Case for Change

Off-licences are premises where alcohol can be purchased for consumption off the premises, for example a bottle store, supermarket/grocery store, remote or online seller.

The more that alcohol is available in a community, the more likely the community will experience alcohol-related harm. High numbers of alcohol outlets and late trading hours lead to a higher likelihood of violence, drink driving, and heavy adolescent drinking. More outlets often means lower prices, which means more harm.

Communities can reduce alcohol-related harm by influencing the number, location, and trading hours of off-licences. Communities can do this by having their say on their local alcohol policy, or by making objections to licence applications (new and renewal) through their local District Licensing Committee.

Availability of alcohol in a community

The more that alcohol is available in a community, the higher the levels of harm it is likely to experience.

Availability of alcohol can be reduced by:

  • limiting the number of places that sell alcohol
  • reducing the number of hours that a licensed premises is open
  • placing conditions on a liquor licence

This section explains why each of these strategies is important.

Limiting the number of places that sell alcohol

The more alcohol outlets in an area, the more hazardous drinking occurs, and therefore more harm.

When a community has a high number of places that sell alcohol (licensed premises), it is more likely that community will experience alcohol-related harms such as violence, assaults, drink driving, child maltreatment, self-reported harm and heavy drinking among adolescents and university students.

Competition is high when there are many places that sell alcohol. This means that they stay open for longer to catch every sale and reduce their prices. Low prices are linked to higher alcohol harm.

Having a high number of places that sell alcohol may also lower the amenity and good order in a community - this is because heavy drinkers may cause violence, street disturbance, litter, vomit, property damage, etc. Premises may also attract people to an area, whether or not they drink in the premises.

In New Zealand, there are more places that sell alcohol in low income communities

Young Māori and Pacific males (i.e. 18-24 years) are more negatively impacted by living in close proximity to places that sell alcohol. Young European females are most affected by living in communities with a high number of places that sell alcohol. 

Reducing the hours that a licensed premises is open

In New Zealand, the number of hours that a licensed premises is open is determined by our alcohol laws - the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

If a local Council has not yet adopted a Local Alcohol Policy, then the default maximum national trading hours for off-licences (supermarkets, grocery stores, bottle stores) are 7am to 11pm.

These are maximum trading hours so it doesn’t mean that a premises will be allowed to open for these hours. Their licence will specify times that they are able to sell alcohol.

There are also special requirements relating to certain public holidays (no trading on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Anzac Day before 1pm, and Christmas Day).  Click here to read more. 

You can influence the trading hours of licensed premises in your community by objecting to licence applications.


Having later opening hours can reduce the exposure of alcohol (and its advertising) to children on their journey from home to school. This suggests that it would be ideal if all off-licences remained closed until after 9am or 10am, once children have made their way to school. It would also be useful for them to close when children leave school (i.e. between 3 to 4pm).

Research has documented the association between exposure to alcohol advertising around schools and increased intentions to use alcohol among very young adolescents. Exposure to in-store displays of alcohol have also been found to increase the likelihood of drinking.

Social service providers in New Zealand have been concerned about the negative impact of early opening hours on persons with alcohol dependence. A later opening hour may further assist those who have made a decision to reduce their alcohol intake and support those in recovery.


In New Zealand, drinkers who purchased alcohol from off-licences after 10pm were found to be twice as likely to be heavy drinkers compared to those who purchased alcohol from an off-licence before 10pm.

In New Zealand, approximately 75% of all alcohol is sold from off-licences (43% from bottle stores, 32% from supermarkets). Restricting off-licence supply of alcohol is especially important in reducing alcohol-related harm.

Following the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, 24-hour licences were prohibited. New Zealand research found that the reduction in very late night trading hours was associated with a reduction in weekend hospitalised assaults declined by 11%, with the greatest reduction among 15–29‐year‐olds (18%). Another study found that only 1% of alcohol shops, 9% of supermarkets, and 6% of bars/nightclubs were affected by the hour restrictions because they did not trade as long as their licensed hours permitted in the first place. The study found no effect of the trading hour restrictions on nighttime police calls for service for assaults, but did find a significant gradual permanent decrease of 12.4%  for late-night assaults between 4am and 6am. ** Note: both of these studies were not able to disentangle the results for off-licences and on-licences separately.

There are only a few studies that have examined the impact of off-licence hours on harm. Both studies (in Germany and Switzerland) found significant reductions in harm to young people. But because comprehensive measures were put in place, it is difficult to determine the specific impact of reductions in hours.

Placing conditions on liquor licences

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 allows licensing decision makers to place conditions on liquor licences. Some conditions are compulsory, for example:

  • Stating the days and hours during which alcohol may be sold
  • Single alcohol areas in supermarkets and grocery stores – click here for more information

In addition, licensing decision makers have the discretion to add further conditions (over and above the compulsory conditions) to the licence to minimise alcohol-related harm associated with the individual premises.

Conditions may include (but are not limited to):

  • Prohibiting the sale of single alcoholic beverages
  • Requiring off-licences to close between 3-4pm (to protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising when children leave school)
  • Prohibiting the sale of certain types of products
  • Prohibiting sales to persons in school uniforms
  • Not displaying RTDs at the principal entrance to the store or within three metres of front windows
  • Limiting external advertising to one sign identifying the trading name of the premises - see more signage conditions below
  • Windows to be clear and free from brand advertising - see more signage conditions below
  • Prohibiting portable signage such as flags or sandwich boards - see more signage conditions below

Research shows that these types of approaches may be limited in their effectiveness if not accompanied by stronger evidence-based restrictions to the availability of alcohol. Research also shows that discretionary conditions are more effective if they are applied in a consistent manner. 


Prohibiting the sale of single alcoholic serves (also known as single sales) is backed up by strong evidence. Research has shown links between alcohol outlets that sell single alcohol serves to increased alcohol-related violence and crime.

When single sales were prohibited, alcohol-related ambulance attendances among 15 to 24 year olds decreased.

Single units of alcohol are likely to be favoured by those who are heavy drinkers and also price sensitive; namely adolescents and young adults, and those with an alcohol dependence. Many licensees in New Zealand have already signed an undertaking not to offer for sale any single alcoholic beverages from their premises.

A suitable discretionary condition may therefore be:

The licensee must not sell single units of:

  1. Beer or ready to drink spirits (RTDs) in bottles, cans, or containers 440mls or less in volume may occur except for craft beer; and
  2. Shots or pre mixed shots.

Alternatively, the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority issued this condition in 2021:

  • No single sales of beer, cider, or RTDs priced at, or less than, $6.00 per unit are to be sold.

You can read the decision here.


In August 2021, the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority issued these conditions for a bottle store in close proximity to sensitive sites (schools, etc):

  • Signage shall be limited to displaying the store name and logo on the existing roof display
  • No bright colours shall be used in the external decoration of the premises
  • No specific product or price specials shall be displayed externally
  • No external advertising shall be displayed by way of flags or sandwich boards outside the store

You can read the decision here.


Conditions may also be sought to address new and innovative alcohol products being introduced to the retail market. Some of these products (e.g. alcohol sachets, alcoholic ice-blocks) can very dangerous for members of the public to consume. As such, conditions may be placed to restrict their sale.