Selling alcohol online: What licenses do you need?

While pubs and liquor shops clearly need licenses, there can be confusion over the legal requirements of selling booze online. Here's what you need to know

It’s common knowledge that any bar, pub, restaurant or brick-and-mortar shop that sells alcohol needs to hold a license to do so. But when it comes to selling alcohol online, the issue becomes more of a grey area.

Whether they’re launching a boozy e-commerce site, a spirits subscription service or a gift site offering alcoholic treats as add-ons, entrepreneurs frequently find themselves confused about the rules and regulations that come with selling tipples over the internet.

Much like selling from a physical premises, selling alcohol online does require legal permission in the form of licenses – it’s a highly regulated product, after all. But which licenses do you need, and how do you get hold of them? Read on for all you need to know…

The licenses needed to sell alcohol online

In order to legally retail alcohol on the web, you’ll need a personal license and a premises license.

A personal license grants you permission to manage and sell alcohol, while a premises license names your business premises as a place where the dispatch of alcohol can legally take place. NB: you will need both in order to proceed with your business.

Getting a personal license

To get a personal license, you’ll need to undertake a short training course and gain a licensing qualification, such as the Award for Personal License Holders.

Once you’ve done this, you can apply for a personal license through the licensing department of your local authority/council (be wary that they won’t grant you a license if you’re under 18 or have a relevant criminal conviction).

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Getting a premises license

Next, you’ll need to apply for a premises license from your local authority/council. A premises license can be granted to any fixed commercial property where the handling and dispatch of alcohol is taking place – including warehouses, storage facilities, shop floors and more.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to run an online alcohol business from your house as local authorities don’t tend to grant licenses to domestic dwellings. An outbuilding on your land, however, could be given a license – as long as it has the relevant planning permission to operate as a commercial premises.

Along with your application form, you’ll need to submit a floorplan of your premises which highlights the areas where alcohol will be kept and handled.

As part of your application, you’ll need to describe how your business will comply with the four licensing objectives. These are:

  1. Prevention of crime and disorder
  2. Prevention of public nuisance
  3. Protection of children from harm
  4. Public safety

Objectives one, two and four are more relevant to businesses whose customers visit them on-premises, such as pubs, bars and shops, but you can still implement rules such as responsible business hours and a limit on how much any one customer can buy at a time – doing your bit to minimise any potentially harmful drunkenness.

When it comes to point three, though, you’ll need to be extra vigilant as it’ll fall under your responsibility to ensure you don’t sell alcohol to underage customers (more on that below).

Once you have your premises license, as the personal license holder you’ll need to take up the helm of the Designated Premises Supervisor; responsible for making sure all alcohol is handled, held and sold lawfully. You’ll be the first point of contact for authorities such as the police.

As your business grows, you may need other members of staff to also get a personal license and share this responsibility.

License fees

Be wary that when applying for licenses you’ll need to pay application fees, which will be based on the rateable value of your business premises.

It’s also worth making sure you’re prepared for annual licensing fees, which your authority will charge each year so you can keep your licenses.

Complying with UK law

It’s not enough to just hold the correct licenses – you must also make sure your business is constantly trading in compliance with the law surrounding selling alcohol online. The key piece of legislation you’ll need to keep an eye on is ensuring you don’t sell to under-18s.

At the very least, you’ll need to have an over-18 declaration on your website, and ask for the customer to verify their age at the point of purchase. You might also be required to have your delivery drivers ask for ID when they deliver the package.

Check with your local authority to find out the specifics of what they’ll require from you.