FT - Robert Botkai partner Winckworth Sherwood

One of the many changes we have seen during the 18 months of Covid restrictions is a huge expansion in delivery services.

Those of us working from home have taken advantage of this, ordering everything from groceries to garden sheds. Only today, a delivery driver with a cherry tree arrived at my front door.

Petrol retailers have entered this new market too, either delivering their own goods or entering into partnerships with a third-party delivery company (TPDC). Add into the mix the emergence of specialist delivery companies operating out of so-called ‘dark stores’ and we have one of the fastest new markets any of us can recall.

So how does the law deal with the delivery of alcohol?

The law

A premises licence is required for the retail sale of alcohol.

The sale takes place when the alcohol is appropriated to the contract.

In the online sales context this usually means when alcohol is set aside for delivery, not when the order is placed, and not at the point of delivery. The sale must take place on licensed premises and much to my irritation, we are not being asked to licence every doorstep in the UK!

The licence will specify whether the sales authorised are for consumption on (pubs, bars and restaurants) or off (supermarkets, petrol stations) the premises.

The licence will always include the following mandatory condition:

“The premises licence holder must adopt an age-verification policy in relation to the sale or supply of alcohol. The policy must require individuals who appear to the ‘responsible person’ to be under 18 years of age (or older if specified in the policy) to produce on request, before being served alcohol, identification bearing their photograph, date of birth and either a holographic mark or an ultra-violet feature.”

Most retailers adopt the Challenge 25 policy.

A ‘responsible person’ means:

(i) The holder of a premises licence in respect of the premises;

(ii) The designated premises supervisor (DPS) (if any) under such a licence; or

(iii) Any individual aged 18 or over who is authorised for the purpose by the licence holder or DPS.

The premises licence must name a designated premises supervisor (DPS), who in turn is a personal licence holder

The DPS is legally obliged to ensure that the premises licence holder’s age- verification policy is implemented.

So, let’s look at two scenarios

1. Retailer’s staff deliver the alcohol:

Here the licence holder is in control of the purchase and supply (the delivery).

The retailer must carry out a robust age check of the customer when the order is placed and ensure that delivery staff are trained to implement the retailer’s age- verification policy at the doorstep.

2. Retailer partners with a TPDC:

The retailer licence holder is responsible for ensuring that the TPDC implements the retailer’s age policy.

Is a licence variation required in order to deliver alcohol?

In most cases no. The premises licence will authorise off sales and very few licences will restrict delivery. This is because most pre-date the expansion of the delivery sector. You should check your licences for specific conditions that restrict delivery.

Can liability be transferred to the TPDC?

I have been asked this repeatedly over the last few months and the answer is “no”. The TPDC will likely make it clear that it is not in the business of selling alcohol. It acts as agent for you, the retailer, in simply delivering the alcohol.


The market has outpaced the legislation. However, it is apparent that there is potential for offences to occur. It is important to check the conditions of your licence before embarking on a delivery service and ensure that, if you are partnering with a TPDC, they commit to comply with your licence conditions and your age verification policy.


I would very much welcome feedback and suggestions on these issues or any areas you would like me to cover in future articles. See below for contact details.