AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Anti-social drinking


Anti-social drinking in the streets can intimidate members of the public, cause disorder and nuisance, and generally degrade a public space. This can range from groups of street drinkers, sometimes known as 'drinking schools', to general drunken or rowdy behaviour as part of the night-time culture of many towns and cities.

The impact of anti-social drinking

The National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy calculated the overall annual cost of crime and anti-social behaviour linked to alcohol misuse to be £7.3bn. Alcohol misuse shows strong links to violence.

Street drinking can be perceived as intimidating by others. Alcohol misuse is linked to disorder and contributes to an increase in people's fear of crime; there is a perception that alcohol-related violence on the streets is increasing, and some members of the public see drinking on the street as a problem. Many people are therefore less, rather than more, likely to want to spend time in city centres perceived as violent and dominated by alcohol.

What action can be taken?

Where someone is causing alarm and distress through their drunken behaviour, it may be necessary to protect the community using an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) or an injunction. These can both be used to exclude the perpetrator from the area in which they have been causing a problem and also from areas where they can obtain alcohol. This can also be an effective way to ban an individual from licensed premises where they have been causing disruption and disorder.

Drinking in licensed premises

England & Wales

Under the provisions of the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980, following conviction for an offence committed on licensed premises involving violence or threats of violence, a court can make an order prohibiting the person from entering those premises and any other specified licensed premises. The order may remain in force for between three months and two years.

Northern Ireland

Under the Licensing (Northern Ireland Order) 1996, the holder of a licence, their servant or agent can refuse to admit or expel any person from a licensed premises if they are drunk ,acting in a disorderly manner or in any way that would subject the holder of the licence to a penalty under the Order. If the person fails to leave they will be fined up to £2,500 or imprisoned for up to six months.

Street drinking

People who are drunk and causing anti-social behaviour can also be arrested as drunk and disorderly, drunk in a highway or causing harassment, alarm or distress under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 or Articles 18 and 19 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. Some police authorities refer those arrested and on bail, for alcohol treatment. Penalty notices for disorder can also be an effective way to deal with these offences.

ASBOs can also be an effective way to ban an individual from a licensed premises where they have been causing disruption and disorder. Where someone is convicted in court for violent behaviour on licensed premises, the court should always consider using an exclusion order or an ASBO on conviction to ban them from that and other relevant premises. This can be necessary to protect the staff and customers of the licensed premises.

Area based orders

Designated Public Place Orders (DPPOs) under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, or the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, give local authorities powers to designate places where restrictions on public drinking will apply. These are available in areas that have experienced alcohol-related disorder or nuisance. Once a DPPO is in place, the police can use their confiscation powers to enforce these restrictions. Over 90 areas across the country have now introduced controlled drinking zones, ranging from small areas to city-wide.

Alcohol disorder zones (England and Wales only)

The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 introduced new Alcohol Disorder Zones. These build on the existing powers that allow police and local authorities to use a DPPO to confiscate alcohol containers within a certain area. The new Alcohol Disorder Zones cover licensed premises in areas that experience alcohol-related disorder. Before such a zone was designated, licensed premises would be warned to take their own steps to reduce alcohol disorder, otherwise a designation would be imminent. They would also be required to contribute towards the policing and other local costs of dealing with the disorder in this area.

Directions to leave a locality (England and Wales only)

Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 provides a constable in uniform with the power to issue a direction to an individual aged 16 years or over, to leave a locality. The constable can apply the direction if they are satisfied that the individual's presence is likely to contribute to the occurrence, repetition or continuance of alcohol-related crime and disorder. The direction can prohibit their return for up to 48 hours.