Government bans below-cost alcohol sales

Legislation banning the sale of below-cost alcohol is to come into force in April, subject to Parliamentary approval, the government has announced.

The Home Office has issued guidance on the ban, which was first announced last summer following a consultation on the government’s alcohol strategy (DDN, August 2013, page 4). The announcement angered many health campaigners who had instead wanted to see a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

Below-cost sales bans are seen as an unsatisfactory compromise by organisations calling for a minimum unit price, as well as unnecessarily difficult to calculate. ‘Cost’ is defined as ‘the level of alcohol duty for a product plus value added tax payable on the duty element of the product price’, says the guidance. According to the document, a 440ml can of 4 per cent lager could not be sold for less than 41p, or a 9 per cent can for less than £1.16. A 70cl bottle of 37.5 per cent vodka, meanwhile, would cost at least £8.89 and a 750ml bottle of 12.5 per cent wine £2.41.

The government’s response to its alcohol strategy consultation also dropped plans to ban multi-buy promotions, and businesses will still be able to offer ‘buy one get one free’ deals as long as the total purchase price ‘is not below the aggregate of the duty plus VAT permitted price for each product comprised in the package’. The ban will be enforced by local authorities, trading standards officers and the police, although the guidance recommends that ‘enforcement officers only check the prices of heavily discounted alcohol products’ rather than all alcohol on sale at the premises.

‘The idea that banning below-cost sales will help tackle our problem with alcohol is laughable,’ said Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby. ‘It’s confusing and close to impossible to implement. On top of this, reports show it would have an impact on just 1 per cent of alcohol products sold in shops and supermarkets, leaving untouched most of those drinks that are so blatantly targeted at young people. The government is wasting time when international evidence shows that minimum unit pricing is what we need to save lives and cut crime.’

Guidance on banning the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT: for suppliers of alcohol and enforcement authorities in England and Wales at

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