Information about alcohol licensing during COVID-19

Information for territorial authorities and District Licensing Committees - Epidemic Preparedness (Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012-Licence Application Inquiries) Immediate Modification Order 2020.

Update 19 August 2020: The Immediate Modification Order for the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act continues to apply. It remains in force as long as the Epidemic Notice remains in force, regardless of changes to Alert Levels. The Epidemic Notice was renewed on 23 June 2020 and has a current expiry date of 24 September 2020.

Update 5 May 2020: Further information regarding the sale and supply of alcohol in the context of the COVID-19 response

This information outlines the effect of the Immediate Modification Order on the alcohol licensing regime. It is not intended as legal advice.

In light of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Government has made a temporary law change to modify the requirements relating to licence applications and renewals under sections 103 and 129 of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

This note provides territorial authorities and District Licensing Committees (DLCs) with information about the changes, which have been made to enable the Police and Medical Officers of Health to report to DLCs, and to ensure that DLCs receive appropriate advice before processing licence applications in light of the COVID-19 Epidemic Notice.

More information for territorial authorities, DLCs and licensees about the sale and supply of alcohol in the context of the COVID-19 response is being developed, with targeted consultation where possible. Further information will be published on the Ministry of Justice website in the week of 20 April 2020.  

What is an Immediate Modification Order?

Immediate modification orders (IMOs) are issued under section 15 of the Epidemic Preparedness Act. IMOs are considered and agreed to by Cabinet and take the form of Orders in Council.

IMOs cannot be used to substantially rewrite parts of the law. They can only be used where there is a statutory requirement or restriction that is impossible or impracticable to comply with, or comply with fully, during an epidemic.

What changes does this modification order make?

This modification order amends sections 103 and 129 of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

There are three parts to this modification order:

  • it suspends the obligations on Police and Medical Officers of Health to inquire into any new licence or licence renewal application that they receive from DLCs, while the Epidemic Notice is in force;
  • it extends the time for Police and Medical Officers of Health to report on applications: from the date on which the Epidemic Notice is lifted, Police and Medical Officers of Health will have 30 (rather than the usual 15) working days to file a report with the DLC if they oppose an application;
  • DLCs will be unable to make a decision on a licence application that is subject to this modification order unless they receive a report from Police and the Medical Officer of Health.

The changes made by this modification order are temporary. The modification order will expire 30 working days after the Epidemic Notice is lifted, and the law will return to normal.

Why did the law need to be modified?

Police and public health services are a key part of leading the country’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. This means that the resources of Police and Medical Officers of Health have been reprioritised and are focused on the epidemic response. Police and Medical Officers of Health are unable to meet their statutory obligations under section 103 of the Act. In light of the physical distancing requirements and essential businesses categorisations, Police and Medical Officers of Health are also unable to visit premises as part of their inquiry.

The modification order will expire 30 working days after the Epidemic Notice is lifted. This recognises that that Police and Medical Officers of Health need additional time to inquire into applications due to the reprioritisation of their work. In some areas there could be a backlog of applications that Police and Medical Officers of Health will need to inquire into. The extension also helps to accommodate the ongoing impact that the COVID-19 response will have on Police and Medical Officers of Health even after the Epidemic Notice is lifted.

Scrutiny of licence applications, by both Police and Medical Officers of Health, is an important part of achieving the harm minimisation objectives of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act. The temporary changes will maintain the existing framework for scrutiny, which has been impacted by the COVID-19 response.

We acknowledge the key role that inspectors play in the licensing process. The legislation does not set statutory timeframes for inspectors to fulfil their obligations in the licensing process, which allows the impact of the COVID-19 response to be managed operationally. For this reason, the modification order does not refer to inspectors.

It is intended that DLCs continue to make licensing decisions for new and renewed licences based on all the available evidence, including from Police and Medical Officers of Health where relevant. The current provision in section 103 that deems an application to be unopposed by Police or Medical Officers of Health where they have not filed a report within 15 days has been suspended during the Epidemic Notice period. Instead, where an application is received by Police and Medical Officers of Health during this period, a decision on the application may only be made once a report has been received from both Police and Medical Officers of Health, whether in support of the application or raising matters in opposition.  This is to make it clear that the normal process for progressing licensing decisions for the relevant applications is otherwise paused while the Epidemic Notice is in effect.

Once the Epidemic Notice is lifted, Police and Medical Officers of Health have 30 working days to file their reports on applications received during that period.

Which licence applications are affected by this modification order?

This modification order only applies to applications for new licences or licence renewals that are received by Police and Medical Officers of Health while the Epidemic Notice is in force. The Epidemic Notice came into force on 25 March 2020. It was renewed on 23 June 2020 and now expires on 24 September 2020. The Renewal Notice can be found on the New Zealand Gazette government website: 

Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020 Renewal Notice 2020(external link)

This modification order does not apply to licence applications or renewals that were received by Police and Medical Officers of Health before the Epidemic Notice came into force, or after the Epidemic Notice is lifted. These applications will be subject to the usual requirements in section 103, including the timeframe of 15 working days and the assumption that an application is unopposed if no report is received from Police or Medical Officers of Health.

This modification order does not change the current law regarding applications for special licences or manager’s certificates. However, the Ministry of Justice is looking at these provisions and considering whether a further IMO is necessary.

Will DLCs still be able to process new licence applications while the Epidemic Notice is in force?

DLCs will still be able to accept licence applications while the Epidemic Notice is in force. DLCs may continue to send applications to Police and Medical Officers of Health, as usual, during this period.

The modification order is one factor that may increase the processing time for applications, as DLCs in parts of New Zealand may not receive reports from Police or the Medical Officer of Health until after the Epidemic Notice is lifted. There are also other requirements in the Act that will be practically difficult for DLCs and licensees to fulfil during the higher alert levels under the Epidemic Notice. Further information provided next week will discuss the practicalities of considering these requirements.

However, DLC’s will be able to go on to the next step in the decision-making process on licence applications that are subject to the modification order, if they receive a report from Police and the Medical Officer of Health.

What will happen to licences that are due to expire and renewal applications for these licences while the Epidemic Notice is in force?

This modification order does not change the law around the expiry date of licences. As noted above, DLCs will still be able to accept licence applications and renewals while the Epidemic Notice is in force. However, there may be a delay in the overall processing time for these applications due to the epidemic response.

We encourage territorial authorities to proactively contact licence-holders, whose licences are due to expire while the Epidemic Notice is in force and explain the need to apply for a renewal in the circumstances. We understand some territorial authorities are already doing this and may have simplified what they require for an initial application to support renewals being made on time.

As long as current licence-holders apply for a renewal before their licence expires, their licence will remain valid in accordance with section 122 of the Act, and they will not be disadvantaged by the extended timeframes.

Further information is being developed to assist territorial authorities, DLCs and licensees during this time

The Ministry of Justice acknowledges that there are other requirements in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 that are likely to be practically difficult for territorial authorities, DLCs and licensees to fulfil during the higher alert levels under the Epidemic Notice. Further information will be provided next week that will discuss the practicalities of these and provide information on how they may be approached.


Further information regarding the sale and supply of alcohol in the context of the COVID-19 response

Additional information for District Licensing Committees

This provides further information to territorial authorities and their District Licensing Committees (DLCs) regarding the sale and supply of alcohol in the context of the COVID-19 response.

This information is intended to complement the information that was published on the Ministry of Justice Website on Friday 17 April 2020, regarding the Epidemic Preparedness (Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012-Licence Application Inquiries) Immediate Modification Order 2020.

What will happen with licences that are due to expire and renewal applications for these licences while the Epidemic Notice is in force?

DLCs will still be able to accept licence applications and renewals while the Epidemic Notice is in force. However, there may be a delay in the overall processing time for these applications due to the epidemic response and the extended period for reporting agencies. The immediate modification order can be found at:

Epidemic Preparedness (Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012—Licence Application Inquiries) Immediate Modification Order 2020(external link)

Licensees should be aware of when their licences are due for renewal. We encourage territorial authorities to proactively contact licence-holders whose licences are due to expire while the Epidemic Notice is in force and explain the need to apply for a renewal as usual. We understand some territorial authorities are already doing this. We also understand that some territorial authorities may have simplified what they require for an initial application, to support renewals being made on time. The full information should still be obtained but allowing additional time for applicants to provide this recognises the wider circumstances created by the epidemic.

As long as current licence-holders apply for a renewal as set out in s 123 of the Act and before the licence expires, the licence will remain valid in accordance with section 122 of the Act. Licensees should be aware that an application for the renewal of a licence cannot be made if the licence has already expired.

Are there any changes to be made to process for manager’s certificates? What will happen with certificates that are due to expire and renewal applications for these certificates while the Epidemic Notice is in force?

The Epidemic Preparedness (Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012-Licence Application Inquiries) Immediate Modification Order 2020 has temporarily changed the requirements relating to licence applications and renewals under sections 103 and 129 of the Act. The immediate modification order can be found at:

Epidemic Preparedness (Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012—Licence Application Inquiries) Immediate Modification Order 2020(external link)

There is no change being proposed for manager’s certificates and the requirements for Police to inquire into new and renewal applications under sections 220 and 225 of the Act. The timeframes in those sections continue to apply and have not been extended as they have in the case of licences.

Currently there is an impact on the ability of Police to prioritise this work because of the epidemic response, particularly in smaller areas across the country. However, we understand that applications are continuing to be processed in some areas, with Police still reporting, although applications have slowed. We encourage territorial authorities to work with local Police to understand their resourcing priorities and discuss managing the flow of applications, so that Police reporting can continue to occur as much as possible.

The same situation applies for renewals of manager’s certificates as it does for licence renewals. As long as current holders of manager’s certificates apply for a renewal as set out in s 224 of the Act and before the certificate expires, the certificate will remain valid in accordance with section 223 of the Act.

What information should be provided to off-licence holders who wish to start conducting remote sales?

Under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, a holder of an off-licence is generally able to sell alcohol remotely (subject to their licence conditions and any relevant provisions of the Act).

At alert level 3, off-licence holders will also be able to sell by phone or online order and contactless delivery or collection. WorkSafe provides public health guidance for business providing delivery of goods. This includes hygiene measures and the need to keep a physical distance of 2 metres from customers at all times. You can find the WorkSafe guidance for businesses here:

COVID-19: Advice for delivery drivers(external link)

It is possible that councils and DLCs may experience an increase in the number of off-licence holders notifying their DLC that they wish to start conducting remote sales. In addition to the public health measures for COVID, the Ministry of Justice recommends that councils and DLCs remind off-licence holders that they are also required to meet the requirements in section 59 of the Act.

What additional requirements apply to remote sales in light of the COVID-19 response?

The Government recommends that licensees set a limit on the quantity of spirits that can be purchased per order that reflects the usual duty-free allowance. This would mean that no more than three bottles (or containers) of 1.125 litres of spirits or liqueur could be purchased per order.

Will there be any changes to the monitoring and enforcement of the Act?

At alert levels 3 and 4, the Ministry of Justice acknowledges that councils may need to make operational changes to the way that they monitor and enforce activity under the Act. This is because while physical premises may continue to be closed, licensees will be operating remotely (e.g. online). Councils may need to increase the amount of monitoring and enforcement that is conducted remotely (e.g. online) and continue to collaborate as appropriate where possible with Police alcohol harm reduction teams, in particular around Level 3 non-compliance matters.

The ability for Police or an inspector to apply for a licence suspension, cancellation or variation in licence conditions remains unchanged.

How should DLCs manage public notification requirements at higher alert levels?

The public notification requirements are a key part of the licensing process. At alert level 4, it is likely impossible for some applicants to physically attach their application for a licence to the premises. As some local newspapers are also not publishing during alert level 4, this also has a significant impact on the public notification process. At alert level 3, it may be more achievable for some (but not all) licence holders to meet the full public notification requirements.

We encourage DLCs to take an operationally pragmatic approach to the notification requirements when considering whether these requirements have been met. For example, DLCs may approach this by requiring licensees to provide an electronic copy of their application, which can be made available (whether by email or website, subject to your council IT requirements) for viewing for the benefit of community input.

There is no intention to amend the national public notification requirements under the Act in light of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Under section 208 of the Act, DLCs have the ability to waive omissions where a person has neglected to do any act in the precise manner or within the precise timeframe set out in the Act, as long as it is not wilful. DLCs might wish to consider whether a waiver is appropriate in some circumstances where an applicant has not been able to meet the notification requirements in precise accordance with the Act. DLCs should continue to bear in mind that the intention of these provisions is to enable community input into alcohol decisions and consider whether this intention has been met.

How should DLCs manage the requirements for the filing of public objections at higher alert levels?

Another key aspect of the licensing system is the ability for a person to object to the granting of a licence (or a renewal). As with public notifications, at alert levels 3 and 4 it may be difficult for some people who wish to file an objection to an application to do so within the required timeframe under the Act.

There is no intention to amend the national objection requirements under the Act in light of the COVID-19 epidemic.

As noted above, under section 208 of the Act, DLCs have the ability to waive omissions where a person has neglected to do any act in the precise manner or within the precise timeframe set out in the Act, as long as it is not wilful. DLCs might wish to consider whether a waiver is appropriate in some circumstances where an objection has not been able to be filed within the timeframe set out in the Act. As with public notifications, DLCs should continue to bear in mind that the intention of these provisions is to enable community input into alcohol decisions and consider whether this intention has been met.

Can public hearings still be convened?

As DLCs will be aware, public hearings must be convened if there are public objections to a licence application, opposition from reporting agencies, or if a DLC wishes to convene a hearing. Section 202(4) of the Act provides that relevant parties must be given 10 working days’ notice of a public hearing. Other than this requirement, there are no other statutory timeframes that apply to when a public hearing must be convened.

In light of the modifications that have been made to sections 103 and 129 of the Act, DLCs will be unable to make a final decision on a licence application or licence renewal that was received while the Epidemic Notice is in force, unless they have received a report from Police and the Medical Officer of Health or unless 30 working days have passed since the Notice has been lifted.

Information about the operation of ARLA during this time can be found at:

Alcohol Licensing and Regulatory Authority

Will there be any changes to licensing fees in light of the COVID-19 epidemic?

The Act requires fees to be paid at set times and the regime is designed to work on a cost-recovery basis. Application fees cover the costs of the application process whilst annual fees cover the costs of monitoring and enforcement and are due on the anniversary of the date the licence was issued.

Where a business does not re-open and the licence is surrendered, the licence holder is entitled to a proportionate refund of their fees. There is no intention to amend the national licensing fees framework under the Act in light of the COVID-19 epidemic. The Ministry of Justice encourages councils and DLCs to continue working with individual licence holders to address their concerns and take their individual circumstances into account.

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