Alcohol licensing: a guide for public health teams

Public health teams make sure that licensing policy and applications consider the health and wellbeing of local communities.

This guidance helps public health teams understand their role as a responsible authority and provides a step-by-step guide to making representations to a licensing authority. It provides information for public health teams inputting into local statement of licensing policies (SLP) and advice on collecting evidence.

The guidance also brings together nationally available data and materials to support local authorities in accessing and using a range of databases and tools for mapping data and evidence for licensing.

Visit the Knowledge Hub forum for case studies, to share learning and ask questions from other public health teams involved in licensing.

Public health as a responsible authority and their duties

As a responsible authority (RA), public health teams can:

  • submit a representation against an application for a new or existing premises
  • negotiate conditions with an applicant
  • support or apply a review of a premises licence or club premises certificate where there are problems with one or more of the licensing objectives
  • help develop and review a cumulative impact assessment (CIA)
  • help to develop and review the SLP and have an important role in identifying and interpreting health data and evidence
  • build relationships with other RAs and support their representations by providing them with public health evidence

Public Health England (PHE) and the Local Government Association (LGA) have published guidance on public health and the Licensing Act 2003. If you are new to licensing this is a good place to start as it gives an overview of what you need to know.

The Home Office has published guidance on section 182 of the Licensing Act outlining the role of responsible authorities and the related functions of the licensing authority.

Another useful resource is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Public Health and Alcohol Licensing study. The report looked at the range of factors that shape when and how public health practitioners make representations on licence applications. It also includes a useful graphic which shows steps for strengthening public health contributions to alcohol licensing.

Licensing policy

Local authorities must review licensing policies every 5 years, or more often if prompted by the licensing authority. The SLP presents a real opportunity for public health teams to have input into how licensable activities operate.

As a responsible authority inputting into a SLP, public health teams can:

  • find out from the licensing authority when the SLP will be reviewed and what the process will be
  • conduct an alcohol health-impact assessment in the local area or assess any existing assessment
  • seek the views of the local community and wider health community
  • investigate the health data for the area
  • work with the local health and wellbeing boards during SLP or CIA consultations
  • refer to the SLP in alcohol harm-reduction strategies and other local public health documents

PHE’s Think local, act local guidance provides more information on how public health teams can structure their response to a SLP review.

We have also published guidance on using case law in alcohol licensing, which outlines how case law can support public health teams and what licensing authorities can and should include in their SLP.

Cumulative impact assessments

The government introduced a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) as a tool for licensing authorities to limit the growth of licensed premises (both on and off-licences) in a problem area.

Home Office guidance on section 182 of the Licensing Act has more information on CIAs.

As a responsible authority inputting into a CIA, public health teams can:

  • provide evidence that can inform a review of CIAs
  • canvass local opinion and gather qualitative data
  • collate local evidence through local consultations
  • consider and conduct studies to identify local issues

Applications for licences: writing a representation

Responsible authorities in local areas can make representations to a licensing authority about applications for new or existing premises.

As a responsible authority making a representation, public health teams can:

  • identify what issues or potential harms might be linked to the different types of applications
  • decide which types of application are priorities for public health

PHE has developed guidance on the steps you should consider when preparing a representation and how to structure your evidence.

Public health teams will develop their priorities depending on the local situation. But not every application or change of licence will need a response from a public health team. It will depend on the local impact and they will assess every application on a case-by-case basis.

For examples of how different public health teams have set up systems and responses to applications, go to our alcohol licensing and public health collection page or sign up to the Knowledge Hub forum.

Data and information tools

There are several data resources available to help public health teams and licensing colleagues in their role as responsible authorities.

Alcohol harms and licensing: available data provides details of datasets or sources of information available to examine the impact of alcohol licensing. It’s organised by the licensing objectives and outlines the quality, regularity and availability of each dataset.

Alcohol licensing: understanding and applying public health data provides links to different tools that you can use to create maps and reports to help present data and evidence.

Alcohol licensing: information databases provides information about several databases that hold useful data about mortality, drug use and other relevant topics for public health teams involved in licensing decisions.

As well as using these resources, public health teams need to understand what health information is available, and how they can use and share it with other responsible authorities.

When reviewing what information is available, consider:

  • what types of data and evidence are available that you can link to specific premises or the general area and that you can use as part of a representation (for example, A&E assault data)
  • what information you can use to input into the SLP or development of a CIA or other special policies
  • what information you can use to provide an overview of the local area’s health, social care needs and levels of deprivation to provide a context to licensing issues
  • who will benefit from having access to this information and whether it’s appropriate to share
  • what other information you need and how you can collect it

Once you have reviewed what information is available, you will want to think about how you can use the information to help explain the local context and circumstances.

Research to support the licensing process

Public health teams may want to carry out research to provide evidence of alcohol-related harm and support responsible authorities in the licensing process.

This is particularly important where there is insufficient health information, or it is not readily available, but the team believes there is a local public health impact.

The commissioning of a local survey, or audit, can help to provide information or data related to alcohol, including drinking behaviour, consumption levels and purchasing habits. Commissioning local research may also allow areas to focus on specific groups of people to gain further insights, for example, people in a specific location, those in alcohol treatment, or street drinkers.

You could survey groups of interest to find out:

  • what specific alcohol products are being consumed
  • how much is being consumed
  • where it is being purchased from

This could be combined with a potential audit of licensed premises which could cover:

  • the cost of the alcohol being purchased
  • whether it can be bought on credit
  • availability of strong beer, lager or cider
  • the retail capacity of outlets, for example comparing small retailers to large supermarkets

Go to our alcohol licensing and public health collection page for case studies.

Further information

Visit the Knowledge Hub forum for other case studies and to share learning around local attempts to use data better in influencing licensing decisions.

Published 8 March 2017
Last updated 6 February 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated link to 'Public health and the Licensing Act 2003' guidance.

  2. Revised guide to include new information and updated links.

  3. Added a link to 'Alcohol licensing: making representations' document.

  4. Added a link to Reviewing a licensing policy: think local, act local.

  5. Added link to case study on 'Evaluating public health evidence in Medway'.

  6. Added link to guidance about using case law.

  7. First published.