Guide to Licensing for your Business

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

What is a business licence?

When you are setting up a business, an important requirement to satisfy is whether your business needs a licence. In the UK, certain types of businesses require certain licences in order to operate legally. The most common businesses needing licensing are those that involve gambling, the sale and or supply of alcohol and tobacco, or the provision of entertainment.

Alcohol licensing

The businesses and organisations that need alcohol licences may include:

  • Pubs and bars;

  • Cinemas;

  • Theatres;

  • Nightclubs;

  • Late-opening cafes;

  • Takeaways;

  • Village and community halls; and

  • Supermarkets.

1. Any business or organisation that sells or supplies alcohol on a permanent basis needs to apply for a premises licence.

2. Any individual who plans to sell or supply alcohol or authorise the sale or supply of alcohol is required to apply for a personal licence.

3. Qualifying members’ clubs (e.g. the Royal British Legion, working men’s clubs and sports clubs) must apply for a club premises certificate if they plan to sell or supply alcohol.

Completed application forms for these licenses must be sent to your local council, along with the fee. You may also need to send copies of your form (depending on the type of application you are making) to other ‘responsible authorities’.

Responsible authorities

  • Police;

  • Local fire and rescue;

  • Primary Care Trust (PCT) or local health board (LHB);

  • The relevant licensing authority;

  • Local enforcement agency for the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974;

  • Environmental health authority;

  • Planning authority;

  • Body responsible for the protection of children from harm;

  • Local trading standards;

  • Any other licensing authority in whose area part of the premises is situated; and

  • Home Office Immigration Enforcement (on behalf of the Secretary of State).

Licence fees under the Licensing Act 2003

Licence fees are set out in the Licensing Act 2003 (Fees) Regulations 2005. The fees paid in respect of applications for new premises licences and club premises certificates; applications for full variations to premises licences and club premises certificates; and annual fees in respect of premises licences and club premises certificates vary depending on the national non-domestic rateable value (NNDR) “band” of the premises. Your rateable value can be found on the Valuation Office Agency website. Premises that are exempt from non-domestic rating are allocated to Band A. Premises that do not have a NNDR because they are under construction are allocated to Band C. An additional fee may be payable for large scale events, comprising of 5,000 or more people due to attend an event at a venue that is not purpose-built.

1. Premises Licence

All businesses and organisations undertaking licensable activities on a permanent basis must have a premises licence from their local authority. This licence authorises the use of the premises.

Premises are defined in the Licensing Act 2003 as a vehicle, vessel or moveable structure or any place or a part of any premises. Licensable activities include:

Sale or supply of alcohol

The retail sale of alcohol or the supply of alcohol by or on behalf of a club.

Regulated entertainment

Regulated entertainment in the presence of an audience (whether members of the public or a club), or otherwise for profit, and the premises have the purpose of providing the entertainment concerned. It may include:

  • a performance of a play, a dance or live music;

  • the playing of recorded music;

  • an exhibition of a film; and

  • an indoor sporting event.

Late night refreshment

Late night refreshment is the sale of hot food or drink to the public between 11pm and 5am to consume off or on the premises. For further information, see Schedule 2 to the Licensing Act 2003.

2. Personal Licence

A personal licence allows the individual to sell alcohol on behalf of any business that has a premises licence or a club premises certificate. To be eligible to apply, you must be 18 years or over, and you must obtain an accredited licensing qualification first - for example, the BIIAB Level 2 Award for Personal Licence Holders or a similar accredited qualification. This is to ensure you are aware of licensing law and the wider social responsibilities that comes with the sale of alcohol.

Anyone who does not hold a personal licence must be authorised to sell alcohol by a personal licence holder.

Premises licensed to sell alcohol must have a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS), who holds a personal licence. Only community premises that have successfully applied to waive the DPS requirement under section 41D(3) Licensing Act 2003 are exempt. You are also not required to have a personal licence to be employed in a pub or other business that sells alcohol.

Designated Premises Supervisor

This person will act as primary contact for local government and the police. They do not need to be on site all the time but must be always contactable. They must understand the social issues that accompany the sale of alcohol, and also have a good enough understanding of the business itself to be elected as representative. Due to the grave impact alcohol has on the wider community, crime and disorder and anti-social behaviour, the sale of alcohol carries greater responsibility than other licensable activities.

3. Club Premises Certificate

Members’ clubs can operate under club premises certificates instead of premises licences.

This relieves them of the obligation to have a DPS, and the sale of alcohol does not need to be authorised by a personal licence holder.

To be classified as a club for the purpose of this certificate, a group must satisfy:

  • legitimacy - each applicant must be a real club with at least 25 members;

  • a membership process conducted for at least two days between application and acceptance;

  • no alcohol is supplied on the premises other than by the club; and

  • alcohol is purchased legally by a committee made up of members all of whom are at least 18 years old.

Applications are made by post or alternatively, online if your council accepts electronic applications.

Temporary events

If you are organising a temporary event where you will serve or sell alcohol, provide late night refreshment, or put on regulated entertainment, you will need to complete a temporary event notice (TEN). A TEN is defined as, a relatively small-scale event for fewer than 500 people and lasting no more than 168 hours.

TEN applications can be made online.

Mandatory licensing conditions include:

The sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT is banned under The Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Conditions) order 2014.

Further mandatory conditions are set out in the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) (Amendment) Order 2014:

  • A ban on irresponsible promotions such as drinking games, rewards for consumption, or free and discounted provision of alcohol that poses significant risk to social factors (the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, public nuisance, and the protection of children from harm);

  • Provision of free potable (drinking) water is mandatory;

  • An age verification policy must apply to the premises; and

  • The mandatory provision of smaller measures - making the customer aware the drinks are available in smaller quantity.

Entertainment Licensing

Businesses, organisations and individuals who wish to provide various types of entertainment may require a licence or authorisation from a licensing authority – e.g. a local council authority. Occasions where you may need a licence include:

1. Music entertainment

A licence is not required to stage a live music performance, nor the playing of recorded music if the event occurs:

  • between 8AM and 11PM;

  • at an alcohol on-licensed premises; and

  • the audience is no more than 500 people.

You also don’t need a licence:

  • to put on unamplified live music at any place between the same hours; or

  • to put on amplified live music at a workplace between the same hours to an audience of no more than 500 people.

In other circumstances, a licence may be required. One licence application can cover all types of regulated entertainment and the sale or supply of alcohol.

There are exemptions from the need for a licence for music entertainment, including for:

  • places of public worship, village halls, church halls and other similar buildings;

  • schools;

  • hospitals;

  • local authority premises; and

  • incidental music - music that is incidental to other activities that aren’t classed as regulated entertainment.

2. Film screening

A licence is needed to screen a film or exhibit moving pictures. A licence may be required to show a film:

  • in public; and

  • or in private, if those attending are charged for entry and the intention is to make a profit, including raising money for charity.

Please note that the licensing of entertainment under the Licensing Act 2003 is a separate matter from copyright authorisation to show films in public.

One licence application can cover all types of regulated entertainment and the sale or supply of alcohol.

There are exemptions from the need for a licence for film entertainment, including for:

  • places of public worship, village halls, church halls and other similar buildings;

  • education;

  • incidental film – moving pictures that are incidental to other activities that aren’t classed as regulated entertainment; and

  • television broadcasts.