots of computer files etc; phone calls with clients.”

  • You asked when delayed licences would commence and you asked about the use of the AALA logo prior to that date.

“Regulation 7(2) allows us to hold licences back for a maximum of one year, however from the perspective of continuity of safety standards, it is not desirable to wait any longer than necessary. HSE will make a decision to issue licences when it is clear that the government restrictions preventing the provision of activities have been lifted.

“We will permit the use of the logo, however adventure activity providers should remember that it is an offence to provide licensable activities until the licence is issued.”

  • You asked whether renewal applications would be treated differently to first-time applicants

“Under the terms of the new AALA contract there is no difference between applications from new and existing providers. All applicants are now required to submit all the necessary information in advance. We will consider reviewing this policy in the future once applicants have made their first application under the new system.”

  • You asked whether all existing licences could be extended to cover the period of the pandemic

“Your members should be aware that the measures put in place by AALA were not designed to favour some providers over others.  The measures were initially designed to provide some flexibility for people whose application was due imminently, but who, because of the sudden closure of schools and other restrictions, were faced with difficult choices about proceeding with applying for a licence in the very uncertain circumstances they suddenly found themselves in. With no government support available at that time these providers needed some consideration and time to reflect on their options. Later, it became apparent that, while financial assistance had been made available by the government, some providers were unable to access the documentation needed to make an application. This was because they were furloughed or because of other government restrictions on movement. These people wanted to apply but were unable to do so.

 “Varying a licence under Regulation 10 of the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004 (AALR) to put a short suspension on the licence was a short-term solution to both of these problems. The alternative would have been to allow these licences to expire, causing an unwanted and potentially harmful delay for businesses wishing to restart quickly after the restrictions were lifted.

 “I recognise that most businesses were facing financial difficulties, but only those with imminent renewal dates were facing the potential expiry of their licence against their will. This has been extremely stressful for them most of them would have preferred not to have that additional worry to deal with.

 “Businesses seeking financial support should look at the government business support pages for help.”

  • You asked whether the duration of future licences could be extended.

“The duration of licences is decided by inspectors using the criteria set out in L77, which are based on the applicants’ ability to maintain standards over time. This has not altered because of the pandemic, and while we acknowledge the difficulties posed by the current situation, the lack of activity over an extended period could adversely affect staff competence and in some cases staff retention. AALA must be mindful of this and will not take blanket decisions that could put children at risk when activities recommence.

 “Providers can, of course discuss licence duration with their inspector, and if there is justification on providing a longer duration this will be considered. However, a blanket extension of licences is not an idea we agree with for the reasons above. Furthermore, Regulation 8(d) of the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004 prevents the extension of three-year licences under any circumstances, making this proposal unlawful.”

“Please note that at this stage, when the restrictions are still ongoing, we are focussing our efforts on helping those who are having difficulty applying, however as the situation develops and when there is clarity moving forward, we will be able to look at the effect that this has had on providers to assess whether there is anything more that we can do.”

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