The new system for alcohol duty comes into effect on 1 August. This is the most comprehensive revision of the system in 140 years and will, say HM Revenue & Customs, make the system fairer.
The good news is that, to help pubs and clubs compete with supermarkets, there will be a reduction in duty, payable on beer and cider which is to be delivered direct to the customer’s glass through a dispense system (handpump, keg tap or bag-in-box for cider), so long as it has been supplied by the brewery/producer in containers which are of at least 20 litre capacity (35 pints). It is the brewers who pay the duty, so it will be up to them to what extent the reduction is passed through to pub operators and then to the customer. There will also be a reduction in duty on beers of 3.4% ABV and below. Small Brewers/producers Relief will also continue in a revised form. Duty is now to be calculated on the amount of pure alcohol that a product contains per litre of product.
The bad news is that alcohol duty on virtually everything else is being increased in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI). In fairness, alcohol duty rates have been frozen since the autumn of 2020. The new system is estimated to bring in £13.1 billion in 2023/24. Beers of 8.4% ABV and above in small packages (bottles and cans) will attract a higher rate of duty and so will see the highest increase, especially if they have been imported.
I mentioned in the last edition that pubs would no longer be able to sell draught beer which had been supplied at the reduced rate of duty in take-away containers. This, sadly, was not a misunderstanding. HMRC are adamant about it. It also applies equally to CAMRA’s (and anyone else’s) beer festivals.
I have mentioned before that the new arrangements are leading to a phenomenon known as ‘drinkflation’. The latest example is Carlsberg’s Danish Pilsner, the alcoholic content of which is being reduced from 3.8% ABV to 3.4% ABV. Note the reference to 3.4% ABV above. Brewers are, they maintain, making these changes only because drinkers are asking for lower alcohol beers. The cynics among us may suspect otherwise.
LATE NIGHT LEVY
The Home Office have made a change to the regulations for Late Night Levies. As from 13 July, local authorities can apply them to specific parts of their area of responsibility instead of having to apply them to the whole of the council area. Councils can also now apply the levy to cafés and takeaways and not just pubs and clubs. This is certainly an improvement but it remains an additional running cost for pubs which some regard as unnecessary. CAMRA’s national chairman, Nik Antona, commented, “These changes to the controversial Late Night Levy scheme are a step in the right direction, allowing councils to make sure they can apply to a smaller area like a city centre rather than penalising business across the whole council area. However, CAMRA is still calling on the Government to abolish the unfair Late Night Levy scheme completely due to its detrimental impact on well run and responsible pubs, social clubs and taprooms which are at the heart of communities and bring people together to tackle loneliness and social isolation. It is for these very reasons that the Government is changing the alcohol duty system in August to support and encourage people to consume beer and cider in the regulated setting of the pub. It makes no sense to support pubs through the tax system but penalise them through the unfair Light Night Levy. The best way to tackle the problems of safety in the night-time economy is for councillors, the police and hospitality business to work closely together to tackle local issues; not through a punitive and blunt measure like the Late Night Levy that applies to businesses even if they don’t open late into the night or aren’t a source of anti-social behaviour.”
SHINING THE LIGHT
The honour of being the Master of the Worshipful Company of Brewers has, this year, fallen to Jonathan Neame, the chief executive of Shepherd Neame. In commemoration, Sheps commissioned a stained glass window from Leonie Seliger, the director of the stained glass studio at Canterbury Cathedral. It features the coat of arms of Saint Thomas Becket, the patron saint of the Worshipful Company, and which were originally used as the Worshipful Company’s own coat of arms. The window took nine months to create, using processes which have remained largely unchanged for centuries. As I’m sure many readers will recall from Chaucer’s tale, pilgrimages to the site of Becket’s martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral were not always sober affairs. It was at this spot that the window was formally presented to the Worshipful Company.
The photo shows Leonie with Jonathan Neame (centre), Nick Tindall, the clerk to the company (right), and James Fitzgerald, the beadle (left).
With thanks to Sheps for the photo.