Last updated: 15.08.22

What Is the Licensing Act 2003?

When most people think of licensing laws, they think of the rules and regulations that cover the sale and supply of alcohol. Whilst the Licensing Act 2003 does involve this, it also regulates the sale of hot food and drink at night and a wide range of public entertainment.

If you work in a venue that sells alcohol, hosts entertainment events or sells hot food and drinks after 11pm, you are likely affected by the requirements of the Licensing Act 2003. In this article, we explain the origins of the Act, its key objectives, what it applies to and the offences outlined by the regulations.

Introduction and Background to the Licensing Act 2003

The Licensing Act 2003 is a piece of UK Government legislation that regulates the sale and supply of alcohol in a range of contexts, some public entertainment and the sale of hot drinks and food in establishments at night. It was brought in on the 24th of November 2005 and replaced the Licensing Act of 1964, updating the regulations and changing the laws around selling alcohol, selling hot food or drinks after 11pm, and certain kinds of entertainment.

One of the key things that inspired the introduction of this new legislation was a whitepaper released in April 2000 titled ‘Time for Reform: Proposals for the Modernisation of Our Licensing Laws’. It outlined a series of proposals to improve current licensing schemes in England and Wales, which not only applied to alcohol but also to the theatre, cinema, public entertainment and late-night venues serving food and drink.

These proposals aimed to reduce alcohol misuse, reduce crime and disorder, encourage more tourism and also encourage more self-sufficient rural communities.

The 2003 Licensing Act consolidated all previous licensing regimes and made it a legal requirement that all venues affected must carry out their functions to promote the Act’s four objectives. It also transferred the licensing responsibility from the magistrate's court to the local councils.

Licensing Act 2003 Objectives

A key part of the Licensing Act 2003 is the four objectives that the regulations set out to achieve. 

These are:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm

By complying with the licensing regulations, it is expected that all businesses will carry out their function to support these objectives.

What Do You Need a Licence For?

Businesses or individuals are required to have a licence for certain kinds of activity, which are described in the legislation as ‘the sale and supply of alcohol, the provision of regulated entertainment, and the provision of late night refreshment’. These activities are referred to as “the licensable activities” and involve:

  • The sale of alcohol by a retailer
  • The supply of alcohol by a club, on behalf of a club or to the order of a member of a club
  • Regulated entertainment, including plays, films, live sports events, live or recorded music, live dance performances, and any entertainment in a similar vein to live music and dance
  • The provision of facilities for making music or dancing
  • Late night refreshment, which involves the supply of hot food or drinks to the public between the hours of 11.00pm and 5.00am

Businesses likely to need a licence for these activities include:

  • Pubs
  • Bars
  • Restaurants that serve alcohol
  • Nightclubs
  • Off-licences
  • Hotels and guest houses
  • Private members clubs
  • Social clubs
  • Sports venues
  • Cinemas
  • Theatres
  • Amateur dramatic groups
  • Community groups
  • Youth clubs
  • Entertainment organisers

Who Can Apply for a Licence?

If you are the owner of any of the above premises, you need to apply for one of the licences listed in the Licensing Act 2003. You can apply for a licence if you are one of the following:

  • A person working in a business on the premises that needs a licence
  • A person registered under the Care Standards Act as part of an independent hospital
  • A person from an educational institute
  • A person who is a chief police officer in England or Wales
  • A person discharging a statutory function under the prerogative of Her Majesty
  • A club
  • A charity

Types of Licences

In order to comply with the Licensing Act 2003 guidance, any venue where one of the ‘licensable activities’ is taking place needs one of the licences outlined below. 

Personal Licences

A personal licence gives an individual the legal authority to sell or supply alcohol to customers. It also gives them the authority to authorise the sale or supply of alcohol for consumption either on or off premises, if a premises licence is in force to support that activity.

In order to qualify for a personal licence, you must be over eighteen, have been awarded a recognised qualification, and be able to show a licensing authority that you haven’t been convicted of certain offences relating to the improper sale or supply of alcohol. This licence lasts for ten years, after which it must be renewed.

Premises Licences

A premises licence is granted to a licence holder and allows them to use premises in a specific location for licensable activities. Within this licence will be a series of operating conditions that state how the premises are to be used for the relevant activities in line with licensing objectives.

Unlike a personal licence, a premises licence doesn’t expire after a specified amount of time unless it has been requested for a limited period. Licence fees are paid annually until it is revoked or surrendered.

Club Premises Certificates

Club premises certificates are a kind of licence that gives qualifying clubs authorisation for qualifying club activities. These activities are:

  • The supply of alcohol by or on behalf of a club to a member
  • The sale of alcohol by or on behalf of a club to a member’s guest
  • The provision of regulated entertainment on or on behalf of a club for guests and members

Temporary Event Notices

A temporary event notice is used if you want to organise ‘licensable activity’ on unlicensed premises. Instead of applying for a permanent premises licence, this kind of licence can be used on a one-off or infrequent basis to allow for things like the performance of a place at an unlicensed venue, having a bar at a community event or extending the licence of a licensed venue for a particular occasion.

Anyone can apply for a temporary event notice if they are over the age of eighteen and provide the following information:

  • The activities taking place that will need a licence
  • The planned length of the event
  • The number of people that will be allowed on the premises
  • The times in which licensable activities will take place
  • Whether alcohol will be sold to be consumed on or off the premises

A temporary event notice is put in place to ensure that an event complies with the Licensing Act 2003 objectives. This means that local authorities can intervene and remove the licence if they feel that an event is causing a public nuisance, disorder, a risk to public safety, harm to children or involves criminal activity.

What is an Offence Under the Licensing Act 2003?

The following things are all listed as Licensing Act 2003 offences. 

  • Unauthorised licensable activities:
    Any activity listed in the legislation as needing a licence is considered unauthorised if the premises do not have the correct licence. 
  • Displaying alcohol for unauthorised sale:
    Exposing or displaying alcohol for retail if the sale of the alcohol would not comply with the premises licence.
  • Keeping alcohol on premises for unauthorised sale:
    Premises that are not licenced to sell alcohol cannot keep any alcohol on site with the intention of selling it or supplying it to a customer or member.
  • Allowing disorderly conduct on licensed premises:
    It’s an offence to knowingly let disorderly conduct take place on licensed premises, as those working on licensed premises have the authority to prevent this kind of behaviour and should do so to comply with the licensing objectives.
  • Selling alcohol to a drunk person:
    Personal and premises licences make it an offence to sell or even attempt to sell alcohol to drunk people, which is down to the individual’s assessment but may be challenged if the drunk person later causes public disruption or harm.
  • Buying alcohol for a drunk person:
    Similarly, it is also an offence to sell alcohol in a licenced venue to someone who is purchasing it on behalf of another drunk individual.
  • Failure to leave a licensed premises:
    If a person who is drunk or disorderly is asked to leave licensed premises, it is an offence if they refuse to comply with this request or attempt to re-enter the premises after being removed. Those with the authority to ask a drunk person to leave include anyone working at licenced premises, a licence holder or supervisor, a club officer or member, or a premises user with a temporary event notice.
  • Keeping smuggled goods:
    Any goods which have not had duty paid on them are considered to be ‘smuggled’ and cannot legally be kept on licensed premises.
  • Unaccompanied children:
    Children under 16 cannot be allowed to enter relevant licenced premises where alcohol is supplied and consumed unless they are accompanied by an adult. Anyone allowing entry to children is committing an offence. 
  • Selling alcohol to children:
    It is a legal offence to sell alcohol to anyone under eighteen anywhere, including on licensed premises.
  • Allowing alcohol to be sold to children:
    Similarly, it is an offence to allow another member of staff in licensed premises to sell alcohol to someone under eighteen.
  • Selling liqueur confectionery to children:
    Any child under the age of sixteen cannot legally buy liquor confectionery, and anyone found selling this on licenced premises is committing an offence.
  • Buying alcohol for children:
    Whilst adults over eighteen can buy alcohol for themselves on licenced premises, they are committing an offence if they are found to be buying this alcohol for someone under eighteen.
  • Consumption of alcohol by children:
    Any child under eighteen found to be intentionally consuming alcohol on licenced premises is committing an offence, and anyone knowingly allowing this to happen is also committing an offence.
  • Delivering alcohol to children:
    Someone delivering alcohol to licensed premises is committing an offence if they give the delivery to someone under eighteen, unless an official part of the child’s job is to collect deliveries for their employer which include alcohol.
  • Sending children to obtain alcohol:
    Even if the alcohol has already been paid for by an adult, it is an offence to send a child to collect alcohol from licensed premises.
  • Unsupervised alcohol sales by children:
    It is an offence to knowingly allow children to sell or supply alcohol in a licensed venue unless each individual sale has been approved by someone over eighteen.
  • Confiscation of sealed alcohol containers:
    In line with the objectives of the Licensing Act 2003, police have the power to confiscate sealed containers of alcohol from anyone under eighteen.
  • Prohibition of alcohol sales on moving vehicles:
    You cannot legally sell alcohol from a vehicle that is not permanently or temporarily parked.
  • The power to prohibit the sale of alcohol on trains:
    Whilst it is legal to sell alcohol on trains and at specified stations, a prohibition order may be made to limit this and anyone drinking or selling alcohol in violation of this order is committing an offence.
  • Making false statements for the purposes of the Act:
    It is an offence for someone to knowingly make a false statement in relation to any of the notices and applications of the regulations outlined in this act.


Why was the Licensing Act 2003 introduced?

The Licensing Act 2003 was introduced as a way of ensuring that additional measures could be put in place for maintaining public safety and order by regulating the sale and supply of alcohol. It replaced the old Licensing Act of 1964 and updated the regulations outlined in this to make them clearer and more effective.

What licences are issued under the Licensing Act 2003?

Four different licences can be issued under the Licensing Act 2003. These are Premises Licences, Club Premises Certificates, Personal Licences and temporary event notices.

What are the 4 main licensing objectives?

The Licensing Act 2003 has 4 key objectives. These are:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm


The Licensing Act 2003 covers quite a large range of different regulations, from the different types of licences to activities requiring a licence and the offences that violate the legislation. Anyone that works in a venue serving alcohol, offering entertainment or serving food and drink at night will be affected by the licensing act guidance, so it’s important to read up on what you can and cannot do to be sure you fulfil the licensing objectives.