The WSTA is committed to working with the Executive and local partners in Northern Ireland to tackle alcohol misuse. In 2010, we were pleased to announce the launch of the first Community Alcohol Partnership in Northern Ireland, in Derry/ Londonderry, where retailers are working alongside council and police to tackle underage access to alcohol. However we are concerned about recent policy developments- such as the new powers to ban irresponsible promotions and a proposal for minimum pricing.
Consultation on minimum pricing
In March 2011, a consultation was jointly launched by the Northern Ireland Departments for Social Development and Health on minimum pricing for Northern Ireland. The consultation proposes a minimum price per unit of alcohol of between 40p and 70p. It also seeks views on possible alternatives to minimum pricing, including a ban on below-cost selling and duty increases and on an introduction of a social responsibility levy. The WSTA will be responding to the consultation, setting out our opposition to a minimum pricing policy. Click here for more information on Pricing Policy.
The licensing system in Northern Ireland differs from in England and Wales because it is administered by the courts. The current law operates on the basis of the ‘surrender’ principle, where the grant of a new pub or off-sales licence by a court is conditional on the surrender to the court of an existing licence.
The Licensing Reform and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act will introduce reforms to the licensing regime. There will be new powers for the courts to close licensed premises temporarily in the event of disorder or expected disorder. It will introduce a penalty points system under which convictions in court for relevant offences result in points being endorsed on a liquor licence. Licence holders accumulating 10 points in three years will have their licence suspended. This means that an off-licence or supermarket found selling to underage customers just twice in three years would meet the threshold for suspension of licence. There will be a new statutory proof-of-age scheme, specifying acceptable identity documents for the purposes of licensing and registered clubs law.
Restrictions on drinks promotions
The Licensing Reform Act also includes powers to ban irresponsible drinks promotions. This includes restricting the price at which a package containing two or more alcoholic products can be sold and in the on-trade, it includes a ban on promotions such as those aimed at under 18s or ‘buy one-get one free’.
The WSTA has worked to highlight the concerns we have about proposals to restrict price discounts, which could result in unintended, counter-productive consequences. A move towards linear pricing could incentivise retailers not to stock individual cans or bottles of particular products, and only to sell larger multi-packs. There is no evidence that restricting these kinds of promotions will actually have any impact on the desired goal of reducing alcohol misuse.
The detail about the type of promotions affected will be set out in subsequent regulations and subject to public consultation before they can be brought into effect. The WSTA will continue to work to obtain clarification on what the new legislation could mean for businesses.