Posted: Mon 14th Aug 2023
Pubs, bars and restaurants in England and Wales can continue to serve takeaway drinks without applying for an extra licence after the government decided to not end rules introduced during the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of efforts to support hospitality businesses during lockdown, changes were made in July 2020 that permitted firms to serve drinks for consumption off site without getting permission from their local council.
The action meant companies could continue to trade when people couldn't enter the premises and it has acted as an extra source of revenue post-pandemic for businesses struggling with rising costs.
The rules were extended twice but after a consultation, the government announced that they would finally expire on 30 September.
However, that decision has now been reversed and takeaway drinks can continue to be served without an off-sales licence until March 2025.
Government data estimates that between 8,500 and 12,800 premises could decide to continue to serve takeaway drinks.
The consultation on whether to extend the rules received only 174 responses from licensing authorities, trade organisations and residents' groups, although the majority backed a return to the pre-pandemic system and the government announced the ending of the regulations.
But industry bodies criticised the plan.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said the "disappointing" decision meant pubs faced a "lengthy application and approval processes" to continue takeaway sales.
BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin told the BBC:
"We need the government to support our pubs and allow them to diversify and innovate, not hold them back with more red tape and unnecessary regulation.
Mike Kill from the Night Time Industries Association also criticised the action, telling the BBC he was "slightly bemused" as the rules have helped to create a "more cosmopolitan or cafe-style" environment at licensed premises.
With the relaxed rules no longer being scrapped, a Downing Street source told The Sun that prime minister Rishi Sunak had "listened to the industry and heard them loud and clear; now is not the time to call last orders on takeaway pints and the boost to business that they bring".
McClarkin welcomed the news but said more needs to be done to help pubs:
"This was a measure introduced to support our pubs during difficult times and the prime minister must recognise that these businesses are still under immense pressure," she told LBC.
"Alongside the easing of unnecessary regulation, we need a guarantee on no further duty rises, meaningful reform of business rates and for the government to get inflation under control as soon as possible."
New alcohol duties
The u-turn on the takeaway rules follows the introduction of a new system of alcohol duties earlier this month. It includes an 11p cut for draught pints of beer, but higher duty for other products such as still wine, vodka, sherry and port.
Despite the increases, Sunak said the changes "simplify the duty system, to reduce the price of a pint" and "back British pubs".