Licensing rules should be changed to allow pubs to serve alcohol outside their usual hours during “national moments”, the leading UK pub industry body has said, after restrictions limited sales during Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final.
Early indications show trading was up by between 14% and 28% during the Lionesses’ defeat to Spain, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said, with millions choosing to watch the match at their local.
However, with kick-off at 11am and many pubs not licensed to sell until midday, large numbers of customers had to wait until the second half to be served, restricting total sales.
Under current rules, pubs need to apply five days in advance for notice to serve drink earlier than usual, or else MPs must approve a temporary national order to extend licensing hours, as happened for last year’s platinum jubilee.
On Tuesday, the BBPA called on the government to allow “greater legal flexibility” for pubs in the future when a blanket order is not possible because of a parliamentary recess.
The BBPA chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said: “Despite the Lionesses not being able to claim victory on Sunday, they won the hearts of the nation and inspired the millions of people who cheered them on at the pub and elsewhere through their heroic performance in this tournament.
“It’s great that this success was able to give a boost to our pubs after a year where they’ve faced a range of challenges from unsustainably high energy bills to double-digit duty increases.
“Despite the government’s valuable work encouraging local authorities to support pubs on Sunday, we now need the law to reflect the reality that strict, prescriptive licensing cannot easily flex when key events are taking place while parliament is not sitting.”
The hospitality sector had welcomed the boost from the England women’s team reaching the final, anticipating several million fans would watch it at a pub, bar or restaurant.
But despite the fact that many pubs opened early to screen the match, licensing laws meant most were not be able to serve up pints before 11am or even midday.
The levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, said on Thursday that he had written to the leaders of all the councils in England asking them to do “everything they can to help pubs get open earlier on Sunday”.
MPs urged the authorities to ignore instances of publicans serving outside of their usual Sunday hours and in Cornwall, police and the council agreed not to take any action against pubs or sports clubs that decided to open at 10am.
The BBPA said that “while it may not seem to be the most pressing of matters, the importance of greater legal flexibility that allows communities to come together in the nation’s pubs to celebrate key social and sporting events is vital for their long-term commercial sustainability”.
McClarkin added: “The Licensing Act is an important piece of legislation, but it was never intended to be so inflexible as to stand in the way of communities coming together and enjoy a beer and celebrate one-off events of national interest. MPs know the pubs are the focal points of their local communities so let’s work together to get an amendment quickly agreed.”
An amendment to the act should be quick, easy and uncontroversial to achieve, the BBPA said, as it urged the government to table the measure.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government can already relax licensing hours for an occasion of exceptional international, national, or local significance.
“We keep the law under review and work closely with the licensed sector to ensure the regime remains fit for purpose and meets emerging challenges.”