NI licensing law

Licensing Law Explained

At the moment, things are slightly different in terms of licensing laws due to the placing and lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, but one premise of selling alcohol remains the same. This premise is that selling alcohol is only permitted from a licensed business, which we often refer to as licensed premises.

So, who can sell alcohol?

As provided by NI Business Info, in Northern Ireland, only certain premises are eligible to apply for a licence to sell alcohol. These are:

  • pubs
  • off-licences
  • hotels
  • guest houses
  • restaurants
  • conference centres certified by Tourism NI
  • higher education institutions
  • places of public entertainment (theatres, ballrooms, race tracks)
  • refreshment rooms in public transport premises (railway or bus stations, airports and harbours)
  • seamen’s canteens
  • indoor arenas
  • outdoor stadia
  • non-seagoing vessels

Further to this, there are certain conditions for each type of business. For example, licensed restaurants may only sell alcoholic beverages along with, or before or after food.

It is also important to note that businesses who are based at a road service area, garage or petrol station can’t apply to sell alcohol. This is to help reduce the temptation to drink and drive.

With consideration given to the above, you can submit an application for an occasional licence to sell alcohol away from your premises at special events. A common occurrence of when this might happen is when a local pub or restaurant may apply to sell alcohol at a food festival.

When are you allowed to sell alcohol?

In many countries around the world, there are licensing hours which businesses have to follow. For example, in Thailand, you are not permitted to sell alcohol between 11:00 – 14:00 and 17:00 – 00:00 every day. That being said, in Northern Ireland, we have our very own restrictions on when alcohol is legally allowed to be sold.

The rules in Northern Ireland not only refer to licensing laws in relation to times of the day, but also certain religious holidays.

Northern Ireland’s typical licensing laws are as follows:-

For most licensed premises, alcohol may be sold:

  • from 11:30 to 23:00 (except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas day)
  • on Good Friday from 17:00 to 23:00
  • on Christmas Day and Sundays from 12:30 to 22:00

For off-licences, alcohol may be sold:

  • from 08:00 to 23:00 (except on Sundays, Christmas Day and Easter Day)
  • on Sundays from 10:00 to 22:00

Particularly during this festive season, it is worth noting that off-licences are not permitted to open at all on Christmas Day, and this is also the case for Easter Sunday.

Who is licensed for extended hours?

Businesses who provide entertainment or refreshments in Northern Ireland, can submit an application for additional permitted hours. Examples of businesses who would typically apply for an extension of their licence would include nightclubs and concert venues.

If granted the extended licence, this would allow the business to sell alcohol after the usual licensed hours.

They would therefore be allowed to sell alcohol during these extended hours.

  • 23:00 to 01:00 on weekdays
  • 22:00 to 12:00 on Sundays (If New Year’s Eve is on a Sunday, you may sell alcohol until 01:00)

However, as many of you may know, it is worth noting that extended licensing hours do not apply on religious holidays such as Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and Good Friday.

Further to this, due to strict licensing law restrictions on Christmas Day, alcohol must not be sold beyond midnight on Christmas Eve. This applies for the day before Good Friday and the day before Easter Sunday, unless your business provides accommodation. This is due to alcohol licensing hours not applying when selling alcohol to guests who are staying overnight, so therefore alcohol can be sold at any time in hotels, inns or guesthouses.

At McPartland & Sons, our experienced solicitors have experience with licensing law disputes. If you would like to speak to a solicitor about a licensing law dispute, contact us. Alternatively, you can visit the NI Business Info website, for more licensing law details.