In the UK, devolved political authorities, as well as local authorities, have responsibility for various aspects of alcohol policy. However, the UK government retains control over levels of alcohol taxation and alcohol advertising. 


Rates of alcohol duty are set by the UK Treasury and are levied on all alcoholic drinks sold in the UK. Beer and spirits are taxed in relation to their alcohol strength, with the duty on spirits applied per litre of pure alcohol and the duty on beer applied per hectolitre per cent of alcohol in the beer. For wine, cider and perry, rates of duty are fixed by volume, per hectolitre of the product. 

In March 2008, the UK Chancellor raised excise duty on alcohol by 6% above inflation with a commitment to increase duties by 2% above inflation for each of the following four years.  This stopped in 2014. See HM Revenues and Customs for current rates of alcohol duty. 

Increasing alcohol price is known to be the single most effective policy measure for reducing alcohol consumption and harm.

Drink drive limits

At present the legal alcohol limit for driving in the UK is 80 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which equates to 35 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per 100ml of breath. For most other countries in the EU, the legal limit is 50mg. 

In December 2014, the Scottish Government reduced the drink drive limit in Scotland to 50mg. In the nine months immediately following the reduction, drink driving offences fell by 12.5%. This is equivalent to a fall in the number of offences from 4,208 to 3,682. Research has shown that reducing the blood alcohol limit to 50mg could prevent 50-65 fatalities per year. Evidence suggests that the risk of dying in a road traffic collision is twice as high with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between 50 and 80mg/100ml than between 20 and 50mg/100ml, with drinking by drivers with BAC levels of between 50mg/100ml and 80mg/100ml a significant but largely hidden cause of accidents.

Alcohol advertising

Control over telecommunications and broadcasting – the main media through which the alcohol industry promotes and markets its products – is reserved to the UK Parliament. At present, alcohol advertising in the UK is regulated by a mix of statutory codes and self-regulatory standards, through Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority. 

Advertising rules currently ban alcohol adverts that particularly appeal to young people under 18 years, and that link alcohol with sexual success or irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. There is however no restriction on the volume of adverts.