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How to tell whether you need an alcohol licence


One way to increase your profitability and your appeal as a mobile caterer is to add alcohol to your offering. But the rules and regulations surrounding the sale of alcohol can be tricky to get your head around. When do I need a licence? Why do I need a licence?! How do I get a licence?!

Thankfully there’s a simple rule of thumb to help you through the confusion. Where there is no retail sale, there is no need to obtain an alcohol licence. If the alcohol is free to the end consumer, then it cannot be licensable as there will be no retail sale to them. Still sounding a little complicated? Let’s look at a few different scenarios to get a better idea of what that means in practice.


Scenario #1: You provide wine and food for a free open day at a car dealership.

If a car dealership asks you to supply alcohol and food to its customers on an open day and the dealership foots the bill, there is no retail sale. This is because you are not selling to the end consumer. Prior to the event, the alcohol had been sold to you as a “trader for the purposes of his trade” and is a freebie for the end consumer. There is no retail sale so no licence is required.


Scenario #2: At the same event, free alcohol is linked to a car that customers have to purchase.

If you or the car dealership were selling tickets to customers to attend the open day, asking them for a donation for the alcohol or clearly linking the “free” alcohol to a car they had to purchase on the day of the event, the customer would be buying the alcohol, albeit by roundabout means. This would mean that a retail sale is taking place and as the supplier of the alcohol, you would need a personal licence. Under such circumstances, you or the dealership would also need to have a Temporary Events Notice (TEN) in place for the provision of alcohol to take place.

A TEN allows for the sale of alcohol at temporary events where less than 500 people are on the premises at any one time, like wedding receptions and one-off charity events.


Scenario #3: You provide alcohol as part of a wedding catering package.

Where a wedding takes place in an unlicensed venue and the client pays for all the alcohol (i.e. there’s a free bar and wine on the tables during the meal), no alcohol licence is required. No retail sale has taken place and the alcohol is truly free to the end consumers, so it cannot be licensable.


Scenario #4: You provide wine and food for a ticketed event at a village hall.

If you supply alcohol as part of an offer you would need a licence (rather than the village hall), whether there was a separate charge for alcohol and food or not. For example, the ticket states that the buffet costs £9.99 with a complimentary glass of wine included. In this situation you would need a personal licence because in reality you are supplying alcohol as part of the cost. The same would apply if the tickets were available for £8 without alcohol but £11 with one glass of wine included.

The village hall would not necessarily need to be licensed as you would get a TEN for the one-off event. In a situation like this, it would be wise to check with the venue whether you are expected to take responsibility for any alcohol supply under the terms of hire, or whether they have a premises licence you could trade under.


Scenario #5: You run a prosecco van and are set to trade at a festival.

In this situation you would undoubtedly be making a retail sale as you would take money from the end customer for each glass of drink provided. Therefore you would definitely need to have a personal licence and a TEN or premises licence would need to be in place for the festival site.


What to do when you’re told to get a licence (but you don’t think you need one)

If your local authority claims that you require a licence to serve alcohol in a situation like those outlined in scenarios 1 and 3, we would advise you to ask them where the retail sale of alcohol is taking place and assure them that there is no charge to the end consumer. The reality is that if you are supplying the alcohol wholesale and you aren’t selling it on then the Licensing Act 2003 wouldn’t cover you anyway.


How to get a personal licence

If you want to be able to sell alcohol on a regular basis you will need a personal licence. To get a personal licence you’ll need to obtain a personal licence qualification and then apply to your local authority for the licence itself. You’ll find a list of personal licence course providers on the Gov.uk website.

Once you have your personal licence you’ll be able to sell alcohol at a licensed premises (any premises that is already licensed for the sale of alcohol) and at any event with a TEN. For further information please visit the Alcohol Licensing section on the Government website or call NCASS on 0121 603 2524.



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