If you’ve been keeping an eye on the press lately you will be aware that Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) is to come into effect in Scotland on 1st May this year. This has been a long time coming, having first been tabled over ten years ago. A legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association, which argued that the 2011 Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill breached EU trade rules, dragged things out further, resulting in nearly five years’ of litigation. Last year, however, Supreme Court judges unanimously decided that MUP did not breach European law, giving the green light for the measure to finally be implemented.
Put simply, MUP will see a statutory minimum price (set at 50p) for each unit of alcohol sold in Scotland. At the moment, there is no such provision and prices are set by drinks companies and individual retailers. The intention is for MUP to address Scotland’s long standing issue with alcohol abuse, and go some way to reducing the health and social problems this has caused. Whether MUP will be successful in that regard is debatable and remains to be seen, but in the meantime, retailers are preparing for the practical impact on them and their businesses. The question for most, though, is how will MUP affect the ordinary person?
It is recommended that men and women don’t regularly drink more than 14 units per week, although a good proportion of the Scottish public are thought to do so. One unit is equivalent to 10ml of pure alcohol, and the unit measurement can be used to compare the strength of different drinks. In theory, MUP could increase the cost of alcohol for us all but this will very much depend on what and where you are drinking.
The good news is that MUP should not affect the cost of a night out, as drinks in bars, clubs and restaurants are already priced at far higher than 50p per unit, and higher end off-sales products are unlikely to be affected for the same reason. Instead, MUP will target a strong, low cost drinks available in your local supermarket, such as some wines, spirits, lagers (particularly of the super-strength variety) and strong white ciders. The figures give the best indication of the changes we are likely to see…
It is not difficult to deduce that we may see strong white ciders, which often appeal to young people and ‘problem drinkers’, disappear from sale in Scotland following such an increase in price. But what about the less obvious consequences of MUP? There has already been suggestion that we might see ‘booze cruises’ to England, where MUP is unlikely to be introduced any time soon, and it is very possible that online retailers based elsewhere in the UK will look to take advantage of being able to undercut their Scottish competitors. Sadly, concerns have also been raised that those who are alcohol dependent won’t benefit from MUP at all, as they will find a way to obtain their ‘fix’ regardless of cost.
In reality, we won’t know how MUP will affect retailers, nor customers, until the measure has come into effect and has been operating for a few months at least, but if you are operating licensed off-sales premises it’s important at this stage that you fully understand the implications of MUP. For more information on this, or any other licensing matter, please contact our experienced team of licensing solicitors.