The Licensing Act 2003 is the act which governs licensable activities within the UK. The aim of the act is to provide a comprehensive framework which covers all licensable activities, which includes regulating the sale and supply of alcohol, the provision of entertainment, and the provision of late night refreshment. It also covers offences relating to alcohol and other connected purposes.

Provision of licenses for licensable activities within the United Kingdom was originally handled by Magistrates in the Magistrates court. However, the system was complicated and archaic. Due to the passing of the Licensing Act 2003, permissions to carry out these activities are now handled by a single document, called a premises licence, and are handled by local councils.

The benefit of allowing local councils to deal with licensing issues is that local councils will be able to provide licences that are appropriate for their locality. The detriment is that it may prove harder to obtain premises licences within certain areas. This is due to the fact that different local authorities will have different interpretations of the Licensing Act 2003, or will have different local circumstances.

Naturally, this will affect the way that events can be run, in addition to exactly where events can be run.

Licensable Activities

There are several activities which are licensable under the law. These are (under s.1 of the Licensing Act 2003):

1. Sale by retail of alcohol
2. Supply of alcohol to a member of a club
3. Provision of regulated entertainment
4. Provision of late night refreshment

There are many policy reasons why these activities are licensed in the United Kingdom. Primarily, there are concerns about alcohol related crime and disorder, safety of members of the public, prevention of noise and other nuisance, and the protection of children.

Although the first two are reasonably self-explanatory, regulated entertainment and provision of late night refreshment requires some interpretation. Luckily, the Licensing Act 2003 provides some definitions.

Provision of Late Night Refreshment

Under Schedule 2 of the Licensing Act 2003, the provision of late night refreshment is defined as where a person, between the hours of 11:00pm and 05:00am., supplies , or is willing to supply, hot food or drink to members of the public, or a section of the public, on or from any premises, whether consumed on the premises or not.

Food is considered hot when it is above ambient temperature (naturally, this is as variable as is the weather!)

Regulated Entertainment

Regulated Entertainment is defined under Schedule 1 of the Licensing Act 2003. Regulated entertainment is where the entertainment takes place in the presence of an audience and is provided for the purpose, or for purposes which include the purpose, of entertaining that audience.

It includes:
1. Performance of a play
2. An exhibition of a film
3. An indoor sporting event
4. A boxing or wrestling entertainment
5. Live music
6. Any playing of recorded music
7. Performance of dance
8. Similar entertainment to live music, recorded music, or performance of dance (including karaoke)

The ambit for regulated entertainment is clearly quite wide. However, there are some exemptions and it is these exemptions which event organisers will need to be very wary of because local councils vary greatly in their interpretation of the relevant provisions.

As such, borderline cases that may be considered an exemption on one area may not be considered as such in another. You should always check well in advance with local councils whilst planning your event so as to ensure that relevant licences are obtained where necessary.

The exemptions are:
1. Films for the purpose of
a. Advertisement
b. Information
c. Education
2. Museums and art galleries
3. Any entertainment in a church
4. Private parties, including wedding receptions
5. Garden fetes
6. Incidental music (where music is played on site, but it is not the main attraction)
7. Morris dancers
8. Vehicles in motion, such as carnival floats

There are a few clear elements here which are open to interpretation by councils. For example, is a small scale park event a fete, and hence not regulated entertainment, or is it regulated?

Key points to take away

• The breadth of licensable activities: You should be aware of exactly what it is you’re doing, and whether or not it needs to be licensed.
• If it is licensed: Is it open to interpretation?
• If it is open to interpretation: Phone the local council where you wish you host your event, only they can tell you their interpretation. Never assume!
• If it isn’t open to interpretation: Phone the local council anyway. Tell them what you’re planning; let them tell you if there are any problems. Never assume!
• Ambient temperature is a strange concept – as it depends entirely on the weather. Always remember health and safety in food preparation and whether or not that will affect licensing!
• Last, and most importantly: Always. Phone. The. Council! Never assume! Have I already said that?

Where your event provides a licensable activity, you will need to obtain a premises license or a temporary events notice. These will be covered in the next piece.


Craig Ineson is a law graduate of the University of Liverpool, current student of international business law at master’s level, a passionate restaurant reviewer, and experienced content writer.
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