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What is an event licence?

If you want to host an event, you’ll need a licence from the local council to hold it. There are lots of different types of licences for different events, so make sure you pick the correct one for your event.

Before looking into the practicalities of event licensing, it’s worthwhile taking a step back to look at the situation from the perspective of the people in charge of the event. In the most blunt and basic of terms, permanent facilities such as pubs and nightclubs are generally heavily invested in their locations and so need to take licensing rules and best practices seriously, as it would usually be devastating for them to lose their licences.

It may not be as catastrophic for managers of one-off events to lose their licences or locations due to their breaking the conditions of their licences. However, holding the correct licence and complying with its conditions can still help avoid all sorts of hassles. 

With this in mind, here are 3 golden rules to follow to give you the best possible chance of obtaining the licence you need for your event:

Rule 1: Be as well-prepared as you can before you even start

Fundamentally, whether or not you get a licence depends on whether or not the relevant authorities trust you to run your event properly. Therefore, you want to do as much preparation as possible so as to make a favourable first impression.

At a very basic level, you need to demonstrate that you have thought about how to run your event safely and with minimal inconvenience to other people (eg due to noise, traffic, or litter). For example, having the following in place right at the start can go a long way to smoothing your path with the relevant authorities:

Rule 2: Understand exactly what your licensing requirements are

As a rule of thumb, if you are planning on selling alcohol, playing live or recorded music, and/or attracting large crowds, you’re probably going to need some form of licence even if your event is purely held during the daytime. Licences, however, tend to be very specific in nature

For example, if you’re hosting a festival in a field, then you’ll need to determine whether you’re going to use the whole field or just a part of it and, if the latter, how attendees are going to know where the festival ends and the field begins. You wouldn’t want your festival goers running through the fields of wheat!

If you’re going to have your attendees camping in a field, then you’ll need to decide whether or not the campsite is going to form part of your licensed event venue. If not, you’ll need an off-sales licence if you want to sell alcohol for attendees to take back to their tents. 

When looking at your licensing requirements, a good starting point is to see if your intended site has a suitable licence you can use. The key word here is suitable; check any pre-existing licences very thoroughly to make sure that they are appropriate for your needs.

For more information, read Business licences.

Rule 3: Start your application as early as possible

Assuming you’ve already checked to see that your intended event date is free, you should aim to put in your licensing application at least 6 months in advance of it. The earlier you start, the better. Most local authorities like to have proposed events checked out by relevant organisations (such as the police and environmental health) and these tend to be people with busy schedules. Give them plenty of time to do their jobs and make their jobs as easy as possible with good preparation.

For more information, read Starting an event planning business. Do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns.


Stuart Jessop
Stuart Jessop
Barrister specialising in Regulatory Law

Stuart Jessop is an experienced barrister, specialising in Regulatory Law, particularly in the following areas: licensing, food law, planning and environmental enforcement, and health and safety law.

Stuart regularly advises and represents individuals, companies, local authorities, and other regulatory authorities, and appears in proceedings in tribunals, civil and criminal courts, and the appellate courts.

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