Pubs shouldn't turn into off-licences, supermarkets free to sell alcohol

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Lockdown rules: "pubs and other hospitality venues cannot serve alcohol to takeaway to discourage people from gathering outside their premises," a Government spokesperson says.
Lockdown rules: "pubs and other hospitality venues cannot serve alcohol to takeaway to discourage people from gathering outside their premises," a Government spokesperson says.

Related tags: lockdown, coronavirus, Alcohol, Beer

The Government has said pubs should not try to “repurpose” themselves so they can sell alcohol to customers on-site while supermarkets face no additional rules.

Under the laws of England’s third lockdown, pubs are not allowed to sell alcohol via takeaway, click-and-collect or drive-through. Alcohol can only be delivered to fixed addresses.

Organisations including UKHospitality and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) have pressed the Government to reverse this decision and allow pubs to generate some income from alcohol sales.

However, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) explained that the ban was to discourage customers gathering outside venues, when pressed by The Morning Advertiser (MA). 

“Public health and safety remains our number one priority," a Government spokesperson said.

"Pubs and other hospitality venues cannot serve alcohol to takeaway to discourage people from gathering outside their premises, but they can sell alcohol as part of delivery services.

"They should not attempt to repurpose themselves as shops or off-licenses in order to circumvent these restrictions."

People can only leave their homes for essential shopping, exercise and other limited reasons during the lockdown, which is to be reviewed in mid-February. 

Scapegoated again

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls previously said the Government appeared to have not considered that lockdown-breachers could also buy alcohol at supermarkets.

“Takeaway alcohol sales are unlikely to have constituted a huge revenue stream, but they will undoubtedly have been a valuable lifeline for some venues," she said. "That lifeline is now being strangled, making survival even harder for lots of businesses.

"If the Government’s intention is to discourage people congregating outdoors, there doesn’t seem to be too much logic in it.

"Arguably, people will just go to supermarkets or off licences and buy cans or bottles, while stock in closed pubs goes to waste and compounds pubs’ losses. This does seem to be another example of hospitality being scapegoated, yet again.”

The MA's ​editor Ed Bedington said the move was further evidence of pubs being scapegoated throughout the pandemic. 

“People who are determined to meet up with their friends at minus one in the street are going to do that regardless,” he added.

Unfair rules

CAMRA has asked consumers to write to their MPs about the ban while other trade organisations said they were pushing the Government to change its mind.

British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Supermarkets and off-licences can still sell alcohol, so it is grossly unfair that pubs with off-licences now cannot sell takeaway beer."

“Especially as pubs have no other revenue source right now. We are writing to the Government requesting them to reverse the ban as a matter of urgency."

Partner at licensing solictors Poppleston Allen, Andy Grimsey, shared his thoughts: "As the amended lockdown regulations expressly remove the ability to provide take-away of alcohol for pubs and bars it doesn’t appear legal under the regulations to ‘repurpose’ as an off-licence, nor does it seem in line with the spirit of the new lockdown restrictions, whether you agree with them or not.

"Previously pubs and bars could trade as de facto off-licences, but that option has been removed."

The Government's spokesperson added: “We recognise these are extremely challenging circumstances facing pubs and the hospitality industry, which is why we have put in place one of the most comprehensive and generous packages of business support in the world, which includes grants, various loan schemes, a business rates holiday as well as the extended furlough scheme.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced one-off grants for pubs, with sums of £4,000, £6,000 and £9,000 available depending on a site's rateable value. 

However, the hospitality sector has said more support - such as an extension on the business rates holiday and VAT cut - is needed​ to help pubs weather the tough closure period ahead.

Related topics: Beer, Licensing law, Legislation

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