RETAILERS already struggling under the burden of red tape are facing annual fees of up to £500 if they want to sell as much as a packet of crisps or bar of chocolate after 11pm.

Corner shops, supermarkets and garages which sell food late at night and into the early hours will be required to be licensed by councils from October 1 in the Scottish Government's latest efforts to prevent alcohol-related nuisance.

Following changes to the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, any retailer selling food after 11pm without a licence could face a conviction leading to a £20,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

One leading legal expert said the potential existed for outlets which currently open around the clock to have their operating hours curtailed by licence conditions.

Trade lobbyists have also hit out at the move, insisting that because retailers are required to seek planning permission, make identity checks, undergo inspections, attend hearings and pay fees, they are being overburdened with red tape and additional costs at a time when many businesses are going to the wall.

Hot food bars such as chip and kebab shops already need to be licensed after 11pm but a Scottish Government task group made the recommendation to extend the scheme because of "the potential for large numbers of people leaving pubs, night clubs, etc, late at night to cause a disturbance". It added: "This potential exists regardless of whether the food or drink has been cooked or pre-prepared."

According to the Government, the task group widened the definition of what may be licensed from "meals and refreshment" to "food" and the onus is on local authorities to license those activities it wishes to.

But leading licensing law expert Jack Cummins, said it was highly unlikely any council would not fully implement the new system by exempting grocery outlets, a move which could cut revenue streams.

Mr Cummins, of Glasgow firm Hill Brown, said: "I find it hard to conjure up the image of droves of revellers bent on anti-social behaviour heading for the local Spar, Londis or whatever in a desperate search for a can of soup or a bag of crisps.

"Apart from the expense, there could be over-the-top bureaucracy. One council asks for health details. If anyone involved in the day-to-day operation of the premises suffers from a disability or an allergy that could affect their ability to operate, they need to know.

"It also looks for a letter from the local planning department confirming the planning position, a sketch plan of the premises, a copy of the third party liability insurance policy and a letter of consent from the owner of the property if it's tenanted."

Another source said: "It's quite incredible that selling a kebab at 10.59pm is fine, yet a stick of chewing gum at 11.01pm requires a licence."

David Woodrow, of the National Federation of News-agents Scotland, said his member shops that open for business at 4am for newspaper sales could be forced to seek a licence as the early start could be covered by the ruling.

He added: "What else are we to have? Will it be 32 different interpretations of what the law is in each council, with widely different fees? Will vending machines be covered? It is more bureaucracy and costs we could be doing without right now."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Local licensing authorities have been given wider powers to license those who sell food late at night in order to control the potential for disturbance arising from revellers leaving pubs and clubs late at night and searching for food.

"The exact types of premises that will need a licence is a matter for licensing authorities."