Alcohol licensing in the UK

There are around 50,000 pubs in England. Nicknamed the “local” they are a real institution in the UK where everybody meets for a drink.

However, opening and managing one isn’t without constraints. In the same way that a restaurant can’t just be opened anywhere (see our guide on class of use), you cannot open a bar overnight without authorization.

The sale of alcohol, like other activities that may be considered dangerous, is strictly regulated in the United Kingdom. You have to show your credentials before you can serve a pint or a bottle of wine. This is what is called licensing.

Licensing includes all the required standards relating to activities open to the public which may be considered dangerous such as concerts, or any event or place selling alcohol to the public. Like many regulations in the UK, the law is laid down by central government but everything happens at the council level.

How to apply for a license authorizing the sale of alcohol?

Note first that in the UK an alcohol license is attached to the premises rather than the company. It’s therefore the location that will influence the request for an alcohol license. This is what is called “premises license”. This premise license is different to the personal license which is assigned to an individual who will be the DPS (Designated Premises Supervisor). When applying for an alcohol license it is mandatory to provide the identity of the DPS.

One therefore has to apply to the council in which the premises are located for a new license.

The main documents to provide are as follows:

  • Application form

This is the main part of the file. You will need to fill in the main information relating to the place and the activities you wish to carry out. It will also be important to demonstrate how you will ensure that the risk prevention objectives (licensing objectives) are achieved.

  • Plan of the premises

The plan is important because it will precisely delimit the places where alcohol can be consumed and under what conditions (not all areas are subjected to the same rules). Don’t forget to mention the terrace if there is one.

  • Fees

The license application fee will be partly linked to the rateable value (see our guide on business rates and rateable value). For a small establishment, the cost of the license will be approximately £300

  • Identity of the DPS

No request will be approved without the identification of a Designated Premises Supervisor who will be responsible for the application of this person must hold a personal license (see below).

In addition to the documents to be sent to the council, it will be necessary to notify the neighbourhood about the license application. It’s possible to oppose a licensing request if you have sufficient grounds to do so. The notification is often done in 2 ways: displaying a blue card on the front of the premises and publishing an article in a local newspaper (there again, it is important to ask the council).

Particular applications also have a notification deadline. It is necessary to leave a consultation period of at least 28 days to allow time for people who may oppose your application to raise their objections, otherwise the application could become null and void.

How is the decision made?

Once the application has been sent to the council and to the various competent authorities (police, firefighters, etc.), the licensing committee will meet to examine the request and make a decision.

In most cases, if this is a standard application (both in terms of activities and schedules, i.e. until 11 p.m.), the file should by and large automatically be accepted even if the license often comes with conditions. For example, the police could ask for a CCTV system to be operational. For some restaurants it’s also possible that the consumption of alcohol is only authorized if the customer is seated and having a meal.

However it may not be quite so simple either because of a strong local opposition, or because the establishment is located in a Cumulative Impact Zone. Each council will draw its own licensing policy and some councils may become concerned with too high a concentration of outlets selling alcohol. The sale of alcohol can indeed cause many problems, in particular violence and vandalism. To prevent this kind of risk, councils can therefore designate areas where the official position will be by default to block any new license application. It is then up to the license applicant to prove that its activities will not be detrimental to the objectives of the licensing. This will be done by persuading a special committee with no guarantee of success…

It is therefore essential when looking for premises to make sure that they are not located in one of these areas. If that’s the case, be fully aware and introduce a suspension clause in the negotiation of the lease. Getting support in this process is therefore more than necessary!

Can a license be transferred?

The answer is yes. The restaurant market is very active in London and there are plenty of real estate transactions. In most cases, selling a restaurant is done through a lease transfer or lease assignment (for more information, see our guide to restaurant purchases).

It is then common to transfer the license to the new occupant of the premises (as the license is attached to the place, it is impossible to buy it and transfer it to other premises). For this, the former occupant must give his agreement but this is often a formality in the context of the lease assignment.

The transfer of license can be a considerable stake in particular for establishments that have a late night license. As we have seen previously, obtaining an alcohol license until 11 p.m. is quite common. On the other hand, having the authorization to sell alcohol until the early hours of the morning is much rarer and therefore much more expensive. To get your hands on one of them expect to see premiums inflate by several hundred thousands of pounds.

How to get a personal license?

As previously explained, it is necessary to have a personal license in order to be the Designated Premises Supervisor of an outlet selling alcohol. Note, however, that it’s possible to be the manager or owner of a restaurant without having this license. All that’s required is for the DPS to have it.

Obtaining a personal license is not too complicated. Like many administrative tasks, this is mostly a box-ticking exercise. In order to obtain your personal license, you will need:

  • The duly completed application form
  • An accreditation from a specialized training organization. This is a short course that is fairly easy to obtain. The list of accredited training centres is here
  • 2 passport photos
  • A criminal record check
  • An application fee of £37
  • Proof of right of residence in the UK


Obtaining an alcohol license is in theory not difficult.

However, it is important to emphasize that each situation is different and that sometimes all it takes is a small oversight or poor document analysis to derail an application.

Don’t underestimate the time it takes either. Between firstly qualifying for the personal license, the public notification period, the back and forth with the licensing committee and a possible appeal, several months can quickly pass by and thus jeopardize your launch schedule…

And when you know the importance of alcohol sales in the profitability of a restaurant, it seems essential not to take any risk at this level and instead to let yourself be guided.

Should it be for the creation or the purchase of a restaurant and to benefit from personalized support, don’t hesitate to contact us. French Touch Commercial is at your side!