One too many? Sales to drunk customers: policy, enforcement and responsibility

8 November 2014

Note: This report was funded and/or written by our predecessor organisation Alcohol Research UK.

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

In many cases sales to drunk customers appear to be the norm, but annual prosecutions for the offence are rarely more than single figures. The 2012 Government Alcohol Strategy said it would look at ways to “tackle the issue of serving alcohol to drunks”, but no action has been announced. With very limited enforcement or awareness of the legislation, this report explores what needs to be done to address one of the most under-enforced laws on the statute book.

Many challenges exist in addressing this problem. The wording of the legislation itself is problematic, and no legal definition of drunkenness exists. Licence-holders have a responsibility to ensure staff are aware of the law, yet server training is often inconsistent. Furthermore, bar staff often work in environments that explicitly and implicitly encourage high levels of consumption, and where pressure to increase turnover makes it hard to avoid selling to drunk customers.

Current measures to tackle this issue include voluntary schemes such as Best Bar None and on-the-spot police fines, though these are rarely used. In some areas, breathalysers have been introduced to help door staff identify customers who may cause problems. In isolation though, single initiatives are unlikely to result in real shifts in practice without broader changes to retail environments, improved legislation and better enforcement.

Recommendations include:

  • A substantial review of the current legislation
  • Consideration of a licensing condition requiring premises to have a written policy on sales to drunk customers
  • 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
  • Extensive use of ‘multi-component’ approaches to link policy, training, enforcement and community engagement
  • A wider debate on social attitudes to drunkenness and the retail environment for alcohol