Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: alcohol sales

Updated 8 May 2015

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Applies to England and Wales

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/controlling-the-sale-and-supply-of-alcohol. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


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.

Appendix 1: fighting alcohol misuse

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The government’s response to the consultation is focused on ensuring that responsible drinkers, businesses and the wider community do not pay the price for the crime and disorder on our streets and the alcohol-related injuries and illness filling our hospitals.

Following the consultation response, the government will:

  • end sales of the cheapest alcohol by introducing a ban on selling alcohol below the price of duty and VAT
  • strengthen the ban on irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs
  • challenge the alcohol industry to support local partnerships, reduce the availability of high-strength products, promote and display alcohol responsibly, and improve education
  • provide action at the local level to strengthen partnerships
  • introduce a number of changes to improve the licensing system and make it more flexible for businesses and community groups

Appendix 2: hazardous drinking

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We want to curb hazardous drinking.

Violating the laws on selling and buying alcohol can result in arrest, prosecution and fines.

Selling alcohol to someone who is drunk

It is illegal to knowingly sell alcohol, or attempt to sell alcohol, to a person who is drunk. It is also illegal to allow alcohol to be sold to someone who is drunk.

Those who could face prosecution include:

  • anyone who sells alcohol at the premises

  • the premises licence holder and premises supervisor

  • any member or officer of a members club who could have stopped the sale

  • the premises user where there is a temporary events notice

It is also an offence for a person to knowingly get, or try to get, alcohol for a drunken person on a licensed premises.

Breaking the law could result in a fine of up to £1,000. If the convicted person is a personal licence holder, they could lose their licence.

Disorderly conduct

It is illegal to knowingly allow disorderly conduct on licensed premises.

If it happens, the staff, licence holder, designated supervisors, any member or officer of a club or a temporary event notice holder could be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000.

It is also illegal to refuse to leave a licensed premises when ordered to do so by staff or police. Anyone who doesn’t could be arrested and prosecuted. If convicted, they could receive a fine up to £200.

Selling to children

Selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 is illegal in England and Wales.

However, it is not an offence to buy or supply alcohol for a person under 18 where:

  • the person doing so is 18 or over

  • the recipient is 16 or 17

  • the alcohol is beer, cider or wine

  • the 16 or 17 year old is accompanied by an adult

  • the purchase is for drinking with a meal on licensed premises

The maximum fine for selling or supplying alcohol to children is £5,000. Personal licences can be suspended or forfeited on a first offence. The fine increases to £20,000 for persistently selling alcohol to children. This is the sale twice in three months from the same premises. Alternatively, the premises may be prevented from selling alcohol for a period of 48 hours to 2 weeks.

Late-night drinking

Local areas have been given more powers to tackle local problems, including using early morning alcohol restriction orders.

EMROs allow licensing authorities to restrict the sales of alcohol in the whole or a part of their areas for any specified period between 12am and 6am.

You can explore the guidance for licensing authorities on EMROs.

Late-night levy

Under the levy, licensing authorities may decide to make late-opening alcohol retailers pay towards the costs of policing the late-night economy. If they decide to charge a levy, it must cover the entire local authority area. They can also choose the period the levy can apply (between midnight and 6am).

Supporting guidance on the levy is available for licensing authorities.

Drinking banning orders

Drinking banning orders are similar to antisocial behaviour orders.

A DBO can be issued against anyone over the age of 16 who is disorderly, or commits a crime, while drunk. Offenders who breach a DBO are liable to a fine of up to £2,500.

As part of a DBO, courts can recommend:

  • courses (to educate on the implications of heavy alcohol consumption)

  • stopping the person purchasing alcohol, consuming it in public, or entering licensed premises

The police and local authorities in England and Wales can apply to the courts for a DBO to be made. In a limited number of pilot locations courts are under a duty to consider if a DBO is appropriate for someone convicted of an alcohol-related offence. An order can last from 2 months to 2 years.

Check out the guidance on making and enforcing DBOs, DBOs on convictions, approved courses, and the application form for a DBO.

Designated priority place orders

Designated priority place orders allow local authorities to designate places where restrictions on public drinking apply. Drinking is not banned in areas subject to a DPPO, but individuals can be required to handover any alcohol when requested by a police officer. However, they can only be used in areas that have experienced alcohol-related disorder or nuisance.

You can read guidance for local authorities on DPPOs.

Once an order is made, local authorities have to send the Home Office a copy of the new DPPO. Copies should be sent to:

DPPO copies
Drugs and alcohol unit
Home Office
4th floor, Fry building
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

Note, don’t use the addressee listed on page 7 of the guidance.

Appendix 3: alcohol licensing system

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We administer the alcohol licensing system.

There are 4 different kinds of authorisations:

  • premises licences - to use a premises for licensable activities, subject to conditions on the licence

  • club premises certificates - to allow a members’ club (working men’s club or political club) to engage in qualifying club activities, subject to conditions on the certificate

  • temporary event notices (TENs) – to enable the user to carry out licensable activities without other authorisation

  • personal licences – to sell or authorise the sale of alcohol from premises where there is a premises licence or club premises certificate

Alcohol licensing conditions

All licensed premises and those with a club premises certificate in England and Wales must adhere to the conditions of their licence.

There are 3 types of condition that may be attached to a licence or certificate: proposed, imposed and mandatory. Each of these categories is described in more detail in the latest guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003.

Further ‘Pools of conditions’ supporting guidance is also available.

Failure to comply with any condition attached to a licence or certificate is a criminal offence, which is punishable by a fine of up to £20,000 or up to 6 months imprisonment.