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Minimum Unit Pricing

This website covers the evidence base and policy rationale for Minimum Unit Pricing. 

Guidance for retailers and businesses on the implementation of the policy is available at www.minimumunitpricing.scot  

Wholesalers and the application of Minimum Unit Pricing

We are aware of a technical issue related to the interpretation of how Minimum Unit Pricing operates in respect of trade sales by wholesalers which have opted, for whatever reason, to hold a premises licence. 

There are differing views held by licensing lawyers and the licensing community on the application of the new mandatory condition of Minimum Unit Pricing to premises licences as regards wholesalers and trade sales. 

We consider that a legislative change is required in order to clarify the situation.  This would be achieved by SSI following consultation which will satisfy the terms of regulation 9 of EU Regulation No. 178/2002.

A consultation will be issued shortly.

Wholesalers selling to trade only are not required to hold a premises licence and so Minimum Unit Pricing does not apply.

Wholesalers also selling to the public require a premises licence, and all sales (other than to a person for the purposes of their trade) must comply with Minimum Unit Pricing.

Background to Minimum Unit Pricing

The alcohol problem in Scotland is so significant that ground breaking measures are required.

Given the link between consumption and harm and evidence that affordability is one of the drivers of increased consumption, addressing price is an important element of any long-term strategy.

Alcohol is now 60 per cent more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980. It is possible in Scotland today to exceed the new lower risk guidelines for alcohol (14 units per week) for around £2.50. This is an unacceptable position and we have a responsibility to address this problem.

There is strong international evidence that tackling price - as part of a package of measures, including education and diversion - can help reduce alcohol consumption and related harm.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation in 2012, the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012, which allows the Scottish Ministers to introduce a system of Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol.  The legislation was then challenged in court by some parts of the alcohol industry and that has delayed the implementation of this important policy.  On 15 November 2017, the UK Supreme Court confirmed that the legislation which allows Minimum Unit Pricing to be introduced is lawful.  The judgment can be found on the following link https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0025-judgment.pdf .

Before introducing the Minimum Unit Price, Scottish Ministers ran a public consultation to gather views from people, businesses, public bodies and interested parties about the Scottish Government’s preferred price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol.  This  ran from 1 December 2017 to 26 January 2018.  A report analysing the responses to the consultation was published on 26 February 2018 and is available at  https://consult.gov.scot/alcohol-policy/minimum-unit-pricing.

The consultation received a total number of 130 responses , 70 of these responded to the proposed price directly. Of these 70, 52 (74.3%) indicated that they are in favour of the 50 pence Minimum Unit Price. Sixty-four of the 70 respondents (91.4%) who commented on the proposed price are either in favour of a 50 pence per unit minimum price or a higher Minimum Unit Price.

Taking account of a range of factors, including the responses to this consultation, the Scottish Government concluded that a Minimum Unit Price of 50 pence per unit provides a proportionate response to tackling alcohol misuse, as it strikes a reasonable balance between public health and social benefits and intervention in the market.

The legislation commencing Parliament’s formal consideration of the 50 pence price was laid on Thursday 1 March 2018.  This was considered by the Health & Sport Committee on 17 April and unanimously approved by full Parliamentary vote on 25 April. 

Minimum Unit Pricing was implemented on 1 May 2018.

What is Minimum Unit Pricing?

Research into differing price policy options concluded that a minimum unit price is the most effective of a range of policy options. It has been recommended as a way of increasing the price of drinks such as own-brand spirits and white cider, which have high alcohol content but are usually very cheap.

Minimum unit pricing would simply set a floor price for a unit of alcohol, meaning it can't be sold for lower than that. The more alcohol a drink contains, the stronger it is and therefore the more expensive it will be.

Minimum unit pricing is not a tax; it is a targeted way of making sure alcohol is sold at a sensible price.

The benefits of Minimum Unit Pricing

Minimum unit pricing will impact most on harmful drinkers - those who regularly drink more than the lower risk drinking guidelines. Those who drink within the lower risk guidelines will only be marginally affected simply because they only consume a small amount of alcohol and also because they do not tend to buy as much of the cheaper alcohol that would be most affected by a minimum unit price.

The small increase in the cost of alcohol to moderate drinkers has to be seen in the context of the total costs of alcohol misuse - estimates suggest around £900 per year for every adult in Scotland.

Almost all drinks bought in the pub are already sold well above any likely minimum price, so they wouldn't be affected. The minimum unit price of 50p per unit will mostly affect cheap white ciders and value spirits with high alcohol content which tend to be favoured by harmful drinkers.

The most recent research by the University of Sheffield (April 2016) estimated that the proposed minimum price of 50p per unit would result in the following benefits:

  • Alcohol related deaths would fall by about 120 per year by year twenty of the policy (full effect)
  • A fall in hospital admission of 2,000 per year by year twenty of the policy (full effect)

The modelling shows that minimum unit pricing is targeted with the greatest benefit falling on harmful drinkers, and particularily those living in poverty.

Some people may not feel that they are part of Scotland's alcohol problem, but through the introduction of minimum unit pricing, everyone will feel the economic and social benefits of the solution through healthier, happier, safer families and communities.

This landmark policy is supported by many organisations and is a significant step forward in the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.