News & Events

One too many? Sales to drunks report

Nov 10, 2014

A new report by Alcohol Research UK and the Alcohol Academy calls for a full review of the law on sales to drunk customers.

Download 'One too many? Sales to drunk customers: policy, enforcement and responsibility' [pdf]

The report was produced by the Alcohol Academy and Alcohol Research UK following a conference event earlier this year. However the report captures the complexity of the issue in terms of both practical implications as well as some wider questions about the spirit of the legislation itself. Areas are explored in relation to:

  • Policy - such as whether the current legislation is fit for purpose;
  • Enforcement - such as whether apparent barriers are a significant deterrent or further activity should be undertaken;
  • Responsibility - including whether retailers and industry bodies should do more to ensure compliance, for example learn from recent under age initiatives

Research shows in some contexts sales to those who appear 'drunk' are the norm. However with no legal definition of drunkenness, important questions such as when a refusal to serve should be made are apparent. Additionally the current legislation states a server must 'knowingly' sell alcohol to someone who is drunk to commit an offence, and proving they knew this may be a significant barrier to enforcement. At the same time, staff need some degree of protection and are often working in environments with many counter-pressures to serve.

As such, the report explores what role retailers and sections of the industry could play in improving adherence to the law. Although ensuring proper staff training appears a crucial starting point, there is no consistent benchmark for what server training should cover and whether it is re-freshed. Many servers will be working in high pressured environments that may implicitly encourage 'drunkenness', and where customers will expect to be served. Considering the wider retail environment is therefore important, but opportunities for industry-led initiatives exist.

However the report also highlights that the on-trade already faces greater regulatory burdens, despite a significant shift in consumption to off-trade sales. Therefore consideration of wider issues such as price in driving 'pre-loading' also needs reviewing. As shown in many other reports, single initiatives are unlikely to produce significant lasting changes in practice, so co-ordinated 'multi-component' approaches are needed. 

Recommendations from the report include:

  • A substantial review of the current legislation preventing sales to ‘drunks’
  • Consideration of a requirement for premises to have a written policy ensuring adherence to the law
  • Development of a national campaign to raise awareness of the law among licensees, customers and bar staff
  • Improvement to staff server training to ensure appropriateness and consistency
  • Review the use of on-the-spot fines for premises or staff found to be breaching the law
  • ‘Multi-component’ approaches to ensure coordinated policy, enforcement and retail actions
  • Further research into the relationship between drunkenness and the wider retail environment