As a number of people reach for the bottle to mark the end of an alcohol-free January, Frances Vickery considers the impact of a proposed government code on the sale of alcohol and how this may shape our drinking culture.
Who: Home Office
When: January 2009
Law stated as at: 23 January 2009
The Department of Health estimates that the cost to society of excessive drinking is between £17.7bn and £25.1bn a year and over 10 million adults in the UK are thought to regularly exceed government guidelines on safe levels of drinking.
In a bid to address these problems, the government consulted throughout 2008 with retailers, industry bodies and charities and has now published the Policing and Crime Bill which addresses the way in which retailers’ licences allow them to promote and sell alcohol to the public.
The Bill, if passed through Parliament, will amend the current licensing position under the Licensing Act 2003 and will introduce a mandatory code for alcohol retailers. Conditions in their licences will ban retailers from having promotions such as ‘all you can drink for £10’ or ‘ladies drink for free’. Further conditions that could be imposed include requiring the number of units in a drink to be displayed at the point of sale (for example on the label or menu), that smaller measures are available on request (for example a 175ml glass or wine rather than 250ml) and that staff are adequately trained. In an unexpected move by the government, the code is also likely to restrict the common supermarket promotion of discounts on alcohol if bought in large quantities.
The code is not expected to prevent pubs or bars from promoting ‘happy hours’, although local licensing authorities, who are expected to enforce the code, will have the power to extend the conditions if they feel that it to be necessary to prevent nuisance, annoyance or disorder.
Why this matters:
The government proposals will apply across the board, from very small retailers to supermarkets and from independent pubs to chains. All of these retailers of alcohol will have to ensure that the way in which they are marketing their events and/or selling alcohol complies with the mandatory code. Furthermore, the costs of training staff and ensuring that the number of units contained in drinks are displayed, will have to be taken into account.
If a retailer breaches any of the conditions of the code, this will lead to a review of the licence (and possible loss of licence) or, on summary conviction, a maximum £20,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment.
Outside the rules for alcohol advertising contained in the broadcast and non broadcast "CAP" Codes, the government has so far stopped short of introducing a mandatory code in respect of advertising and promotion of alcohol, but the impact of advertising on the consumption of alcohol, particularly under-age drinking, was considered in the 2008 paper ‘Safe, Sensible, Social – Consultation on further action’ and may be open to further discussion in the future.