Minimum Alcohol Price in Scotland

Peter Hastings, Rogers and Norton

Five years after the legislation was first approved by the Scottish Parliament, the UK Supreme Court has finally ruled that a minimum price for alcohol can be set in Scotland.

The Scottish government's aim is to reduce the amount that problem drinkers consume, by raising the price of the strongest, cheapest alcohol.

Many people are quite rightly delighted that the ruling has been upheld – the health benefits are obvious. If however, you take a wider view there may well be unintended consequences from the new legislation.

The demand for cheap alcohol will not simply disappear because the price has gone up. There will always be people who want to buy drink at a price and will now struggle to do so, as they are priced out the market.

Will this mean an increase in black market activity? Illegally imported and traded cheap drink being sold, much like the ‘booze cruises’ that took place over the channel. The prospect of an illegal market in cheap drink is certainly a possibility – especially as Border Force officers will probably find policing it an ongoing challenge.

Unlike in other countries that have similar laws, it is not a tax or duty increase. It is raising the prices for the cheapest drinks, with any extra cash going to the retailer. Does this mean that wholesalers have been incentivised to sell more to make a bigger profit?

Wholesalers are already facing challenges with the introduction of the Alcohol Wholesalers Registration Scheme earlier this year. It’s been widely reported that HMRC are still coming to terms with the implementation of the new Regulations and that there is considerable confusion and delays in the system.

We have acted for a variety of UK wholesalers this year who have had their license to sell alcohol revoked and have been able to secure temporary approval pending conclusion of the Appeal.

We have issued Judicial Review Claims, obtained injunctions and issued Appeals to the First Tier Tax Tribunal.

If you are encountering issues with either HMRC or in relation to the AWRS then you can contact the team at or on 01603 675639.


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