James' Blog: Tackling Duty Fraud through Licensing Law

Two alcohol policy issues close to ACS’ heart are duty fraud and licensing law, and I think these are more closely linked than you might think.  Once in a while, we hear that alcohol harm is linked to the growth in the number of off licences, with responsible and irresponsible retailers lumped in together when their impact on the areas where they trade could not be more different.

To start with, it’s not true that there has been a sharp increase in the number of off licences: the fastest growth in licences since the current Licensing Act came in has been among cafés and restaurants, and there are more or less the same number of off licences per head of population as there were a decade ago – despite a significant growth in the amount of alcohol consumed in the home.  No research has found a causal link between the number of off licences and alcohol harm.

New entrants and new licences are vital for investment and jobs, but also for driving up standards.  High quality, responsible new entrants should be encouraged.  But let’s assume for a moment that we wanted to see a reduction the number of off licences, or at least their numbers to be kept at certain levels.  Many local authorities would like to have the power to adopt these policies, and they are already in place in Scotland.  How could such an outcome be achieved.

The answer to me is simple: take licences away from those involved in duty fraud.  In towns up and down the country, there are licensed retailers selling duty fraud alcohol, undercutting legitimate competitors to make illegal profits.  We need to be clear that some of these are convenience stores, and also be clear that ACS is squarely lined up against these retailers and on the side of legitimate, responsible and ethical businesses.  ACS is working with HMRC and local authorities to push for licensing powers to be used more to take away licences from these retailers.  In places like Islington and Portsmouth there are fantastic initiatives aimed at doing just this.

My point in this blog isn’t just that this should be happening more, but that taking licences off duty fraudsters would at a stroke address concerns about the number of off licences, and indeed the quality of those businesses.  Removing these licences would please ACS and responsible retailers because it would take unfair and illegal competition out of the market, and it should also please campaigners who believe (wrongly in our view, but there you go) that the number of off licences should be limited more pro-actively.

I really hope that wherever groups line up on the debate about the number of off licences, we can all commit to removing licences from duty fraudsters.

This entry was posted by Chris on Tue, 11/11/2014 - 07:37