Alcohol sales


Alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour is at unacceptable levels. In 53% of violent incidents over 2013 to 2014, the victim thought their attacker had been drinking.

Alcohol misuse is a strong contributory factor in a wide range of offences, including:

  • public order offences (often antisocial in nature, these can involve disorderly groups of people; rowdy, threatening and abusive behaviour; and urinating in public)
  • criminal damage
  • minor and serious assaults
  • violent offences
  • traffic offences

The cost of alcohol misuse in society is estimated to be around £21 billion each year and this includes £11 billion in alcohol-related crime in England and Wales.

We won’t tolerate those who behave drunkenly and unacceptably in public, or those who sell alcohol irresponsibly.


The Home Office is responsible for overseeing the laws on supplying alcohol and late-night refreshment.

We have introduced new measures to fight alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour. The government set out in its alcohol strategy (March 2012) a wide-ranging set of reforms to tackle binge drinking and the corrosive effect it has on individuals and communities .

The government’s response in July 2013 to the public consultation set out the ways it intends to fight alcohol misuse.

In 2012, we commenced early morning alcohol restriction orders and introduced a levy for late-night licence holders to contribute to policing costs.

In February 2014, we established 20 local alcohol action areas, in which local communities will work to address the problems caused by alcohol in their area.

In May 2014 we introduced a ban on the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol sales.


Licensing authorities

Find out how to apply for an alcohol licence.

Licensing authorities are responsible for administering the Licensing Act 2003 in their areas. This includes issuing licences and enforcing the conditions of the licence, often working with the police. Licensing authorities are part of the local council.

There is statutory guidance issued under section 182 of the act that provides detailed advice to licensing authorities on the requirements and their responsibilities under the act.

For example, licensing authorities must publish a licensing policy statement on their websites setting out how they intend to run and enforce the licensing process in their area.

They must keep a register of, among other things, all:

You can inspect the register during office hours at your local council free of charge. In addition, licensing authorities are required by law to publish details of certain applications on their website. These include:

  • new applications for premises licences or club premises certificates
  • some variations to existing licences/certificates
  • provisional statements

Who we’ve consulted

We want to overhaul alcohol licensing to address:

  • rebalancing the Licensing Act 2003 in favour of local communities

  • crime and disorder caused by alcohol

  • health and social harms

In 2010, we conducted a public consultation exercise on rebalancing the Licensing Act 2003. All the original consultation documentation is available, including responses and response analysis. Proposals from that consultation were then included in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.

In 2012, we conducted a consultation on early morning alcohol restriction orders and the late-night levy, seeking views on particular aspects of early morning restriction orders and the levy. These included:

  • the process of adopting an early morning restriction order and/or the levy

  • categories of business that were considered for exemption from any early morning restriction order

  • categories of business that licensing authorities may exempt from, or allow a reduction in, the late-night levy

  • the kinds of services a licensing authority may fund with their share of the levy

The response to the consultation includes the plan for these measures. Guidance for early morning restriction orders is in the amended guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003. Separate supporting guidance has been issued that deals with the late night levy.

Between November 2012 and February 2013, we consulted on:

  • a ban on multi-buy promotions in shops and off-licences
  • a review of the mandatory licensing conditions, including irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs
  • health as a new alcohol licensing objective, so that licensing authorities can consider alcohol-related health harms when managing the problems relating specifically to the number of premises in their area
  • cutting red tape for businesses
  • a minimum unit pricing

The government’s response, analysis of responses and individual responses are all available.

Bills and legislation

Licensing Act 2003

The Licensing Act 2003 and its regulations set out the law on alcohol licensing. It provides a single system for premises that are used for the sale or supply of alcohol and/or provide regulated entertainment or late-night refreshment.

Under the Licensing Act 2003, local licensable authorities regulate 4 ‘licensable activities’. These are the:

  • sale of alcohol
  • supply of alcohol (for example, in a members’ club)
  • provision of regulated entertainment
  • provision of late-night refreshment (after 11pm)

Licensing authorities must promote the statutory licensing objectives of preventing crime and disorder; preventing public nuisance; public safety; and protecting children from harm.

Amended guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 is available, which provides greater detail of the legislative requirements.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011

The act includes:

  • doubling the fine for persistent underage sales to £20,000
  • introducing a late-night levy to help cover the cost of policing the late-night economy
  • increasing the flexibility of early morning alcohol restriction orders
  • reducing the evidential requirement placed upon licensing authorities when making their decisions
  • removing the vicinity test for licensing representations to allow more people to comment on alcohol licences
  • reforming the system of temporary event notices
  • suspension of premises licences if annual fees aren’t paid

The supporting guidance has been amended to reflect the changes introduced in April and October 2012 in the PRSR Act 2011.

The PRSR Act 2011 also enabled the Secretary of State to prescribe that licensing fee levels be set locally. We consulted on locally-set licensing fees between 13 February and 10 April 2014. The government’s response is now available.