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A licence must be obtained to sell alcohol

In general, a special licence is required for:

  • anyone who wishes to sell or supply alcohol to be consumed at an event where no existing licence is in place, or
  • alcohol to be sold or supplied at a licensed premises at times outside those specified in their usual licence.

Not all special licence applications are publicly notified

Special Licences are treated slightly differently to other licences. Applicants must lodge a special licence application at least 20 working days before the event – if they do not they will need to ask the district licensing committee if it will agree to accept their application late – it might not.

Unlike other licence applications the secretary of the district licensing committee decides whether the applicant needs to publicly notify the application (e.g. in a newspaper, or at the premises).

You will need to check the council website or look out for notices in the local newspapers or local area to be aware of special licence applications. Please note that some premises may put the public notice somewhere that may not be noticeable to the public (e.g. the notice may be posted on somewhere that is far from the entrance).  It’s worth getting in touch with your local council to clarify how to find out about applications.

A special licence can be refused by a District Licensing Committee

A district licensing committee can refuse to grant a special licence even if no objections were received from the community, and if no reports from the licensing inspector, Police, or health authorities were received in opposition to the application. The district licensing committee may refuse an application for a special licence after considering the criteria for a special licence, or if the application would be inconsistent with the relevant local alcohol policy (if any).

Three agencies can inquire into, and report on, the application

When a special licence application is received it is sent to the three reporting agencies (Police, Council licensing inspector, or Medical Officer of Health). 

The licensing inspector MUST inquire into the application and MUST report on it.

The Police MUST must inquire into the application but ARE NOT required to file a report unless they oppose the application.

The Medical Officer of Health IS NOT required to inquire into the application, but they can do so if they wish. 

If any of the three agencies oppose or there are objections from the public, then a public hearing will need to be held.  There needs to be 10 working days’ notice of any public hearing.

The community can object to an application – if notified

You can make an objection to the application if you have a “greater interest” than the public generally. 

A person with ‘greater interest’ means you could be living or working near (e.g. within 1-2km) the premises or event location, or you’re a member of a Board of Trustees of a school or marae near the premises or event location.

However, for a community member to make an objection, the application must have been required to be publicly notified. This requirement is at the discretion of the district licensing committee secretary.

Please note that your name and contact details need to be provided in your objection. Your objection and contact details are given to the applicant. The applicant may seek to amend their application based on your objections (e.g. by reducing their proposed trading hours) or they may use your objection to prepare a response at a public hearing.

You can also object to a licence as a community group.  Your objection letter can act as a petition, gathering signatures from people who have a greater interest than the public generally. If you choose this method, it is important to include in the petition the name and address of a spokesperson or contact person, including an email address. Each objector in the petition must include their name and address clearly, as well as their signature.

Alternatively, you could create an objection letter template which you can print off and distribute throughout the local community.

You would normally have 15 working days (note - working days do not include public holidays but do include regional anniversary days) to lodge an objection or petition against a licence from the date of the first notification.  However, for special licence applications, if they are notified, the period in which objections will be received is at the discretion of the district licensing committee secretary.  You may get very little time, if any, to prepare and lodge your objection.

Once the list of objectors is finalised and given to all three agencies, some applicants may invite objectors to a meeting to discuss their concerns. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, do not feel pressured to attend.

Although your contact details are not published, if you take part in the public hearing your name and objection will become public record.

Objections can only relate to specified criteria

There are a range of criteria that are used in decisions relating to special licence applications. The criteria are

  • the object of the Act (the harm caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol should be minimised)
  • the nature of the event(s) for which the licence is sought
    • whether the applicant is engaged in, or proposes on the premises to engage in, the sale of goods other than alcohol, low-alcohol refreshments, non-alcoholic refreshments, and food, and if so, which goods
    • whether the applicant is engaged in, or proposes on the premises to engage in, the provision of services other than those directly related to the sale of alcohol, low-alcohol refreshments, non-alcoholic refreshments, and food, and if so, which services
  • the suitability of the applicant
  • any relevant local alcohol policy
  • the days on which and the hours during which the applicant proposes to sell alcohol:
  • the design and layout of the premises concerned:
  • whether the applicant has appropriate systems, staff and training to comply with the law:
  • whether (in its opinion) the amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced, to more than a minor extent, by the effects of the issue of the licence:
  • any proposed steps to ensure prohibited persons (minors, intoxicated persons) are not served
  • proposals relating to the sale and supply of non-alcoholic drinks and food, low-alcohol drinks, and provision of help and information about alternative forms of transport
  • any matters dealt with in reports from the Police, Medical Officer of Health, or the licensing inspector

For more specific and detailed information on the criteria as set out in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, please click here:


Many community members focus their objections on the trading hours, impact on amenity and good order, suitability of the applicant and object of the Act. But you can use any of the above criteria.  You must focus your objection in relation to the above criteria.

What is amenity and good order?

In relation to amenity and good order, the Act requires that the Licensing Committee must have regard to the following matters (as they relate to the locality of the premise or event location):

  • current, and possible future, noise levels
  • current, and possible future, levels of nuisance and vandalism
  • the number of premises or events for which licences of the kind concerned are already held

Other considerations in relation to amenity and good order are:

  • the extent to which the following purposes are compatible:
  • the purposes for which land near the premises or events concerned is used:
  • the purposes for which those premises or events will be used if the licence is issued.

Large scale events may have additional requirements

When a special licence relates to a large scale event, the district licensing committee may require the applicant to provide a management plan describing how the applicant will deal with matters such as security, monitoring, interaction with local residents, and public health concerns.  The committee may also require the applicant to provide evidence that the proposed use of the premises complies with the resource management act, and the building code.  The committee may also require the applicant to liaise with the Police and the council on planning for the event.


Seeking conditions on a special licence

It may be that you do not object to the granting of a special licence, but object to the trading hours that are proposed. Or perhaps you would like some conditions attached to the licence. This is absolutely fine - make it clear in your objection letter that this is the case and what hours or conditions would be acceptable.

Examples of conditions for a special licence might include:

  • The licensee must at all times have in place a Host Responsibility Policy that covers the steps that will be taken to:
    • prevent intoxication; and
    • not serve alcohol to minors; and
    • provide and actively promote low alcohol and non-alcoholic alternatives; and
    • provide and actively promote substantial food options; and
    • serve alcohol responsibly or not at all; and
    • provide information and arrange safe transport options from the premises concerned; and
    • actively manage the premises at all times.
  • The  licensee must take reasonable steps to ensure that all staff, are aware of, and comply with, the Host Responsibility Policy; and have successfully completed the Health Promotion Agency’s on-line training module on responsible service (or similar training)
  • The licensee must maintain a register of material alcohol-related incidents, noting the date, time and details of each incident, and the steps taken by the licensee in response to the incident" - “material alcohol-related incidents” include, but are not limited to the following situations:
    • a patron or staff member is seriously threatened; or
    • fighting occurs on the premises; or
    • an external agency such as the Police, Māori Wardens or emergency services has been contacted; or
    • a patron has been forcibly evicted and/or banned from the premises; or
    • property is wilfully damaged by a patron;
    • patrons are found to be involved in any illegal activity on the premises, including drink spiking.
  • A minimum number of certified managers, as determined by the DLC shall be present onsite at peak times.
  • There be lighting around entrances and exits to ensure the safety of patrons and passers-by
  • Noise shall not exceed that specified by the resource consent. 

Objections are processed by the local Council licensing inspector

Every objection should be acknowledged in writing. Email is usually the best form of communication. The inspector will assess your objection and determine if you meet the criteria for having a “greater interest” than the public generally and that your objection relates to the specified criteria.

Community objections proceed to a public hearing

If you exercise an opportunity to object to a special licence, the District Licensing Committee (DLC) will hold a public hearing. It is important that you attend this hearing if you want to make your objection count.

The file of reports from the three agencies, together with community objections, is forwarded to the Hearings Advisor for the DLC.

The date, time, and location of the hearing will be sent to you from the Hearings Team. They will inform you of the process and deadlines to submit further evidence (if you wish to present any).   

By law, the DLC must give at least 10 working days' notice of the public hearing to all parties. If your objection is in the form of a petition, they will contact the spokesperson. 

Hearing dates are publicly available leading up to the hearing date on the webpage of each Council.


Click here for a flowchart on the licensing process.