(Title Image: Evening Standard)
The Welsh Government have long sought to introduce a law that will set a minimum price for alcohol. A draft Bill was published in 2015 and 68% of respondents were supportive of a law.
The ultimate goal of the Bill is to reduce the impact of alcohol-related illness and crime, in particular amongst younger people who drink high-strength, low-cost alcohol.
Alcohol misuse costs Wales around £76.5million a year while in 2015-16 there were 54,000 hospital admissions related to alcohol. Just over half of all substance abuse treatment referrals were related to alcohol too.
In the most recent National Survey, 20% of adults said they drank more than the weekly recommended guidelines while it’s a problem that proportionally affects wealthier communities (23%) than more deprived areas (14%).
Similar laws are being considered or have been introduced in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and nearly all Canadian provinces. However, due to a legal challenge against the law in Scotland by whiskey producers the outcome of the Supreme Court case may determine whether this Welsh Bill will actually be seen through to becoming law.
The Lowdown: Four Key Proposals in the Bill
1. M x S x V
This is the formula which will be used to work out the minimum price of an alcoholic drink.
(M)inimum price-per-unit x (S)trength of the alcohol in % x (V)olume in litres
If it’s a multi-pack/multi-buy, the formula uses the volume of the entire pack. The minimum price-per-unit will be set via regulations.
2. Fines for breaking the law
If passed, local authorities will be responsible for enforcing the new law and making sure no premises that have a license to sell alcohol in Wales sells for below the minimum price as set by the formula.
Enforcement officers will have the option of issuing on-the-spot fines of £200, but if a case goes to court it could lead to a fine of up to £1,000. The Bill outlines the appeals process and possible defences.
3. The Bill itself doesn’t set a minimum price
Although the Bill uses 50p per unit as an example it’ll be down to the Welsh Government to set the price through regulations – so it could be higher or lower than this.
4. “Sunset clause”
The minimum price will be automatically repealed six years after the law passes unless the Senedd approves – via regulations – to keep the minimum price in place. After 5 years the Welsh Government will be legally bound to present a report to the Senedd on the effectiveness of the law.
How much will the Minimum Alcohol Price Bill cost?
At least £2.6million over 20 years; £400,000 falling on the Welsh Government to fund training, guidance and all the matters relating to the law itself; £800,000 to retailers to familiarise themselves with the new law with an ongoing ~£75,000 on retailers for compliance for 20 years (if the law remains in place that long).
It’s expected the minimum price will cost consumers an additional £27million spread over those twenty years.
This isn’t a tax as the Welsh Government doesn’t have powers over alcohol taxes. So by introducing a minimum price, any additional money goes to alcohol retailers, not the Welsh Government – though this could be offset by modest falls in alcohol sales due to higher prices.
Research by Sheffield University suggests a 50p-per-unit minimum price would generate £44.1million a year for the Welsh economy (£882million over 20 years) through reduced absenteeism from alcohol-related illnesses and falls in hospital admissions related to alcohol.