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Minimum unit pricing for Alcohol in Scotland

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17 April 2018: The long-awaited minimum unit pricing is due to come into effect on 1 May 2018

Scottish Ministers have confirmed that a minimum price of 50p per unit for all alcoholic drinks is what they have proposed to be introduced by the Scottish Parliament from this date.

Minimum pricing is a new mandatory condition of a Premises Licence and Occasional Licence in Scotland, so will apply to all businesses, organisations and persons required to hold premises or occasional licence in Scotland. This applies to both newsagents and supermarkets selling alcohol for consumption off the premises and also to pubs, clubs and restaurants for drinking on the premises.

It is further intended by the Scottish Parliament that there will be no period of grace allowed for operators to comply with the minimum unit pricing and so all operators from 1 May 2018 must be selling alcohol for the correct price. For example, with a minimum unit price of 50p a 700ml bottle of vodka with an ABV of 37.5% would have a minimum price of £13.13 and a 750ml bottle of wine with an ABV of 12.5% would have a minimum price of £4.69.

The guidance can be found on the Government website but we have taken out the main points to consider especially for operators of pubs and restaurants selling alcohol for drinking on the premises and set these out below.

Inclusive drinks

Licensed premises can continue to run promotions in hotels and restaurants (provided they are not classed as irresponsible promotions) for example a free bottle of champagne with a hotel room or a drink included in the price of a table meal. However the premises will need to ensure that the minimum price of the alcoholic product in question is included in the overall price of the promotion for example where a pub offers a table meal with a pint (568ml) at 4% beer included in the price the total cost of the table meal must not be below the minimum price of the beer (£1.42).

Complimentary drinks

Free drinks provided on an ad-hoc basis, for instance, those offered as compensation for late food service do not count as sales because the customer has not paid for the drink.

How will prices be rounded?

For example, if the minimum price of a bottle of spirits (700ml) with an ABV of 37.5% is £13.125 the price would not be £13.12 (rounding down) it would be £13.13 (rounded up).

For more information please contact our Alcohol & Entertainment Licensing team on 01332 340 211.

15 November 2017: Scotland to introduce a minimum price for alcohol

UK Supreme Court rejects a challenge by the Scottish Whisky Association and rules that Scotland can introduce a 50p per unit minimum price for alcohol.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal and ruled that the legislation did not breach European Union Law and that minimum pricing is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Their judgment said minimum pricing targeted “the health hazards of cheap alcohol and the groups most affected in a way that an increase in excise or VAT does not.” The judges confirmed that any increase in tax would impact all alcohol and not just the cheap, strong alcohol which is the focus of the legislation.

The legislation would result in the cheapest bottle of red wine being £4.69, a 1-litre bottle of 5% cider being £2.50 and a 70cl bottle of whisky being at least £14.00.

Ministers are now expected to make Scotland the first country in the world to establish a minimum price for alcohol, and it will be interesting to see if England and Wales, along with other countries, will now follow.

For more information please contact our Alcohol & Entertainment Licensing team on 01332 340 211.

04 January 2016: Scotland to introduce a minimum price for alcohol

As anticipated the European Court of Justice has now released its decision regarding minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland. In line with Advocate General Bot’s indication, they have decided that the Scottish Government’s proposal for minimum unit pricing of alcohol is contrary to European Law when other tax options are available. Their recommendation is that rather than introducing a minimum unit price alternative tax measures should be explored.

Their view was that the effects of the Scottish Legislation were to significantly restrict the market but that this may be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit. The case will now be referred back to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The European Court of Justice has said that a fiscal measure increasing the taxation of alcoholic drinks is liable to be less restrictive than minimum pricing.

In their ruling, the Judges concluded that a minimum price would constitute an obstacle to the free movement of goods, but that such a measure may be justified on health protection grounds only if it is proportionate to the objective pursued.

The Scottish Government wanted to introduce minimum pricing as a way of combating excessive drinking and alcohol-related health issues in Scotland. The difficulty Scotland have with this decision is that Holyrood does not have the power to raise taxes on alcohol as this is an ability reserved for Westminster alone.

For more information please contact our Alcohol & Entertainment Licensing team on 01332 340 211.

07 September 2015: Initial Ruling by Europe’s Highest Court on the Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in Scotland

The legislation was passed in Scotland in 2012 which set a minimum unit price of alcohol at 50p. It has now been stated in an official opinion by the European Court that it would be legal if it could be shown no other mechanism could deliver the desired public health benefits. The opinion has been welcomed by Scotland’s First Minister, who has said it confirms that minimum unit pricing was not precluded by EU law. The Scottish Government has argued for some time that minimum pricing is vital to address Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with a drink but has been unable to implement a minimum pricing policy whilst this legal process remains ongoing.

The opinion of the European Court states that minimum unit pricing risks infringing the principle of the free movement of goods and would only be legal if it can be shown that no other mechanism is capable of achieving the desired result of protecting public health. They state that member states can choose rules imposing a minimum retail price of alcoholic beverages which restrict trade within the European Union and distort competition, rather than increase taxation of those products, only on condition that it shows that the measure chosen presents additional advantages or fewer disadvantages by comparison with the alternative measure.

It is expected that the European Court will take up to six months to issue its final ruling before the case can be referred back to the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The Scotch Whisky Association has also welcomed the opinion, stating that the opinion encourages them in their long-held view that minimum unit pricing is illegal when there are less trade restrictive measures available.

For more information please contact our Alcohol & Entertainment Licensing team on 01332 340 211.

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