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Licensing Law

Licensing law regulates who can sell alcohol, and when and where it can be sold. The laws and policies that regulate licensing is overseen by the Home Office. Generally, businesses, organisations, and individuals who want to sell or supply alcohol must obtain a license from a local council or other licensing authority. These include a wide range of organisations, such as bars and pubs, cinemas and theatres, nightclubs, cafes, supermarkets, takeaways, and village and community halls.


Alcohol Legislation


Alcohol licensing is regulated by the Licensing Act 2003, which has four primary objectives: to prevent alcohol-related crime and disorder; to ensure public safety; to prevent alcohol-related public nuisance incidents; and to ensure children are protected from harm.


All that license holders and their employees must do to uphold their responsibilities in achieving those objectives is contained within the Licensing Act 2003.


Types of Licenses


There are three types of licenses:

  • Premises licenses are for businesses or other organisations that sell or supply alcohol on a permanent basis; for instance, bars, pubs, and supermarkets.

  • Personal licenses are for people who want to sell or supply alcohol, or authorise the sale or supply of alcohol. For instance, a company owner or sales representative who sells alcohol to bars and pubs must have this license.

  • A club premises certificate is needed for members' clubs that wish to sell or supply alcohol.


All of these are typically obtained by applying to a local council or similar local authority. For some licenses, the applicant must also send copies of the application to the police, and other responsible authorities such as local fire and rescue services, health and safety enforcement agency, environmental health authority, and planning authority.


Licensable Activities


When a licensing application is made the applicant can apply for a license for one or more licensable activities. These include:

  • The sale by retail of alcohol, or the sale or supply of alcohol on behalf of a club.

  • Regulated entertainment, meaning any entertainment that takes place in the presence of an audience, or otherwise for profit. For instance, a boxing match, a live music performance, a play, or a film exhibition. If alcohol is to be sold or supplied at the event, a license is required.

  • Late night refreshment, meaning the sale of hot food or drink to the public between 11pm and 5am. If alcohol is on sale or supplied, a license is needed.


Mandatory Licensing Conditions


The Licensing Act 2003 requires that the following conditions be met when alcohol is sold.

  • Alcohol cannot be sold below the cost of duty plus VAT.

  • Irresponsible alcohol promotions are banned; for instance this includes promotions such as drinking games, provision of discounted alcohol or fixed-fee alcohol, rewards for consumption of alcohol, or dispensing alcohol directly into the mouth (except where a customer cannot drink unaided due to a disability).

  • Free drinking water must be supplied wherever alcohol is sold for immediate consumption.

  • Age must be verified whenever alcohol is sold, where the purchaser appears to be under 18 or of questionable age.

  • Small measures must be provided for sale. For instance, where beer or cider is sold it must be available in half pints in addition to any other measurement. The availability of small measures must be made clear on menus and price lists. The exception is where the alcohol in question is sold only in pre-measured sealed containers.


Licensing Applications


When a licensing application is completed according to requirements the licensing authority must grant the application, providing no objections are raised by any responsible authorities. If any objection is raised, the licensing authority must then decide if the objections are relevant. If they are deemed to be relevant the authority must then hold a hearing. At the hearing the licensing authority can grant the application with modifying conditions, reject one or more of the licensable activities named in the application, or reject the application outright. The applicant has the right to appeal if they’re unhappy with the decision of the licensing authority.


Revocation of Licenses


When an alcohol seller or supplier is deemed to be in violation of one or more of the four licensing objectives as defined in the Licensing Act 2003, they may have their license reviewed, and possibly revoked. Alternatively, restrictive conditions may be placed on the license; for instance the opening hours of a premises, or the licensable activities they can operate, may be restricted.

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