Tier 3 regions: Private members clubs sidestepping alcohol service rules using licensing agreement loophole

Helena Horton
·3 min read
Drinkers in Preston - Asadour Guzelian /Guzelian Ltd 
Drinkers in Preston - Asadour Guzelian /Guzelian Ltd

Private members clubs have discovered a loophole in the Tier Three restrictions, which mean they can continue to sell alcohol without a substantial meal.

Drinking establishments in areas with the highest restrictions are banned from selling alcohol unless they can operate as a restaurant and serve a "substantial" meal alongside the booze. But because of the wording of a club premises certificate - held by the likes of political clubs and working men's clubs - alcohol is not sold to members but "supplied".

Advice from local councils has allowed members to go to their clubs for a beer without having to have lunch or dinner alongside it.

Guidance published on the Association of Conservative Clubs' (ACC) website explained that club members own the alcohol in common. When a member buys a drink they are, according to the legal definition, "appropriating" the alcohol.

Preston City Council website states that clubs can open their doors and serve alcoholic drinks, without a meal under their club premises certificate.

Councillor Peter Moss, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for planning and regulation, said: “Where a premises holds a ‘Club Premises Certificate’ under the Licensing Act 2003, (part 4, from para 60) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Very High) (England) Regulations 2020, does not apply. "They do not need to close and they do not need to provide a substantial meal to club members, but any guests being brought into the Club by members can only purchase alcohol with a substantial meal. "They should, of course, follow general COVID-19 good practice on matters such as social distancing, the wearing of face coverings, and regular hand washing."

Local working mens' and labour clubs in the area have taken advantage of this rule and reopened, following advice from the council.

Alan Hamilton, chairman of St Gregory's Social Club, told the Lancashire Post he had reopened the venue, adding: "I thought it was great and it is welcome news, but many of our members who are elderly are still too apprehensive to come out because of the virus, which means our numbers aren't coming back as high as we had first expected.

Exclusive private members' club 5 Hertford Street counts politicians including Nigel Farage, Priti Patel and Michael Gove as among its ranks refused to rule out exploiting the loophole if London were moved to Tier Three - if it was deemed legal and safe to do so. 

A spokesperson said: "Every time the government changes its rules we take fresh advice as to how they affect 5 Hertford Street.

"As and when the next change in rules arises, I'm sure we will take advice again, and act appropriately within the law whilst trying to provide the best possible service to our members."

Clubs where members go to network, have meetings and drink are facing great financial difficulties during Covid-19. Mayfair institution the Conduit Club closed its doors this week, telling members they were "determined" to return.

A spokesperson said: " We do want to take a little time to think carefully about exactly what it is that we need. London is awash with buildings looking for great tenants and we are very confident about finding a suitable home, when the time is right."

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "For areas in (Tier 3), any pub, bar or other business, including social or members clubs, cannot sell alcohol for consumption on the premises unless it is served alongside a substantial meal. "We are asking everybody to play their part to reduce potential periods of exposure in an indoor environment."