Handle with care: The need for responsible alcohol delivery

Dr Laura Harvey | May 2024 | 11 minutes

Online delivery services are continuing to grow and alcohol can now be delivered straight to our door at the click of a button. This can make life feel easier for some and free up time for other things. But alcohol delivery can also make it easier for us to drink more than we’d like, and for under 18s to be handed alcohol on the doorstep.

A new survey commissioned by Alcohol Change UK shows that more needs to be done by apps, online shops, and delivery companies to take better care of the customers using their services when delivering alcohol.

Our survey explored the experiences and views of UK adults who regularly use alcohol delivery services (at least once a month for the previous three months).

We found:

  • Most people order deliveries because it’s convenient, saving time and effort.
  • Almost half of people (47%) had their most recent order delivered on the same day.
  • Alcohol deliveries make it easier for us to carry on drinking, when we might otherwise have stopped.
  • Three in ten people have ordered a delivery when drunk.
  • Regular users of alcohol delivery services (those ordering at least once a month) tend to drink more than average for the UK.
  • Less than a quarter of 18-25s (22%) always have their ID checked on the doorstep.
  • Marketing plays a role, with 64% of survey respondents and 82% of 18-25 year olds prompted to order by a promotion at least once in the last three months.


  • Improve age-checking for home deliveries.
  • Restrict alcohol marketing via delivery platforms.
  • Update licensing laws to be fit for a digital age.
  • Ensure delivery drivers have training, time and support.

Convenience: a double-edged sword

When looking at why alcohol delivery is so popular, the most common reason given by respondents was convenience, with 50% of all respondents and 66% of those aged over 65, giving this reason. Respondents also thought using such retailers saved them money. Home deliveries can be helpful for people, especially those who find it difficult to get to the shops because of caring responsibilities, disabilities or juggling work and life.

Why does availability matter?

There is strong evidence that increased availability of alcohol is linked to higher consumption and harm. Almost half of respondents (45%) were drinking more than the recommended maximum of 14 units a week (equivalent to six pints of normal strength beer or lager or a bottle and a half of wine, per week). This is much higher than average for the UK, with most recent surveys reporting between 20-30% of the UK population drinking at these higher risk levels.

Alcohol delivery can enable those of us who drink to buy large quantities, for more hours in the day, and have these delivered very quickly.

Deliveries and drinking

Rapid availability also allows us to extend drinking sessions when we might otherwise have stopped. When asked if they had ever ordered alcohol while drunk, 30% of respondents reported doing so, with 35% reporting using a delivery service because they had run out of alcohol and wanted to continue drinking. Over half of those who ordered alcohol because they had run out (53%) said they would have stopped if the delivery service hadn’t been available.

Although it is currently illegal in England and Wales to knowingly sell alcohol to someone who appears drunk, the law around delivering alcohol to someone who appears drunk is less clear.

Melissa, 38 from Essex, has been trying to prevent companies from delivering alcohol to her mum, and wants the government to bring in stronger regulations:

“My mum can have deliveries to her door when she's drunk. It has devastated our family that this is possible. If she turned up drunk to a pub at 11am she would be refused to be served.”

With the harm caused by alcohol on the rise, the convenience of deliveries can be a double-edged sword. Some respondents felt that this easy access has led to them drinking more.

While many survey respondents (53%) felt that alcohol delivery hadn’t had an impact on their drinking, 1 in 10 said they now drink alcohol on more days in the week, and 9% said they drink more on a typical day.

One participant in her 20s told us:

“It is very convenient, effortless, and more anonymous. However, it increased the amount I drink, since I don't have to carry it myself or get ready to go to a shop. [It] saves time and there is little price difference.”

What needs to change?

Alcohol availability has changed massively since licensing rules in England and Wales were last updated, over 20 years ago. Home delivery has expanded the number of outlets selling alcohol. We can buy alcohol 24/7 and have it delivered within 30 minutes. Our licensing laws need to be reformed to be fit for the digital age.

Previous research commissioned by Alcohol Change UK highlighted that delivery drivers need more time, training and support to help reduce potential harm from alcohol deliveries. Drivers have told us about the challenges of assessing whether someone is drunk during a quick interaction on the doorstep, in sometimes isolated situations and without clear guidance about their roles or responsibilities.

An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest option for children and young people, ideally up to the age of 18, as alcohol can harm the developing brain. However, delivery companies are not effectively checking that people receiving deliveries are over 18. Previous work by Alcohol Change UK showed that age verification online is not effective, both in terms of the systems used online, and the failure of many delivery drivers to ask for ID. In our recent survey only 22% of 18-25s said that their ID was always checked when they have alcohol delivered. The lowest reported ID checking for this age group was for deliveries from subscription services (15%) and supermarkets (16%).

Online and mobile platforms have also transformed the way that advertising works. We can receive tailored notifications, promotions and marketing, and when we click on these we’re taken straight through to making an order. Online adverts can end up being seen by children and people who are trying not to drink alcohol. In our survey, 64% of respondents reported that they had been prompted to order alcohol for delivery by a promotion at least once in the last three months. This was even higher for 18-25 year olds (82%). We need more effective restrictions on alcohol marketing via delivery platforms, and the option to opt-out of adverts and app notifications.

We are so used to having many different things delivered straight to our door. However, alcohol is no ordinary commodity, so how it is promoted and delivered needs additional thought and care. Harm caused by alcohol is at an all-time high and this is a growing issue. At the same time, increasing numbers of us want to cut down our drinking. Both governments and retailers have a responsibility to reduce harms related to alcohol delivery.

Our recommendations:

  • Delivery drivers need enough time, training and support to recognise and potentially refuse delivery to customers who are under 18 or intoxicated.
  • Age checking on delivery needs to be mandatory, similar to the Challenge 25 policy, with delivery drivers given training and enough time and support to carry these out.
  • We need more control over alcohol marketing, and be able to opt out if we don’t want to be prompted to buy drinks.
  • The UK government needs to carry out a formal review of advertising rules and bring in effective, legally binding restrictions that protect public health.

Read the report

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