Can England and Wales Learn From NSW, Australia?
After discussing alcohol issues with my brother and sister in law, who have lived in Sydney for a number of years, I decided to investigate the NSW model further during my recent trip to Australia.
The sale of alcohol in NSW is regulated by the NSW Liquor Act 2007. The first thing to be of interest about the Act is that RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) training is mandatory for everyone in NSW involved in the sale and supply of alcohol (or liquor as the NSW Act calls it) to the public. This includes licensees, club secretaries, serving staff and security staff working at licensed venues. There are no exemptions from undertaking the course. Simply put if you have not completed the RSA course, and passed the assessments, you cannot sell or supply alcohol.
To learn about the RSA more thoroughly I booked on a day course to see what the training involved and how it differed from our personal licence holders course here in England. The course is more akin to the BIIAB ARAR focusing on responsible retailing and underage sales and the sale of alcohol to drunks as well as the legal framework and effects of alcohol. The course costs approximately £70.00. We had 4 assessments throughout the day. To pass, candidates must score 100% although unlike our system the assessments are all open book. Our personal licence holders course focuses too much on legal aspects of the Act which most candidates do not need to know, and will never use. In my mind mandatory accredited training is a step forward. It means it is up to the individual to get trained and not the employers responsibility to train them as without the RSA you simply cannot work.
Once I had passed the RSA, (I am pleased to say I did pass), the next stage is to apply for your photo competency card as the certificate issued by the training centre is only valid for 3 months. In NSW all applications for the competency card are dealt with by participating Australian Post outlets. You make an appointment online; mine was made for 2 days after the course. At your appointment you need to take your certificate and required ID. The Post outlet then checks your details and ID, takes a photograph and captures your signature digitally. There is no fee to pay as this is included within the RSA course. The whole process took no longer than 10 minutes and that is it. You then wait for approximately 3 weeks for the card to be sent to you. Once issued the competency card is valid for 5 years.
During the RSA course I learned that the fixed penalty issued to person who serves a minor is $1,100 AUD (approx £700) in comparison with our £80, or a maximum fine of $11,000 AUD or 12 months imprisonment if dealt with by the court system. This struck me as a significant deterrent and something England and Wales should look at. It does not matter how much training a company puts in place, at the end of the day the company are relying upon the actions of a person, who can make a mistake. I have often seen failed test purchases in the most responsible companies, mine included. If the server first had to have a qualification and then knew that a failed test purchase or a sale of alcohol to a minor carried a substantial fixed penalty, I am sure all servers would always be on their guard. I must stress I am not saying companies should stop training. Similar penalties are also in place in NSW for persons who purchase alcohol on behalf of minors.
As for minors, if they purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol they face a fixed penalty of $220 AUD (£140) of a maximum fine of $2,200 AUD (£1,400). In England and Wales the majority of under 18’s who purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol simply are sent on their way with little more than a verbal slap on their wrists. If under 18’s faced a fixed penalty of £140 or more I am sure this would help reduce the number of under 18’s who attempt to purchase alcohol in England and Wales.
The NSW law for drivers licences and P-plates also seem sensible. P-plates are issued to drivers for a probationary period after passing their driving test. Also minors caught using fake IDs can be required to spend an extra 6 months on their P-plates once they obtain a provisional driver licence. This rule was introduced to discourage young people from engaging in illegal activity that can place themselves, their friends and the community at risk. It applies to all people 14 years and older, regardless of whether they have a driver licence at the time of the offence. If a person is already on a P-plate, the extra six months will be added on straight away. If the person holds a learner licence, or has not obtained any form of driver licence, the extra six months will be added when the person is issued with a provisional licence.
The same penalties to underage sales also apply in regards to offences around drunkenness. Unlike our Licensing Act 2003 the NWS Act has a clear definition of the meaning of intoxicated and part of the RSA focuses on intoxication, its meaning and the noticeable signs of intoxication. Unfortunately the Licensing Act 2003 does not define what drunk is and little training is done in respect of this topic.
The NSW Act also assists licensees when people are asked to leave licensed premises or are refused entry. If the person who has been asked to leave, or refused entry, does not leave the vicinity of the premises, vicinity defined as ‘any place less than 50 meters from any point on the boundary of the premises’, they are liable to a fixed penalty of $550 AUD (£350) or a maximum fine of $5,500 AUD (£3,500). The provisions also prohibit the person from re-entering, or attempting to re-enter, the premises for 24 hours or re-entering the vicinity of the premises within 6 hours. The law in England and Wales does little to assist licensees in this area. Too often licensees in England and Wales are faced with people refusing to leave the outside of the premises when refused entry which often can lead to a conflict situation.
One of my biggest surprises with the sale of alcohol in NSW was that the NSW Act restricts the granting of packaged liquor licences (off licences). In the norm supermarkets and convenience stores and takeaways cannot sell alcohol. It struck me that alcohol is simply too freely available in England and Wales and as such the price has been driven down to the ridiculously low prices we see today. Should we start looking at restricting the sale of alcohol in the off trade? Restricting the sale and increasing the price would, in my opinion, help in the reduction of cases of alcohol abuse. As we have seen with the ban on smoking in public places, smoking in the country has reduced and I would guess smoking related illness may have also dropped. In NSW supermarkets, convenience stores and takeaways survive without the need to sell alcohol so I am sure the same businesses in England and Wales could do also. The cheap alcohol that is available in supermarkets only encourages binge drinking and pre loading which in turn is the cause of much antisocial behaviour we see in our town and city centres.
Something that I picked up, not related to the NSW Act, was random breath testing for drivers. The police do not wait to see you swerving or look for a light not working, instead they set up random road blocks and pull over a fixed number of cars at a time. Turn around to avoid this and the police go after you. Drivers in the road block are all breath tested and if clear sent on their way.
I was extremely impressed during my 3 week stay in Sydney with my experiences in licensed premises. Having my 18 year son with me enabled me to see firsthand how efficient staff were in asking for ID. Even when I was ordering, my son was asked to produce ID. There seemed to be a more responsible approach from businesses and consumers around alcohol. Another surprise was that when we went to watch Sydney FC play football alcohol was permitted in stands. Having over 30 years experience in licensed retail I have seen many changes both in legislation and the drinking culture in England.
If the Home Office and government looked at the NSW model and adopted some of their practices I am sure some of our alcohol related issues would be addressed. In addition to the above the NSW Liquor Act 2007 contains many other provisions that could be adopted in England and Wales. If the government are serious about tackling alcohol related crime and disorder on our High Streets the NSW Act would be an ideal piece of legislation to look at and adopt some of the principles within the Act.
To summarise what I think they do right in NSW and what the Home Office and Government should seriously look at for England and Wales:
- Mandatory accredited training for anyone involved in the sale and supply of alcohol. Remember the days when the SIA was introduced for door supervisors? The government recognised mandatory training and registration of door supervisors so why not for people who sell and serve alcohol? We currently have personal licence holders but what does his actually do? You do not have to have a personal licence holder on site at each premises. If a person loses thier personal licence it does not prevent them from selling alcohol. If someone has a string of convictions, and therefore may not be granted a personal licence, they can still sell alcohol (so long as a personal licene holder gives them permission). There is nothing to prevent one personal licence holder authorising 100 or more people to sell alcohol. Is that right?
- Increasing the amount of a fixed penalty notice for selling to a person under 18. £80 is too low, if increased substantially people who sell alcohol would take more care with their decisions.
- Increase the amount of a fixed penalty to under 18’s who purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol and ensure such penalties are enforced. If the under 18’s were targeted more then there would be a reduction in the attempts to purchase alcohol. Whilst forever the under 18’s get away with committing the crime the more under 18’s will try. Start to penalise the under 18’s and there will be a reduction in the attempts to purchase alcohol.
- Penalties for person who fail to leave a premises or the vicinity of a premises and penalties if they try to re-enter.
- Restrict where alcohol can be sold in the off trade. Alcohol is available to freely in the off trade and as such the price has dropped to an unrealistically low price. If the government are serious about reducing the amount of alcohol being consumed, and the associated problems relating to health, then the availability of alcohol needs to be restricted. By reducing where alcohol can be purchased in the off trade, and therefore consumed unsupervised, the government could address this problem.
- Random road block breath testing.
The above was sent to all Police and Crime Commissioners, selected MPs and the Home Office Alcohol Unit ahead of the article release with a letter containing the following:
We are aware that as a PCC [MP] you have prioritised alcohol issues in your town and city centres and we feel that if some of the measures that are in place in NSW were to be introduced into England and Wales then for once the issues would be seriously tackled and those that are the root of some of the problems would be addressed and held to account.
Our industry (the on trade being pubs and clubs) is too often targeted for extra revenue and head line grabbing stories. The on trade however seem to be ignored. Our view is that most of the problems involving alcohol stem from alcohol that is sold in the off trade, an uncontrolled environment, that is sold at extremely low prices. We support the introduction of a minimum price but even the current proposals of 45p per unit of alcohol go nowhere close to addressing the problem of cheap alcohol in the off trade as duty, vat and production costs need to be taken into account. The reality is that most of the alcohol that is sold cheaply, and purchased by those who are the root of the problems, is already sold at around 45p a unit so the current proposal will have little effect in our minds.
The on trade are experiencing ever decreasing sales with increasing costs. The industry cannot afford any additional taxes, whether direct or indirect. The result will simply be businesses closing and loss of jobs.
We ask that you take a look at the NSW model and if you agree that the measures would address some of the alcohol related issues use your position as a PCC [MP] to pass the message to the Home Office and Parliament to have the matter discussed.
If you wish to discuss any points within the article please feel free to contact Michael Kheng directly by email, telephone or in person.
Michael Kheng CBii – Director, Kurnia Licensing Consultants Limited