£3.40 Jug of Tap Water

Placing a charge on tap water is illegal in licensed premises, under the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010. The mandatory condition states that ‘Free potable tap water must be provided for customers’.

Failure to adhere to a mandatory condition would be considered an Unauthorised Licensable Activity and subject to a maximum penalty of a £20,000 fine and /or 6 months imprisonment.

So effectively if a customer asks for tap water it must be provided, staff can not attempt to up-sell to bottled water.

‘Potable’ means that it is fit for human consumption; this means it must come from a mains source for drinking water. We also believe that this means water at room temperature or below. We are aware that some nightclubs in particular have taken to offering tap water but only provide water from the hot tap, to force those who want cold water to buy bottled; this in our opinion stretches the definition of ‘potable’, as normal human consumption of water is at room temperature or below.

How you provide that water is at your discretion, staff can serve it, you could provide a water fountain or a dedicated drinking water tap with some form of vessel to pour it into or you can even provide free bottled water as an alternative; as some bars at festivals where there is no mains supply will do.

The common-denominator in all of these methods, is that you cannot charge for the water however it is provided; be that in a pretty jug, with ice, lemon or in a crystal glass. You are not obliged to provide ice or lemon with free drinking water, but if you choose to, you cannot use that as an excuse to charge; you must however provide some form of drinking vessel for the water… albeit not necessarily crystal.

Poor training or a complete lack of training would not be an acceptable defence of due diligence in the case of a prosecution for breach of this mandatory condition.

I would also point out to those who would choose to use the argument of ‘who is classed as a customer’, that if you charge for water, you effectively turn that person into a customer.

You could refuse tap water to someone who is not a customer, although you had better be sure they could not argue their case, even by something as simple as using your vending or gaming machines. However you still cannot charge someone who you don’t believe is a customer for tap water, as that very charge makes them your customer…

SourceJug of tap water? That’ll cost you £3.40 - Evening Standard

Author - Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Beyond the Blue Training & Consultancy and a contributor to Bar Magazine’s ‘Expert Advice’ section.

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