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Pubs And The Law - Pub Heritage

Pub law and order

For centuries government has tried to control where and when alcohol is sold, and more recently, to whom. We have tried to give a simple account below of the current law and some fascinating facts about how we got here.

"Licensed to Sell: Licensee's name must must be displayed at the entrance to licensed premises"

Opening Hours

"24hr opening?"
The Licensing Act 2003 was designed to simplify and update existing legislation, some of which was drawn up in the 14th century. The Act, which came into force on 24th November 2005, covers all licensed premises, although we are concerned only with how it affects pubs.

The Act transferred the licensing responsibility from Justices to Local Authorities, which are ‘democratically accountable’. This was a significant change and not altogether welcomed by the pub trade.

Under the act pubs can apply to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provided there are no objections from residents or local businesses, the licence will be granted. In reality few have applied and even fewer have been granted, only 0.5% of all licences. A pub with a 24 hour licence does not have to open 24 hours, it just has the flexibility to do so.

Despite what you might read in the press about 24 hour licenses, most pubs have not changed their opening hours. Most open at 11am or 12 noon and close at 11pm, some in towns have shifted their hours to open and close an hour later, from 12 noon to 12 midnight. Some now stay open later on Fridays and Saturdays, usually until midnight or 1am. All our entries have opening hours listed but these may change without notice.

Be aware that many country pubs close in the afternoon for a few hours, usually from 3pm until 6pm, 7pm on Sundays. City of London pubs often close early in the evening, particularly on Fridays and remain closed over the weekend. Some pubs near London's markets are open from around 5am but close mid morning. If you are making a special effort to visit a pub please confirm their opening hours in advance.

Age Restrictions

There have been few material changes to the law on drinking ages, just some tweaking to close loopholes or to provide clarification on grey areas. To purchase or consume alcohol in a pub you must be at least 18 years old; some city pubs, clubs and bars, set their own entry age, usually 21 years old. If you look under 25 don't be surprised if you are asked for I.D.

Under 16’s can go into pubs but ONLY if the management allows it and they MUST be accompanied by an adult, that is a person at least 18 years old.

16 and 17 year olds can drink alcohol (beer, cider or wine) with a table meal, usually in a restaurant area, but must be accompanied by an adult of at least 18 years old. Only the adult can buy alcohol.

It is illegal to buy alcohol for under aged drinkers. As the government website points out :
' Previously, the consumption of alcohol by minors was only unlawful in the 'bar area' of licensed premises. An adult could have therefore bought a gin and tonic at the bar and given it to a child as young as five years in the beer garden or night club. This is no longer the case. All parts of a licensed premises will be subject to the same prohibitions.’

It is worth pointing out that it is the pub and its licence holder who will suffer if they are caught serving alcohol to under-aged customers, that is why they may seem a little paranoid about checking I.D. The police do carry out 'sting' operations to catch pubs out. You have been warned.


It is illegal to buy alcohol for someone who is drunk, or for the pub to sell alcohol to them.
Being drunk or drunk and disorderly is an offence. It is also illegal to drink alcohol in some designated areas, such as city centres.

Drink Driving

It is well known that in Britain it is illegal to drive whilst having more than 80mgs of alcohol per 100ml of blood, that’s equivalent to 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

Discussion about what this means in real terms continues in pubs nationwide. The safe bet is not to drink any alcohol if you are driving. Some pubs offer free, non-alcoholic drinks to ‘designated drivers’.


"Smoking Ban Sign"
A complete ban on smoking in public places came into effect on 1st July 2007, smoking is not permitted in any pubs, bars or restaurants. Some pubs have smoking shelters outside which have to meet strict guidelines on enclosures. Please do not drop litter outside pub frontages as this can lead to the pub being prosecuted and customers being prohibited from smoking in the street outside.

It is illegal to buy tobacco products under the age of 18 or use them under the age of 16.
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