Explaining Licenses & Permits for Formals

riskAlthough you’re embarking upon an activity that seems to deal with a fun, glamorous and exciting industry, behind the scenes is a very dark and serious “engine-room” where issues are being dealt with that you may never see.

You should know about them, if for no reason other than being comfortable that qualified minds are working on keeping you safe.

Venues may advertise that they’re ready and willing to host your formal, but are they legally allowed to do that? In most cases, they don’t even know the answer to that question themselves. If they don’t even know, how are you going to know?

So the question arises “What happens if the venue doesn’t have the right licenses or permits? Does the place explode?” Well – No, probably not however, if anything goes wrong and there’s an incident of any kind. Perhaps someone gets hurt or there’s a reason for the Police, Fire Brigade or Ambulance to attend, even for a false alarm, there’s likely to be a legal problem. Culpability and liability will have to land on someone, and you don’t want that to be you. Insurers run for cover when procedures aren’t perfect so “no permit, no coverage”. At best, the formal could be shut down. At worst, it may end
up in court. There are no winners in either case.

So how do you protect yourself? The very best way to start will be making sure that the venue has all of the necessary licenses and permits in place, then seeing that right through to all the workers and suppliers, then checking procedures are documented and finally covering the whole package with a variety of different insurance policies. This is the less glamorous side of formals; however, it’s no less important.

Venues and their Licenses:
In NSW (at this time) many commonly licensed venues offering themselves as available to host high school formals fall under one of the following types…

  • Hotels (Hotelier’s License)
  • Nightclubs (On-Premises License Public Entertainment Venue)

Under these Licenses, before a school formal can be booked, they have to apply for, and be granted, a special permit known as a “Minor’s Functions Authorisation”. Put quite simply, if they don’t have one, under almost all circumstances, they can’t host your formal, and if they do have one, they can’t serve any alcohol to anyone at that formal (regardless of age, which means even teachers and parents can’t drink).

Hosting any minor’s function, (defined under the act as any event on licensed premises where a minor may attend without parent or legal guardian supervising), without a valid Minor’s Functions Authorisation in place, is a serious offence and would render the  entire event illegal and nullify all insurances.

Most remaining common license types are…

  • On-Premises License (Restaurant) (Vessels) (Governors) (Caterers)
  • Registered Club License

Under these types of licenses, special permits aren’t required from the government to host the formal but strict controls are imposed, yet seldom observed or policed. These are by far the less desirable venues to consider. The “Budget” and “Dodgy” end of the market is made up of these types of venues and licenses.

The permits and controls are only the first step. Once the venue has that part sorted out, every person working at the formal, even volunteers, have to have a special Police clearance called the “Working with Children Check”. As school staff, you’d be well aware of this rule.

Every electrical appliance that’s plugged into power at the venue on the night has to be checked and physically tagged (even extension leads and power boards), according to  health & safety standards, by a licensed electrical testing contractor, and every set of goods and services supplied to the event has to have “Risk Assessments” carried out and be certified with a “Safety Compliance” or “Hazard Identification” sheet, complete with an action plan for if and when that item goes wrong.

Finally, there has to be insurances for Public Liability and a range of other coverage before the event is properly compliant. Compliance is a huge task and staying on top of legislative changes from year to year is quite a difficult challenge for a seasoned expert, let alone a novice working on formals as an ad-hoc activity. To make compliance  checking a little easier for you, the following is a set of checklist items you can use to ask questions during the booking of various items in your formal list…

When talking to a venue:

  • What kind of liquor license do you have?
  • (if a Hoteliers’ or On Premises public entertainment venue) – Do you have a Minor’s
    Functions Authorisation?
  • Are there any special conditions or restrictions on your license?
  • Do you have a current and valid Food Authority Certificate?
  • Are all of your staff members coming into contact with minors cleared through “Working with Children Check”?
  • What insurance policies do you apply to formals and what levels and items of cover do they include?
  • Do you have senior staff working on formals that are currently certified for Senior First Aid?
  • Do you have staff equipped and certified for the use of Epipen and Anapen for
    Anaphylaxis?
  • Do you have an approved emergency evacuation procedure?
  • Do you have an approved Security Action Plan specifically for formals?
  • Can you please provide me copies of all of these documents for proof of compliance?

When talking to a Security Provider:

  • Do you hold a current and Valid Master Security License issued by the NSW government?
  • Are all of the guards attending formals holders of Security Licenses (Not Provisional) with sub-categories of both Persons and Premises?
  • Can you guarantee at least one female guard on my formal for sensitive issues?
  • Do you have senior staff working on formals that are currently certified for Senior First Aid?
  • Do you have staff equipped and certified for the use of Epipen and Anapen for
    Anaphylaxis?
  • Do you have an approved Security Action Plan specifically for formals?
  • Are all of your staff members coming into contact with minors cleared through “Working with Children Check”?
  • What insurance policies do you apply to formals and what levels and items of cover do they include?
  • Can you please provide me copies of all of these documents for proof of compliance?

When talking to any other supplier (DJ, MC, Photographer, Photo Booth Operator – Everyone!):

  • Is there a specific License or Permit required for your industry and, if so, do you have one?
  • Do you have a properly formatted “Hazard Identification Checklist” for your product or service?
  • Do all electrical items that you use have current and valid lead tags?
  • Do all electrical or mechanical devices you use have the Australian Manufacturers
    Standards Compliance Plate attached?
  • Are all of your staff members coming into contact with minors cleared through “Working with Children Check”?
  • What insurance policies do you apply to formals and what levels and items of cover do they include?
  • Can you please provide me copies of all of these documents for proof of compliance?

All of the above items on these checklists are very standard and industry accepted norms for reputable business people. Whomever you’re talking to should not only know these things, but they should possess all of these things before even making themselves  available to do business with you.

If anyone you’re talking to, at any stage, tells you that they don’t know about any one of these things, or they’ve never heard of such things, or the classic “oh you don’t need that stuff these days”, or the even worse classic “we’ve been doing this without that stuff for years and never had a problem”, then you should drop them like a hot potato and move on to the next prospect. Likewise if they say yes to everything but then drag the chain on forwarding the relevant documents to prove it, they should be viewed with suspicion and ultimately avoided.