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24-hour licensing “has not led to rise in drinking”

The introduction of 24-hour licensing laws in England and Wales has not led to a rise in drinking or alcohol-related disorder, a think-tank report has revealed.

The findings in the study by the Institute of Economic Affairs make particularly interesting reading for all those involved in the licensing trade.

What is the background to the report?

Shortly after the then Labour Government introduced greater flexibility for opening times for pubs, bars and nightclubs in 2005 via the Licensing Act, claims started to appear that the changes would lead to a surge in alcohol-related health and public order problems.

The Daily Mail said the changes would unleash “unbridled hedonism… with all the ghastly consequences that will follow”, The Sun said readers would have to prepare for the “inevitable swarm of drunken youngsters” while Charles Harris QC said it was “close to lunacy” to make drinking facilities more widely available when the situation regarding alcohol-related offending was “already grave, if not grotesque”.

Whilst such comments may not have directly affected licensing decisions in the years that followed, they have tended to set the general tone of the debate with fears over health and criminality often voiced in the context of longer opening hours for licensed premises.

What does the report say?

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a think-tank which promotes free-market economics, set out to discover whether the rhetoric surrounding 24-hour licensing matches the reality.

The report – Drinking Fast and Slow: Ten Years of the Licensing Act – has a number of findings seemingly at odds with the predictions which accompanied the introduction of the Licensing Act.

Amongst other things, the report finds that:

  • Per capita alcohol consumption has fallen by 17% since the introduction of the Licensing Act – the largest reduction in UK drinking rates since the 1930s
  • Rates of ‘binge-drinking’ have declined amongst all age groups since 2005 with the biggest fall occurring in the 16-24 age group
  • Since 2004/05, the rate of violent crime has fallen by 40%, public order offences by 9% and criminal damage by 48%
  • Accident and emergency departments as a whole report either little change or a slight fall in alcohol-related admissions since 2005
  • While total alcohol-related hospital admissions – which were rising before the introduction of the Act – have continued to rise, they are increasing at a slower rate and there has been a “statistically significant” fall in late-night traffic accidents in the last 10 years

The report concludes that: “The evidence from England and Wales contradicts the ‘availability theory’ of alcohol, which dictates that longer opening hours lead to more drinking, more drunkenness and more alcohol-related harm.

“The British experience since 2005 shows that longer opening hours do not necessarily create greater demand.”

What does this mean for the licensing sector?

The report lends important perspective to the current nature of the debate surrounding licensing laws and its conclusions run contrary to many of those put forward by those lobbying for greater controls and more restrictions on alcohol availability.

This is particularly noteworthy for companies and individuals working in the licensing sector who find their proposals for responsible licensing hours and practices blocked by opponents who automatically equate longer opening hours with increased crime, disorder and social problems.

How can Ward Hadaway help?

For further information on the issues raised by this update, or on any other aspect of licensing law, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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