Businesses offering customers complimentary alcoholic refreshments: take note!

Tej Thakkar, Leathes Prior

Complimentary alcoholic drinks are regularly offered by a wide array of businesses to incentivise customers. For example, businesses may offer a glass of champagne whilst customers browse their products or use their services. However business owners should be aware that if they are offering their customers an alcoholic drink, even free of charge, as part of the services they provide, they could be committing a criminal offence. It is therefore imperative that business owners who provide complimentary alcoholic drinks as part of their services obtain the appropriate authorisation to ensure they do not expose themselves to potential criminal liability and the applicable fines.

This article provides information in respect of the authorisations required for the sale of alcohol, the process for obtaining the required authorisations and the potential offences that an individual can commit in respect of undertaking licensable activities without the required authorisations.

Authorisations required to supply alcohol

A premises licence is required to authorise the use of a premises for the supply and sale of alcohol. If drinks are provided free of charge as part of an overall service, for example complimentary drinks provided to customers, a premises licence is still required.

Any person, provided that they are aged 18 or over, who is carrying on or who proposes to carry on a business which involves the use of premises for licensable activities may apply for a premises licence either on a permanent basis or for a time-limited period. “A person” in this context includes a corporate entity, for example, a company or a partnership.

In the premises licence, a designated premises supervisor must be named who must hold a personal licence. A personal licence is a licence granted by a licensing authority to an individual authorising them to supply alcohol or authorise alcohol in accordance with a premises licence. In order to apply for a personal licence, the individual must be over 18 years old, hold a relevant licensing qualification (for example the BIIAB Level 2 Award for Personal Licence Holders), declare any relevant convictions (which may impact on whether the individual is considered suitable as a licensee) and must not have had a personal licence forfeited in the five years preceding the date of their application.

Others serving alcohol at the premises must be authorised by the personal licence holder.

Alternatively a person may acquire a temporary event notice (“TEN”) to authorise licensable activity on a temporary basis. A person may send an application for a TEN to the relevant licensing authority at least ten working days before the event.

A number of statutory limitations are imposed on the use of temporary event notices as follows:

  • the number of times a premises user may give a TEN is a maximum of 50 times in a calendar year for a personal licence holder and five times in a calendar year for other persons;
  • the number of times a TEN may be given for any particular premises is a maximum of 12 times in a calendar year;
  • the maximum duration of an event authorised by a TEN is 168 hours (seven days);
  • the maximum total duration of the events authorised by TENs in relation to individual premises is 21 days in a calendar year;
  • the maximum number of people attending at any one time must be fewer than 500; and
  • the minimum period between events authorised under separate TENs in relation to the same premises (not including withdrawn TENs) by the same premises user is 24 hours.

TENs are therefore more suitable for one off events than as a permanent means by which to authorise licensable activities on a premises.


It is a criminal offence for a person to either carry on, or attempt to carry on, a licensable activity on any premises otherwise than in accordance with a premises licence or temporary event notice. It is also a criminal offence for a person to knowingly allow a licensable activity to be carried on otherwise than in accordance with a premises licence or temporary event notice.

A person charged with the offence of carrying out a licensable activity otherwise than in accordance with an authorisation may rely on the statutory defence of due diligence the following criteria are satisfied

the act was due to a mistake, or to reliance on information given to him/her, or to an act or omission by another person, or to some other cause beyond his control, and

he/she took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence.

Where a person relies on the defence of due diligence, the burden is on them to prove on the balance of probabilities that they had done all that could reasonably have been expected of them.

The Court has provided guidance on what behaviour and acts are required by an employer in order for the defence of due diligence to apply. An employer must go further than simply instituting a preventative regime. It must also exercise all due diligence to ensure that the measures put in place are maintained, adhered to by employees and continue to be adequate in the circumstances. This means that an employer will need to demonstrate that steps were taken to implement a regime and that this regime was actively monitored by the employer.

For such offences, a person is liable upon summary conviction in a Magistrates Court to an unlimited fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both. Given the stringent penalties which may be imposed, it is crucial for business owners to ensure that they do not inadvertently commit a criminal offence.

If you would like to take advice on anything covered in this article, please contact our expert team on 01603 610911.

Note: the content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

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