Case for Change

On-licences are premises where alcohol can be purchased for consumption on the premises, for example a bar, nightclub, restaurant/café.

The more that alcohol is available in a community, the higher levels of alcohol-related harm will follow. 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 on-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 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 maximum national trading hours for on-licences (bars and nightclubs, restaurants and cafes) are 8am to 4am.

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.


Alcohol-related offending increases for every hour licensed premises are open after midnight.

Compared to licensed premises which close at 12am or earlier, a study in Australia found that the expected rate of offending increased at the following rate:

Compared to premises which close before midnight                               The risk of offending is

12:01am and 1am                                                                                              1.6 times greater

1:01am and 2am                                                                                                2.2 times greater

3:01am and 5am                                                                                                8.9 times greater

A New Zealand study found that drinkers who bought alcohol after 2am from on-licences were 2.9 times more likely to drink high amounts of alcohol compared to those who purchased before 2am. They were also twice as likely to drink frequently.

When on-licence hours are reduced, studies generally find that alcohol-related harms are reduced. For example, a study in Newcastle, Australia, found that there was a 37% decrease in assaults when their premises reduced their trading hours in the early hours of the morning.  These positive changes have been maintained five-years later.

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.


Having later opening hours can reduce the exposure of alcohol (and its advertising) to children on their journey to and from school. 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.

Placing conditions on liquor licences

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

  • Stating the days and hours during which alcohol may be sold
  • Stating a place or places on the premises at which drinking water is freely available to customers

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.

Discretionary conditions may include (but are not limited to):

  • Requiring a one-way door policy after a specified hour (on-licences, club licences, special licences only – e.g. no one can enter the premises after 12am, only those in the establishment can continue purchasing alcohol)
  • Prohibiting the sale of certain types of products
  • Restricting the use of outdoor areas for dining or drinking after a specified hour.

Further examples of licence conditions can be found here.

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. 


One-way door conditions can also be added on a licence and can be included within a Local Alcohol Policy.

The approach works by staggering the time that customers leave licensed premises (thereby decreasing crowds of people exiting licensed premises at the same time) and reduce migration between premises (which Police contend is one of the main issues confronting them late at night). They can also help decrease preloading behaviour. Within New Zealand, ALAC (now part of the Health Promotion Agency) conducted an evaluation of the Christchurch one-way-door intervention in 2008. The evaluation found that while there was no overall reduction in alcohol-related crime in the inner city, there were reductions in some subsets of crime. It also showed that the one-way door intervention relied on effective working relationships by all parties, including Police and licensees. Additionally, in Dunedin in 2008 approximately 25 inner-city bars took part in a one-way door trial for 3 months, demonstrating a reduction in alcohol-fuelled violence in the central city. One-way door restrictions may be a useful tool to minimise harm. However, on their own and, if inconsistently applied, one-way doors are unlikely to be effective.