14 Permits and Licences Needed To Open A Bar

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Katherine BoyarskyAuthor

You’ve chosen your bar name, developed your unique branding, and found your dream location. Before you can celebrate your grand opening, there are still a few technicalities to work out.

Prior to legally serving your customers, you need to obtain a number of bar permits and licences. Without these, your business faces the risk of fines or even closure. 

Although regulations vary depending on region, the general overview of the restaurant permits and licenses necessary to open your bar remains the same. 

What Do You Need to Open a Bar?

Here's a quick rundown on steps to take to open a bar. You can also review our restaurant business plan template for more information.

1. Business Licence

To open a bar in the UK and be able to to legally sell alcohol, as well as providing regulated entertainment such as live music, you'll need to obtain a Premises Licence. The Premises Licence may also include conditions related to fire safety, ensuring that your bar has appropriate fire safety measures in place, including fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, and fire exit signage.

How to Get a Premises Licence

Contact your local licensing authority or council to confirm the specific requirements, procedures, and application forms. 

How Much Does a Premise Licence Cost?

The initial application fee might range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. You will also need to pay an annual fee to maintain the licence, and if you decide to hire a legal professional to help navigate the application process, this should be factored into your budgeting too. The overall cost of obtaining a Premises Licence will vary widely depending on the type of premises, the location, and the specific activities you plan to carry out.


2. Employer PAYE Reference

All businesses require an Employer PAYE Reference to legally operate in the UK.

An Employer PAYE Reference is essentially a tax number that's issued by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to help identify your business. The good news is that once issued, an Employer PAYE Reference does not expire. However, if you experience significant changes in your business such as a change in ownership or closure and reopening, it's advisable to contact HMRC for guidance on how to proceed and whether a new reference is required.

How to Get an Employer PAYE Reference

You can apply for an Employer PAYE Reference on the HMRC website.

How Much Does an Employer PAYE Reference cost?

It’s free to get an Employer PAYE Reference.

3. Change of Use Permission

Once you’ve secured your bar’s location, you’ll need to obtain a Change of Use Permission. This requires an inspection by your local council or planning authority to verify that the building is safe for customers.

How to Get a Change of Use Permission

Each local council has varying jurisdiction. To start the process of obtaining a Change of Use Permission, research your local council or planning authority's website and follow the steps shown online. 

How Much Does a Change of Use Permission Cost?

The fee for a standard planning application could range from around £200 to over £500, but will vary depending on various factors, including the scale and complexity of your project.


4. Alcohol Licence

Alcohol is the staple of your bar, so you’ll need an alcohol licence to legally sell these beverages. The specific types of licences and permits may vary slightly depending on the country within the UK (England and Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland) and local licensing policies. 

As a business that wants to sell alcohol on their premises, you will need to apply for a Premises Licence. In addition, employees who will be responsible for the sale of alcohol at your bar will need to hold a Personal Licence.

How to Get an Alcohol Licence

Contact your local council's licensing authority to discuss your intentions and obtain guidance on the application process. They can provide you with information about local licensing policies, fees, and application forms.

Note that every premises that sells alcohol must have a designated premises supervisor (DPS) who holds a valid personal license. If you intend to manage the premises yourself, you can apply for a personal license and serve as the DPS. If not, you will need to appoint someone with a personal license as the DPS.

How Much Does an Alcohol Licence Cost?

The cost of a Premises Licence and a Personal Licence in the United Kingdom can vary depending on the local authority or council in your area. 

The cost of applying for a new Premises Licence can range from around £100 to several thousand pounds, depending on your council's fee structure. There are also annual renewal fees to be prepared for, although these are usually lower than the initial application fee. 

The cost of applying for a Personal License can vary by council and typically ranges from around £37 to £70 or more. To obtain a Personal License, you must complete a mandatory training course called the Level 2 Award for Personal License Holders (APLH). The training course fee can vary depending on the training provider but is usually in the range of £100 to £150.

5. Value-Added Tax (VAT) Registration

When your bar's taxable turnover reaches or is expected to exceed the current VAT registration threshold, you are required to register for VAT with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Once registered for VAT, you will receive a VAT identification number (VAT ID) from HMRC. You will use this VAT ID for transactions with your suppliers and customers. When you purchase goods and services from your suppliers, they will charge you VAT at the applicable rate. This VAT is known as "input tax" because it is a cost to your business. As a VAT-registered business, you can recover the VAT (input tax) you pay on your purchases by offsetting it against the VAT you charge on your sales (output tax).

How to Get a Register for VAT

You can do this online through the HMRC website. During the registration process, you'll need to choose a VAT scheme that suits your bar's business needs. Common VAT schemes include the Standard VAT Scheme, the Flat Rate Scheme, and the Annual Accounting Scheme. Once registered, you must start charging VAT on your taxable supplies (food and drinks) to your customers. You are required to report and pay the VAT collected to HMRC regularly, usually on a quarterly basis.

How Much Does it Cost to Register for VAT?

There is no direct cost associated with registering for VAT in the UK. Registering for VAT itself is free of charge. While registering for VAT is free, the ongoing VAT-related responsibilities and potential costs associated with VAT collection, reporting, and payment should be considered as part of your bar's financial planning.

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6. Signage Permit

A sign is a key part of your bar branding and marketing efforts. But you need to obtain a signage permit from your local government. The requirements vary regarding the size of your sign, how it’s displayed, and your location. If you rent your building, you may have extra specifications to consider. 

How to Get a Signage Permit

Once you have approval from your landlord, apply for a signage permit from your local government. Search for signage permit + your city in Google and follow the instructions online. 

How Much Does a Signage Permit Cost?

A typical signage permit costs around £40 per sign.


7. Music Licence    

Music is an integral part of your business. It sets the tone and atmosphere for your bar. Before you can play music or hire a DJ, however, it’s important to get a music license. As songs are protected by copyright, you can face financial penalties without having a license in place. 

How to Get a Music Licence

Music licences are normally obtained from performing rights organisations, such as the Performing Right Society (PRS). Alternatively, you can obtain licenced music from a business streaming service.

How Much Does a Music Licence Cost?

The cost of a music licence often depends on the type of recording you play, how many nights you play it, and which organisation or platform you choose.


8. Live Entertainment Licence

Live events like holiday celebrations or singles nights can bring more customers through your doors. If you’re planning on hosting a fun live experience, you’ll need a live entertainment licence. 

If you’re opening a sports bar and plan on showing live games on the big screen, you’ll also need a commercial TV package as these events are copyright protected. 

How to Get a Live Entertainment Licence

Your local council or licensing committee within the council is responsible for granting live entertainment licences. If you’re planning on holding a live music event, you’ll still need to obtain an entertainment license alongside a music license. 

If you plan on showing live sports events, sign up for a commercial TV package and research the stipulations for copyright for bars and restaurants to ensure you comply. 

How Much Does a Live Entertainment Licence Cost?

The cost depends on your location and local authority. Your bar’s maximum capacity can also be a factor. If your local council or licensing authority requires you to have a public hearing beforehand, this may cost extra and can depend on whether events will be indoors or outdoors, as well as the date and time and any costs for publishing notices and advertising to inform the public about the hearing.

9. Food Service Licence

As a business preparing and selling food and drink, you want to ensure the safety of your customers. The specific requirements for a food service licence will depend on the type and extent of food service you provide. For example, if you plan to have a full menu including cooked food items, a food service licence is likely to be required. However, if you plan on only providing snacks or pre-packaged items, requirements may differ. Reach out to your local council or environmental health department to inquire about the specific requirements and regulations for food service licences in your area.

How to Get a Food Service Licence

Start by contacting your local council or environmental health department. They will provide you with the necessary information and guidance on how to apply for a food service licence in your area. The council will issue you a licence once an inspection has taken place and you show that you meet their requirements. 

You’ll also need to give the name and address of your bar, in addition to the owner’s personal details. If a change of ownership or physical location occurs, you may need to renew your licence. 

How Much Does a Food Service Licence Cost?

The cost of obtaining a food service licence can vary  depending on location, number of employees, the size of your bar and the specific fees and requirements set by your local council or environmental health department.


10. Food Handler Certification

Employees who handle food in a commercial setting, including bar staff, may be required to obtain food handler certification or training. Food handler certification ensures that employees have received proper training in food safety and handling practices to prevent foodborne illnesses.  In many cases, at least one member of staff who is involved in food handling or food preparation is required to hold a valid food hygiene certificate (often known as a Level 2 Food Safety Certificate). 

How to Get a Food Handler Certification

Search for your town or city + food handler certification in Google to find the application process for your local environmental health department or local council.

How Much Does a Food Handler Certification Cost?

The cost of a basic Level 2 Food Safety Certificate course could range from approximately £20 to £100 or more, depending on the training provider, the format of the training, and the location of your bar.


11. Food Hygiene Rating

As your bar is selling beverages and possibly food to customers, you’ll need a food hygiene rating. This proves that your business complies with sanitation regulations. 

How to Get a Food Hygiene Rating

To discuss the specific requirements and processes for obtaining a food establishment licence or food hygiene rating, contact your local authority's environmental health department responsible for food safety in your area.

How Much Does a Food Hygiene Rating Cost?

Fees can vary by location and the size and type of establishment. Application fees can range from approximately  £100 to £500 or more, depending on the jurisdiction.

12. Pool Table Licence

If you plan on opening a sports bar or pub, you might want to have a pool table. If it is for the private enjoyment of the participants and not for the entertainment of spectators, it won’t be classed as the provision of regulated entertainment and will not require licensing. However, if you are thinking of hosting a pool or darts league and the games take place in front of an audience for their entertainment (as opposed to just the participants) then that activity would be viewed as regulated entertainment and would need to be licensed.

How to Get a Pool Table Licence

To discover if your local area requires you to have a license, simply Google your council + pool table license or billiards permit. 

How Much Does a Pool Table Licence Cost?

The cost of obtaining a pool table licence or amusement licence can vary significantly depending on your specific location and the regulations set by your local authority or county council. Contact your local county council directly to confirm the latest licensing fees and renewal costs.


Licences and Permits Across the UK

As you’ve seen from this guide, licences and permits for bars can vary across the UK. The region where your bar is located largely determines your licence requirements and the fees you pay.

Research your local council’s website to discover which licences and permits are required before opening. Also, ensure that any licences and permits you hold are current, as the renewal process is often easier than the initial application.

The UK government's License Finder tool can help you identify some of the licences and permits you might need for your specific type of business: https://www.gov.uk/licence-finder

Here are some additional tips for obtaining licences and permits in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as some nuances to be aware of. These sections show a few examples of what’s needed, and are not the full list.


Getting Bar Licences and Permits in England

Some local authorities in England have the power to impose Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMROs), which restrict the sale of alcohol in specific areas during certain hours. These orders are intended to address alcohol-related issues and anti-social behavior. Be sure to check if your bar is operating in an area with EMROs, so that you can be aware of the restrictions and ensure compliance.

In addition, certain areas, particularly city centres, may impose a Late-Night Levy on licenced premises that operate late at night. This is an additional fee aimed at contributing to the costs of policing and managing late-night activity. Bars operating in areas with a late-night levy should be prepared to pay this fee.


Getting Bar Licences and Permits in Scotland

Scotland has its own set of rules regarding extended hours for alcohol sales, which may differ from those in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Check with your Licensing Board for the permitted hours in your area.

Licence holders and staff members must undergo training in the responsible sale of alcohol. The Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (SCPLH) is a common qualification that individuals must obtain.


Getting Bar Licences and Permits in Wales

Some local authorities in Wales have policies that restrict the number of licensed premises in certain areas. These "overprovision policies" are designed to prevent issues related to excessive alcohol availability. Be aware of such policies in your area.

Consider having bilingual signage in both Welsh and English. This can include menus, information boards, and directional signs. Familiarise yourself with the Welsh Language Standards set by the Welsh Language Commissioner, which outline requirements regarding the use of Welsh.


Getting Bar Licences and Permits in Northern Ireland

Licensing in Northern Ireland is regulated by the Department for Communities (DfC) and the local council in the area where your bar is located. Bar owners in Northern Ireland should apply for licences through their local council's licensing department.

Licence holders and staff members must undergo training in the responsible sale of alcohol. The Responsible Retailing of Alcohol (RRA) qualification is typically required for personal licence holders.

Your Next Steps

Licensing is a costly yet essential part of starting a bar business. Make sure you factor in these fees when working out your bar startup expenses, and plan well in advance to ensure you obtain everything needed in time for your launch. 

Starting with a bar business plan will help you to map out every step of your business journey, from creative to deadlines to menu design. 

To understand the exact bar licences and permits you need, it’s important to do diligent research beforehand as certain regulations can vary between regions, and deadlines always come up more quickly than expected.

Opening a bar is an exciting venture. While applying and securing all the licences you need is a tiresome process, keeping your business on the right side of the law enables you to operate your bar with confidence, and saves you headaches and potential fines down the line. 

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