U.K. Bartending Licence Requirements

Continuing our series on how to be a bartender around the world, this week we’ve got the requirements for England and UK. If you missed them, here’s for Canada and the United States.

Pub culture has been a huge part of the U.K. way of life for hundreds of years, with cities teeming with everything from indie gastropubs and chic bar chains to villages with tiny pubs that can barely seat fifteen people. Over the years, and most significantly in 2005 in an effort to combat perceived ‘binge drinking’, the regulations relating to selling and consuming alcohol have been modified to reflect changes in the way society treats ‘booze’, as the Brits refer to it. The classic ‘eleven p.m. last orders’ with the ringing of the bell behind the bar and subsequent ‘closing time’ was done away with, and now many establishments stay open into the small hours, with some not closing at all.

As with the United States, licencing laws relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol are laid down by the governments of England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, the four countries which make up the United Kingdom, and differ slightly in terms of what they allow. Every single establishment in England, Wales and Scotland that wishes to sell alcohol – be it a restaurant, cinema, pub or even if you fancy converting your garage into a nightclub – must obtain a ‘Premises Licence’ from their local authority (decisions regarding the granting of licences are devolved to a county level) – Northern Ireland is more restrictive, and licences are granted by a County Court.

So where does this leave you, if you wish to work in one of these premises? What permit or certificate or training do you require if you simply want to pull pints for a living?

The simple answer: none.

The longer answer, like the county’s licencing laws, is more complex. To explain, here we’ll look at the Premises Licence, the Personal Licence, and the Designated Premises Supervisor in a little more depth.

What is a Premises Licence?

Pubs and clubs in the UK – under the old Licencing Act of 1964 – used to be required to hold a Justice Licence in order to serve alcohol to customers inside the property. The Licencing Act of 2003 (which came into force in 2005) changed all of that, and now a ‘Premises Licence’ is required if you wish to serve booze or provide ‘licensable activities’ such as selling food between the hours of eleven p.m. and five a.m. There are also a number of forms of entertainment that will require a Premises Licence, including carrying out a theatrical performance, holding a wrestling tournament, and any type of dance or live music night, even if any of the aforementioned are for charitable purposes.

The person applying for a Premises Licence must be, or appoint, a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) and have undergone the required training to hold a Personal Licence (of which more below), and this DPS will be named on the Premises Licence which must be displayed in full view within the establishment in question. These Premises Licence do not have an expiry date, but an annual fee is often charged for renewal – the costs can be anything between a £100 and £2,000 per annum, depending on what the local council decides as the ‘fee band’ (i.e. the value) of the property from which alcohol is being sold.

The police (in particular their licensing department staff) or council officers can enter the property and require you to allow them to inspect the licence and its attendant paperwork at any time. Punishments for licensing misdemeanours can be harsh: failing to produce your licence upon request will result in a fine of up to £1,000, while carrying out activities on your premises which are not covered by your licence can see you receiving a hefty fine, a prison sentence of anything up to six months, or both.

What is a Personal Licence?

A Personal Licence allows for the holder to sell alcohol from a licenced premises. Any licenced premises in the U.K., once it has its Premises Licence, must have at least one member of staff on duty who holds a Personal Licence. This means that every sale or supply of alcohol is authorised by that Personal Licence Holder (PLH). The PLH is solely responsible for the sale of alcohol in an establishment, no matter how many staff are working under them (most, if not all of whom will have no qualifications or licence). A PLH qualification means you can work and sell ‘booze’ anywhere that is licenced, including casinos, supermarkets, sports clubs and leisure parks. You must be aged eighteen or over to apply for one of these licences, and they are administered by local councils which will make you sit a multiple-choice examination known as the APLH (Award for Personal Licence Holders) where the pass mark is 70%. If you pass, stringent background checks for criminal convictions are carried out. Once this has been completed and it is clear you have no unspent convictions (for example, you are no longer carrying out community service or are not on bail for an offence), you will be granted the licence. If, however, it emerges that you have unspent convictions on your record the licencing authority will forward your application to the local police force, who can object to you be granted a Personal Licence. If this occurs, you can have a hearing in person with the licencing authority to state your case.

A Personal Licence is valid for ten years in England and Wales, while in Scotland it is ten years but the licence holder must pass a refresher course after five years in order to keep the PL. Northern Ireland allows ten years too, but is a little different in that the licence is only valid in the jurisdiction that it is granted; you cannot work a bar in the neighbouring county.

The authorities take quite a draconian view of anyone failing to comply with their regulations. For example, you must apply to the licencing authority that covers the area where you normally reside, and failure to update them with any change of personal details – such as moving out of the area – is actually a criminal offence. Also, if you are charged with any other criminal offence while designated as a PLH you are obliged to advise the court that you hold a Personal Licence at your first appearance in the dock; it is – again! – a criminal offence not to do so. Convictions after receiving your Personal Licence can mean suspension or even permanent removal of the licence.


To muddy the waters further, the UK Licencing Act 2003 stipulates that any licenced premises must have a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) who holds a valid Personal Licence and is named on the Premises Licence. This may not actually be the owner of the business or premises, but a manager or supervisor hired by the owner to run the day-to-day operations of the pub, bar or club, for example. If a licensed premises has no DPS, or if the DPS does not hold a valid personal licence, the sale and service of alcohol is not permitted in the establishment. It is important to remember that when a fully licensed premises does have a named DPS who holds a Personal Licence, it is not required for the DPS to be present at all times when alcohol is being served. As mentioned above, as long as one member of on-duty staff holds a Personal Licence then alcohol can be served.

Anybody seeking to become a DPS is subject to intense scrutiny: police can raise objections if they are concerned about an individual’s past or current behaviour or criminal record, and these matters are heard by the licensing authority to determine if the DPS application should be blocked or allowed. The licensing authority also carries out regular reviews of licensed premises and their Designated Premises Supervisors and can remove the DPS from the licence at any time.

In Summary

To sell or serve alcohol, or hold activities such as live music, a premises must have a valid Premises Licence which will name the Designated Premises Supervisor (not necessarily the owner) who will also hold a Personal Licence. The DPS does not have to be present at all times, however, as long as one member of on-duty staff holds a Personal Licence.

If all this criteria are met… it’s time to serve some booze.