Licensing Law in England and Wales

Licensing Act 2003

The Licensing Act 2003 established a system of licensing for the sale and supply of alcohol, the provision of entertainment to the public and the provision of late-night refreshment in England and Wales.

Alcohol licensing is a devolved matter and as such, the 2003 Act only relates to England and Wales.  Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own Acts of Parliament that regulate licensable activities:

Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005

Licensing Act (Northern Ireland) 2016

The key features of the 2003 Act (applicable in England and Wales only) are:

  • A single licensing system for the off- and on-trades, public entertainment, late-night refreshment and registered clubs;
  • Local Authorities are responsible for administering the licensing system;
  • There are different types of authorisation including:
  • a premises licence
  • a personal licence
  • a temporary event notice
  • Licensees can choose the opening hours they wish to apply for; and
  • Licensees and Local authorities must promote the licensing objectives.


The WSTA has created a member ‘Guide to Licensing in England and Wales’ which includes in-depth advice on how to apply for licenses, information for wholesalers and distance sellers, information when holding tasting or temporary events as well as information on early morning restriction orders and how to prevent underage sales.  This guide is available free to members.

As part of our aim to minimise unnecessary burdens on business, the WSTA continues to liaise with government on proposed changes to the Act (or associated guidance to the Act) to ensure that they recognise that the vast majority of businesses trade responsibly and any changes that are needed, focus on businesses that deliberately flout the law.

WSTA members initiatives tackling underage drinking

WSTA members have been at the forefront of initiatives to boost compliance with licensing laws, particularly in the area of underage sales.  In association with our retailer members, the WSTA created the Challenge 25 scheme which has been widely adopted by retailers in the UK.  Challenge 25 is a retailing strategy that encourages anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to carry acceptable ID (a card bearing the PASS hologram, a photographic driving license or a passport) if they wish to buy alcohol.  It has proved to be an effective tool to tackle underage purchases.  Many retailers are also working in partnership with local authorities through Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAPs) to tackle issues related to underage sales.

More information on Challenge 25 and CAPs is available on our Retail of Alcohol Standards page or by visiting the RASG website.

Guidance on the Licensing Act 2003 is available on the Home Office website.