Out-Law News 2 min. read

Lords call for minimum unit pricing in England despite conflicting reports on impact

A House of Lords report on the UK’s alcohol licensing system has called for ministers in England to undertake a formal review of the impact of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland and Wales.

In May 2018, Scotland introduced MUP – a baseline price for units of alcohol – of 50p, meaning that, for example, it is against the law to sell a 10-unit bottle of wine for less than £5. In 2020 the Welsh government followed suit with its own 50p MUP.

Now the House of Lords report (45 pages / 627KB PDF), published by the Liaison Committee, recommends that the government review the impact of MUP, citing a 2019 study by researchers at Newcastle University that found it had successfully reduced the amount of alcohol purchased by householders in Scotland. A follow up study in 2021 found that since the introduction of MUP, alcohol sales in Scotland and Wales fell by 7.7% and 8.6% respectively – though this fall was largely limited to households that purchase the most alcohol.

Audrey Ferrie, licensing expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “The introduction of MUP was previously considered in England but was rejected – and it is unclear what has changed since then. Research shows that consumption and harm are already lower in England and Wales than Scotland without MUP, so I question whether the measures are necessary.” Ferrie said research published earlier this year by Public Health Scotland (PHS) found that MUP has had a minimal impact on drink-related crime, and has not lowered the consumption, or eased the severity of alcohol dependence, in drinkers who suffer the worst effects of alcoholism.

Kate Pearson of Pinsent Masons added: “PHS found that some people with dependencies are diverting money from other essentials like food and heating in order to pay for alcohol. With some Scottish households seeing their alcohol spending going from £83 to £107 per week, ministers in England should question whether MUP would create the right trade-offs for people’s health.”

The House of Lords report also found several flaws in the current licensing system in England and told the government to introduce minimum training standards for councillors involved in licensing decisions. It also called on ministers to trial a mechanism for licensing and planning systems to work together and communicate effectively, alongside the Institute of Licensing, the Local Government Association and other interested parties.

The committee called on the government to review the ‘agent of change’ principle, which makes businesses responsible for mitigating the impact of changes that they make – such as noise-generating activities. The report told ministers to consider incorporating the principle into current planning reforms in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill “to prevent further uncertainty” and said any changes to it should then be reflected in the guidance issued to license holders.

Hannah Burton of Pinsent Masons said: “The ‘agent of change’ principle should be secured into the licensing remit by legislation and a change to the guidance. It is commonly a licensed venue which is it hit hardest by a new development or change taking place nearby, especially if that change is to bring residential development into that landscape. With such current ambiguity as to approaches, clarity in legislation and guidance would be welcomed.”

The committee also said the government’s lack of progress in improving access to licensed premises was “unacceptable”, urging ministers to amend the law 2003 Licensing Act so that an application for a premises licence must be accompanied by a disabled access and facilities statement. 

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