The Licensing Act 2003 - Retailing Alcohol Responsibly

The Licensing Act 2003 was introduced in order to bring alcohol and entertainment licensing together under one new piece of legislation, controlled by local councils through the Licensing Authorities.

The Act was meant to modernise alcohol licensing throughout England & Wales, and introduce a more self-regulating system, intended to address the problems associated with alcohol consumption.

The Licensing Act 2003 put the emphasis on licence holders to take a pro-active approach through a risk assessment process or face regulation from one of the nine ‘responsible authorities’; Licensing Authority, Police, Environmental Health, Health & Safety, Trading Standards, Fire Service, Planning, Child Protection Services & Health Care Trusts.

24 Hour Licensing

The ‘24 Hour Licensing’ headline used consistently in the media, is not an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground. Very few premises obtained licenses to sell alcohol 24 hours a day; certainly below 1% of the total number of licences issued.

What the Licensing Act did was to free up the strict curfews which use to exist in relation to the sale of alcohol and allow premises to apply for whatever hours they could justify through their proposed risk management strategy.

Licensing Objectives

The licensing act regulates the four Licensable Activities:

  • Sale of Alcohol
  • Regulated Entertainment
  • Late Night Refreshment (sale of hot food & hot drinks from 23.00 to 05.00)
  • Supply of Alcohol on Club Premises

These are the activities for which one or more licence is required. Failure to hold the appropriate licence(s) or to work within the hours or conditions of that licence(s) can lead to prosecution and a Maximum Fine of £20,000 and / or 6 Months Imprisonment.

The reason any licence is required, is that there are risks associated with that activity; for example, you get a driving licence because driving is potentially dangerous and the driving licence proves you are a competent driver following a test.

For alcohol & entertainment licensing, those risks have been summarised in the four Licensing Objectives:

  • The Prevention of Crime & Disorder
  • Public Safety
  • The Prevention of Public Nuisance
  • The Protection of Children from Harm

Risk Assessment

The Act places the burden of responsibility on the licence holder to risk assess their activities and to act upon their findings to reduce those risks.

The Licensing Objectives effectively outline the risks for premises licence holders to assess and The Act therefore provides several key steps in the risk assessment process:

Step 1; Look for and identify hazard - these have been identified in the act as crime and disorder, public safety, public nuisance and harm to children.

Step 2; Decide who and what is at risk - the act is designed to protect the interest of customers, residents, services and other businesses (not those competing for the same business) and particularly those who are vulnerable, such as children.

Step 3; Evaluate the risk - this must be done from the perspective of those at risk; however an effective risk assessment will also consider the potential risk to the premises licence from failure to act proactively.

Step 4; Record the findings - In a new application or a variation of an existing premises licence, your proposed risk reduction strategies must be recorded in the form of a risk assessment and operating schedule.

Step 5; Implementation – The measures you have identified to reduce the risks, must be applied and all employees should be trained in their implementation to ensure consistency in the management systems at the premises.

Step 6; Review and revise assessment – Risk assessments must be regularly reviewed to ensure they are still sufficient in order to promote the licensing objectives. Any change in the nature of the premises or licensable activities or in the local area, should trigger a fresh review.

For example; if a premises is allowed to hold live music events, one of the conclusions of a risk assessment may be to close all windows and doors during any live performance; thus reducing the potential for disturbance to local residents (Public Nuisance).

Failure to implement, could risk local residents being disturbed and in turn a review of the premises licence leading to future restrictions, additional costs or in the worst cases the loss of the premises licence.

A Partnership Approach

The Licensing Act 2003 calls for a partnership approach between the drinks industry, licensed premises and the responsible authorities, in order to promote the licensing objectives.

There can be no doubt that alcohol consumption causes significant harm within communities; ‘binge drinking’, ‘pre-loading’ and cheap strong alcohol, fuel these problems.

Alcohol related crime and health issues cost the UK economy well in excess of £10 Billion a year and alcohol consumption is estimated to kill directly or in-directly in excess of 10,000 people every year.

It is the responsibility of everyone involved in the sale of alcohol and other licensable activities, to work together to promote the licensing objectives. Licensed premises must be at the heart of this partnership.

It is fair to say that not all the responsible authorities take this proactive partnership approach, but equally not all licensed premises fulfil their role either. Our experience is that when there is an effective partnership, the results are generally positive for all concerned.

Effective partnerships do take a little work from both sides, in order to establish mutual trust. The resulting improvements can lead to an increase in sales and a reduction in alcohol related crime, disorder and public nuisance.

If you are seen to be part of the solution, you are less likely to be seen as part of the problem.


Training is seen as a universal solution to many of the problems associated with licensable activities.

Training provides solutions to many of the problems faced by licensed premises, from under-aged sales (Award in Responsible Alcohol Retailing >>), to illegal drugs (Drug Awareness >>), to violence (Conflict Management and Resolution >>) and statutory training for the right to sell and authorise the sale of alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003 (Award for Personal Licence Holders >>).

The vast majority of people who consume alcohol do so responsibly and premises licence holders should provide them with a friendly and safe environment.

By investing in effective training, premises licence holders not only give their business a stronger due diligence defence against any future prosecution, but develop a professional, dedicated, effective and proactive workforce. A workforce which understands not just the social responsibilities of alcohol retailing, but the success this approach can bring to your business.

It is universally acknowledged that effective proactive training is the corner-stone of achieving the status of a 'responsible alcohol retailer'.

For further information please call 01784 434 392 / 0845 602 55 95 and speak with one of our Licensing Consultants.

Additional Information

BIIAB Level 2 Award for Personal Licence Holders (APLH) CourseBIIAB Level 1 Award in Responsible Alcohol Retailing (ARAR) CourseBIIAB Level 2 Award for Designated Premises Supervisors (ADPS) CourseLicensing Consultancy Service Personal Licence InformationUseful Resources & Downloads