Selling alcohol

Rules for selling alcohol


There are a number of rules around selling alcohol in Northern Ireland. Your premises must be licensed. See how to apply for a licence to sell alcohol.

Time of day - permitted hours

There are certain hours during which licensed premises may sell alcohol. Certain premises can apply for an extended licence. The permitted hours are slightly different at Christmas. See when you can sell alcohol in Northern Ireland.

General rules for selling alcohol

Rules for selling alcohol include:

  • Area - if only part of your premises is licensed, then you may only sell alcohol in this area. Children may only be in parts of your premises that either do not have a bar, or if certain safeguards are in place which are detailed below.
  • Conditions of sale - there are conditions for particular types of premises when selling alcohol. For example, restaurants may only sell alcohol as part of a meal. Many premises must ensure they have other drinks and food available when they are selling alcohol. Off-licences must not allow customers to consume alcohol they have bought at the premises on-site.
  • Drunk and disorderly behaviour - you must not sell alcohol to anyone who is clearly drunk or allow customers to behave in a disorderly way in your premises.
  • Drinks promotions ­- it is illegal to run an irresponsible drinks promotion. This includes promotions that supply unlimited alcoholic drinks for a fixed price.
  • Weights and measures - drinks including wine, beer and spirits may only be sold in specific quantities. See weights and measures rules for licensed premises.

There are a number of rules around alcohol that protect the welfare of young people.

Children in licensed premises

Licensed premises no longer need a physical children's certificate, however all safeguards remain in place before young people under 18 years of age are allowed in areas of premises which contain a bar or are used mainly or exclusively for the consumption of intoxicating liquor. The safeguards include:

  • meals must be available
  • a young person must be accompanied by an adult and sit away from the bar
  • a young person must leave the premises by 21:00 (or 21:30 if consuming a meal purchased before 21:00)

Exceptions to this are that young people are allowed to be in:

  • An off-licence if they are with an adult
  • A licensed refreshment room at a railway or bus station, airport or harbour terminal
  • A bar area in a sporting club until 23:00 between 1 May and 30 September and for 3 prize-giving ceremonies in a calendar year
  • Any part of an indoor arena or outdoor stadium containing a kiosk or other sales point which sells alcoholic drinks as well as food and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Premises authorised for under 18s functions and also private functions when specific conditions have been met. The conditions have been outlined in the Department for Communities' guide to the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act (NI) 2021 in sections 14 and 15 for licensed premises and sections 36 and 37 for registered clubs

Young people and alcohol sales

It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18. It is also against the law to sell alcohol to someone who you believe will supply it to someone under 18. You must not let anyone under 18 consume alcohol in your licensed premises.

You must verify the age of anyone who might be under 18. It is recommended that you ask any customer who looks under 25 for ID to prove they are over 18. Acceptable ID includes cards bearing the PASS symbol, passports and driving licences.

See alcohol sales and young people and prevent underage sales for more detail on complying with the rules. 

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association offers retailers advice and resources to check proof of age when selling alcohol.