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Evaluations of the 2003 Licensing Act

A Home Office report on the impact of the Licensing Act (2003), which came into force in November 2005, is due to be published in the next few weeks. The study found that the consequences of the Act varied across the country but overall it made little difference to alcohol-related crime and disorder. The evidence gives no indication that the Act has delivered what the government promised, namely, reductions in binge drinking, reductions in crime and disorder and an increased diversity in the night-time economy. This is in spite of the increased resources available to the police and economic conditions that would be expected to reduce drinking.

Key findings from the Home Office report

Opening hours: Only a very small minority of pubs and clubs applied for 24-hour licences. A fifth stuck with their old 11pm closing time, and half applied for an hour’s extension to midnight. The remaining 30% opted for 1pm closing. Of those that did apply for 24-hour opening, 65% were hotels, many of which had bars open to residents only.

Crime and disorder: Five towns and cities (Birmingham, Blackpool, Croydon, Guildford and Nottingham) were used as case studies. Although there was variation between these, overall violent crime fell by 3%, which reflect increases in three locations and decreases in the other two. There is evidence of temporal displacement: in four out of five sites there was a fall in levels of violent crime between 11:00 pm and midnight; and the small proportion of violent crimes occurring between 3:00 and 5:00 am grew in the year after the change. The authors of the report conclude that this is probably a consequence of the Act. A survey of 30 police forces showed a similar pattern.

Hospital attendances: A survey of 33 A&E departments across England and Wales found a 2% fall in attendances in 2006 compared with 2005, this fall being concentrated amongst women.

Case study of Birmingham

In a separate study carried out at Birmingham University, a wider range of measures were examined for that city. This study found no change in attendances at A&E, consistent with the broader national picture found in the Home Office report. However, the number of deaths from alcohol-related illnesses increased in the year following the implementation of the Act, from an average of 100 per year in the three years up to Nov. 2005 (for the two health trusts that supplied data), to 119 in the following year. The causes of death included in these figures include both short-term effects of intoxication and long-term effects of drinking such as liver cirrhosis.

There was an increase in recorded crime in the year following the Act, from an average of 3,282 incidents per year in the three preceding years, to 4,756 in the following year. This may have been due to increased police activity. The number of alcohol-related road traffic collisions (RTCs) decreased, which may have been the continuation of a longer-term trend. A contrasting trend was seen in arrests for drink-driving; these had been increasing up to 2005, but as with RTCs, decreased in 2006.

Download a copy of the Home Office report here. (pdf 162kb)