Alcohol and entertainment licensing

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Key facts

  • If you wish to sell alcoholic drinks you will need a licence.
  • There are two types of licence: premises licences and personal licences.
  • It is illegal to buy alcohol from a wholesaler that is not registered.

Does the legislation apply to me?

If you wish to sell alcoholic drinks you will need an alcohol licence. It is an offence to sell intoxicating liquor without one.

Providing 'free' alcohol to guests

You need a licence to sell alcohol – this includes providing 'free' alcohol, because it is an incentive to purchase and/or is included in your pricing structure. The fact that you charge the guest for staying in your accommodation means that they are essentially paying for the alcohol that is provided. In other words, the guest has effectively paid a 'consideration' for that service. It is not free. 

  • Note: in 2014, the Government announced that it would introduce Community and Ancillary Sales Notices (CANs), which would allow accommodation businesses to sell small amounts of alcohol for a nominal fee. However, although introducing CANs is still Government policy, there is no indication as to when they will be introduced.

The Licensing Act 2003

The Licensing Act 2003 rationalised the previous various licensing systems (in England and Wales) to produce a simpler system that is easier for all involved to understand.

Local authorities are required to consult on their statement of licensing policy every three years. Before applying for a licence, it is therefore important for you to read this policy. This will enable you to tailor your application to the local authority's policy and thereby reduce the risk of your application being rejected.

Administration and enforcement

Administration and enforcement of the Licensing Act lies with local authorities (and other agencies where appropriate), e.g. fire safety, police, licensing officers, and environmental health. Each local authority has a licensing committee of between 10-15 locally-elected councillors who decide on licensing applications.

In practice, their responsibilities are devolved to a licensing manager and staff who deal with the administrative functions. All contested applications will be heard before a sub-committee of at least three members of that committee.

Licensing objectives

There are four principles which underpin the Licensing Act and impact on everyone. These are:

  • the prevention of crime and disorder
  • public safety
  • the prevention of public nuisance
  • the protection of children from harm (including sexual exploitation).

These principles are the key elements to be addressed by applicants, local authorities, police and other statutory authorities, and objectors to your licence.

Licensable activities

Activities regulated by the Licensing Act 2003 fall into one of the following four categories:

  • the sale of alcohol
  • the supply of alcohol by or on behalf of a club
  • provision of regulated entertainment
  • provision of late night refreshments.

The activities which accommodation providers should be familiar with are as follows:
Provision of regulated entertainment

  • Regulated entertainment includes many of the activities offered for the benefit of your guests and customers in, for example, public houses, hotels, guesthouses or club rooms at caravan parks, including:
  • dancing either as a show for customers or as an activity for them to take part in
  • films (defined as any showing of moving pictures) not being shown in a community premises
  • plays
  • all indoor sporting events (physical skills must be a factor)
  • music – the public playing of recorded music (e.g. DJs) as an accompaniment to dancing. (See Live Music Act 2012 below)

Provision of late night refreshment

Provision of late night refreshment covers the supply of hot food or drinks from premises for consumption on or off premises between 11pm and 5am. This aspect is mainly focused on late-night takeaway premises, so an exception is made for the provision of refreshments by hotels, guesthouses, hostels and caravan sites.

However, if you have a restaurant which serves hot food and drinks to members of the public after 11pm you will need to nominate this as one of your licensable activities. Should you have any doubts about what should be included as licensable activities, your local licensing authority will be able to give advice.

Types of licences

There are two licences.

  • Premises licences: required for any premises that offer any of the licensable activities previously described.
  • Personal licence: a separate, portable system of personal licences that provides authority to sell alcohol. Personal licences are valid indefinitely and do not need to be renewed. A designated premises supervisor, who must be a personal licence holder, must be nominated for any premises where the licence includes permission to sell alcohol. In order to obtain a personal licence the applicant must be:
  • 18 or over
  • possess an accredited licensing qualification
  • not have forfeited a personal licence within five years of the application and
  • not have been convicted of any relevant offence.

To sell alcohol on your premises, you are required to have a premises licence and for at least one person to have a personal licence. That person does not have to be present on the premises to oversee the sale of alcohol, but is responsible for any sales made by other members of your staff.

Temporary Event Notices (TENs)

A Temporary Event Notice (TEN) is a licence to hold one-off licensable activities in an unlicensed premises. You are limited to a maximum of five per year if you do not hold a personal licence and 50 if you do. No more than 15 TENs can be given to a single premises in any calendar year, provided that the total length of the events does not exceed 21 days. Events covered by a TEN can only be attended by a maximum of 499 people and there must be a minimum of 24 hours between events.

The Alcohol Licensing section of the website offers information related to the Licensing Act and the application process.

Applying for a premises licence

Your application must embrace the four licensing objectives and you will need to assess any risks associated with each activity you propose to offer.

Advice can be obtained from the relevant statutory authority to achieve this, e.g. a fire safety officer in respect of means of escape under the public safety objective. The police may require CCTV or door supervisors (usually for premises which stay open until the early hours) under the prevention of crime and disorder objective. Environmental health officers may offer advice on noise arising from any associated music under the prevention of public nuisance objective.

All statutory authorities and your neighbours/local businesses must also confine themselves to the four licensing objectives if they make any representation or objections. 

Application process

Applications are made to the local licensing authority where the premises are located. The forms will be available from the local authority's website and can be downloaded for completion together with guidance notes.

While the forms are relatively straightforward, you may wish to engage the services of a specialist licensing solicitor or consultant to assist you. The application can be made by anyone who undertakes, or proposes to undertake, any business involving licensable activities. It includes limited companies or partnerships. If the application is made by an individual, that person must be at least 18 years of age.

You can apply for any of the licensable activities which are applicable to your business. Be mindful, however, that you also have to serve a copy to the following statutory authorities:

  • the Chief Officer of Police
  • the body recognised as responsible for the protection of children
  • Trading Standards officers
  • local planning authority
  • environmental health authority
  • health and safety authority
  • fire and rescue authority.

They will all wish to see that your premises and the activities you ask for are compatible.

For details of the responsible authorities in our area, contact your local licensing team. Details may also be available on your local authority's website.


You are required to consult with your neighbours and local businesses in the area when seeking to gain a licence or to vary an existing licence. This can be done by placing an advert in a local newspaper, setting out the brief details of your application and displaying a notice on your premises advertising details to passers-by. The guidance notes will give advice on these procedures.

The consultation process lasts for 28 days commencing on the day you submit the application to the local authority. Copies to the other statutory authorities (mentioned above) must be served at the same time.

Providing there are no objections or representations that have not been resolved, the licensing authority will automatically issue your premises licence without you having to attend any meeting. Should there be any representations or objections which cannot be resolved by negotiation, the licensing authority will hold a hearing within 20 working days (from the end of the consultation period) to determine the application.


There are two sets of fees when applying for a premises licence. Both are based on rating bands and whether the primary or main purpose of the premises is to sell alcohol.

  • The first fee is the cost to apply or to vary a licence.
  • The second fee is the annual charge once the licence has been granted.

Once issued, the licence effectively lasts for as long as your business operates. The licence can be transferred from one licence holder to another. Again, the forms and guidance notes can be accessed on the local authority's website.

Variations to licences

Once a licence has been granted, licensees are required to operate within the conditions of the licence. If you would like a minor variation to these conditions, a simplified application process exists for this purpose. This process can only be used for variations that could have no adverse impact on any of the four licensing objectives.

For example, a Minor Variation Application could not be used in the following situations:

  • to extend the period for which the licence or certificate has effect.
  • to transfer the licence to other premises.
  • to specify, in a premises licence, an individual as the premises supervisor.
  • to add the sale by retail or supply of alcohol as an activity.
  • to authorise the sale of alcohol at any time between 11pm and 7am.
  • to authorise an increase in the amount of time on any day during which alcohol may be sold.

The cost of applying for a Minor Variation Application has been set at £89 and the maximum time that licensing authorities are able to take to process the application has been set at 15 days. Unlike a major variation to a licence, there is also no requirement to advertise or make other "responsible authorities", such as the police, aware of your intention to seek a minor variation.

Mandatory Code for the sale of alcohol

In addition to the Provisions of the Licensing Act, if you sell alcohol you are also required to comply with a Mandatory Code. This code:

  • bans businesses from undertaking irresponsible promotions that encourage people to drink quickly or to drink more than they otherwise would. Examples include ‘all you can drink for £10’ or ‘free drinks when a football team scores’
  • ban drinks being poured directly into customers’ mouths, i.e. ‘dentist’s chairs’
  • requires operators to supply free tap water to customers
  • requires businesses that sell alcohol to have an age-verification policy in place, and to check the ID of anyone who looks under 18
  • requires businesses to sell alcohol in small measures (a half pint for beer and cider, 25ml or 35ml for spirits and 125ml for wine) as well as larger measures
  • bans the sale of alcohol below the “permitted price”, which is defined as alcohol duty plus VAT. The Home Office has produced guidance for businesses on how to calculate the cost of duty and VAT for a range of products.

How long can I stay open?

While the Licensing Act created the opportunity to stay open 24 hours, very few premises (with the exceptions of supermarkets) actually operate these hours. You can apply to have any of the licensable activities on your premises starting and finishing at any time to suit you and/or your customers.

Bear in mind that the statutory authorities and neighbours have to be notified and may not agree with your proposals. Common sense usually applies and many establishments have extended their operating hours by perhaps one or two hours.

Who can I sell alcohol to?

Children aged 16 and 17 can consume alcohol providing it is only beer, cider or wine, it has been purchased for them by an adult and it is taken with a table meal. The adult must be with the child at all times.

You can also decide at what age children are allowed into the licensed areas of your premises. Therefore babies and very young children can now be in your bar/restaurant, providing that they are accompanied by an adult.

Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme

In response to the growing problem of counterfeit alcohol, the Government has introduced a new Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme. The first stage has now been completed with all wholesale sellers of alcohol having been required to register with HMRC by 31 March 2016. On registration, these wholesalers will have received a Unique Reference Number (URN) as proof that they are legally able to sell alcohol to businesses.

It is illegal to buy alcohol from a wholesaler who is not registered and able to provide you with their URN (which you are able to check online). If you buy your alcohol from an unregistered business after this date, then you may be liable to a criminal or civil penalty and your alcohol may be seized. You must keep records to prove you have checked that your supplier is registered with HMRC. 

  • Note: There is one important exemption to this scheme. Retailers who make occasional trade sales of alcohol are excluded, meaning that if you buy your alcohol from a supermarket or off-licence, then they will not be registered and you don't have to check.

Live Music Act 2012

The Live Music Act exempts small licenced venues with audiences of up to 200 (including accommodation establishments, pubs, restaurants and community halls) from requiring a separate special licence to hold live shows with amplified music between 8am and 11pm. It also removes the need for a licence for unamplified live performances between 8am and 11pm in all venues.

However, operators will still have to gain an alcohol licence and comply with any restrictions on the performances that are imposed by the Licensing Authority.