The first review of the Licensing Act, released by the Department for Culture Media and Sport says that although alcohol consumption and related crime have reduced since the law was introduced, authorities are not using the act to their advantage to clamp down on rogue off-licences.
Under the plans unveiled today, local authorities will have the power to refuse or withdraw all licences in an area considered problematic, regardless of whether a retailer is selling alcohol responsibly or not.
The offence of "persistently selling alcohol to a person under 18" will also become more defined. Off-licences and pubs caught selling alcohol to under-age drinkers twice in three months will now automatically lose their licence. Previously, a store had to be caught three times.
The government is also introducing a "yellow and red card" alert system for businesses found to be breaching their licensing conditions. A yellow card puts the problem premises on immediate probation together with tough conditions, while the issuing of a red card means instant withdrawal of the licence.
Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said the first review had revealed a mixed picture of the Licensing Act.
"Its introduction has not led to the widespread problems some feared," he said.
"Overall, crime and alcohol consumption are down. But alcohol-related violence has increased in the early hours of the morning and some communities have seen a rise in disorder.
"Our main conclusion is that people are using the freedoms but people are not sufficiently using the considerable powers granted by the act to tackle problems, and that there is a need to rebalance action towards enforcement and crack down on irresponsible behaviour."
Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association said he welcomed what he thought was a balanced review.
He said: “As an industry we’re committed to playing our part in addressing what is a cultural issue and we will continue to work with Government to encourage responsible drinking.
“The Licensing Act gives police and local authorities a wide range of powers to deal with alcohol misuse. Let’s make effective use of them to tackle problems where they arise.”
How the government’s new licensing act reform will affect drinks retailers:
- Three strikes reduced to two. Off-licences caught selling alcohol to under-18s twice in three months will now automatically lose their licence after the second time instead of the third.
- A yellow and red card system will be introduced for premises that breach their licensing conditions. Yellow puts stores on probation and red means the licence will instantly be withdrawn.
- Areas will be ranked based on the risk off-licences and pubs there pose to crime and disorder, public nuisance and children. Authorities will then be able to use the information to identify hotspots where licences could be withdrawn in the whole area.