Sanctions against retailers who repeatedly sell alcohol to under -18s will be further strengthened when the government “overhauls” the Licensing Act next year.

Speaking at the launch of a “radical” new Health White Paper last week, health secretary Andrew Lansley said that police and local authorities would be granted “stronger powers” to tackle irresponsible retailing and drinking.

According to the contents of the Police Reform Bill published just hours after the Health White Paper, these stronger sanctions are likely to include an increase in the maximum fine for retailers who “persistently sell alcohol to children” from £10,000 to £20,000, and an increase in the length of voluntary closure notices from a maximum of 48 hours to a period between 48 and two weeks.

However, proposals to implement a ban on below cost selling were absent from the bill, despite Lansley having vowed to implement them “without delay” at the earlier White Paper launch.

It is thought that Ministers are struggling to reach a decision on how to define below cost selling and have been discussing a variety of options, from a simple base point of duty tax plus value added tax, to the inclusion of production, supply and other costs. 

The Bill also seeks to introduce the power for local authorities to charge a late night levy on premises selling alcohol between midnight and 6am.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said proposals were “superfluous” and
“distracted from the positive partnerships making a difference across the country.”

Published separately, the Home Office has also released its response to the Rebalancing the Licensing Act consultation. Measures to be taken forward include the requirement for licence applicants to provide a greater range of information on their local areas and to demonstrate how their business will benefit the local community.

Local authorities could also be given the power to set their own licensing fees based on full cost recovery, although there were no further details as to how this would be achieved.