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Free, or not to be free

Do I need to provide free drinking water?

Q:  I read a recent article about a licensee charging for water and I am not sure whether I have to provide water for free in my premises.  If so, am I obliged to provide free water to anyone, even if they don’t purchase anything?

A:  From the end of 2014 a number of new mandatory conditions were introduced that applied to all relevant premises licences and club premises certificates that authorise the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises.  The new conditions were implemented to tighten the measures relating to irresponsible promotions and the provision of free water, amongst other things. 

The main point here is that you must ensure that free drinking water is provided on request to customers where it is reasonably available.  It is worth noting that the water does not have to come out of a tap and you could provide bottled water instead.  What counts as reasonably available may be a little subjective and is a question of fact, although it is likely that a reasonable ground for refusal may be where you have temporarily lost your mains water supply and you do not have access to any other drinking water such as bottled.

This condition does only apply to ‘customers’, which takes the usual English meaning and can be defined as someone buying your goods or services.  You could therefore take the view that someone entering your premises and only requesting free water is not a genuine customer.  You may take a general premises policy decision not to provide water to individuals not purchasing any other goods or services but you may wish to consider good customer relations when making this decision. 

It is worthwhile mentioning the other conditions that were introduced, which include the prohibition of irresponsible promotions which are designed to encourage alcohol consumption, the implementation of an age verification policy and the availability of minimum measures for beer, cider, still wine and spirits (gin, rum, vodka and whisky) and the obligation to ensure that customers are aware of these measures. 

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