Alcohol licensing and Christmas Parties

22 November 2023

The end of the year is fast approaching, and you are probably looking forward to your work Christmas party.

For any Christmas party, there are a range of matters to consider under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, as well as potential employment and health and safety obligations, and reputational issues.

Licensed or unlicensed premises?

Your first decision is whether to hire a licensed premises for the event, or to hold it at an unlicensed premises, such as your workplace, or elsewhere.

  • Hiring a site which already holds an alcohol licence will simplify your event planning and reduce your legal risk. That said, while the premises hosting the event will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, that will not absolve you from any employment and health and safety obligations.
  • Holding the Christmas party somewhere other than a licensed premise poses additional legal risks under the Supply of Alcohol Act 2012. While you may think that there’s little risk of the authorities becoming aware of your Christmas party, all it would take is for an incident to occur at the event, or possibly on the drive home, for the authorities to take an active interest in your party – including the nature and extent of any health and safety and/or host responsibility systems you put in place at the party to monitor attendees’ behaviour and consumption of alcohol.

Supplying or selling alcohol?

Where a business supplies alcohol to attendees at a Christmas party (i.e., free of charge), or where bring-your-own alcohol (BYO) is permitted, the event could be considered a ‘place of resort’ under the Act1. Using unlicensed premises as a place of resort for the consumption of alcohol is an offence2.

What constitutes a ‘place of resort’ is not exactly clear. However, if a substantial purpose of the Christmas party is to consume alcohol, depending on the nature and scale of the event and the risks of alcohol-related harm, the organiser of the event, the owner of the premises, and any attendees of the event, may face criminal charges under the Act.3

On the other hand, employers who sell alcohol to employees attending a Christmas party, without an authorising licence, would clearly be committing a criminal offence under the Act.4

Licensing options

If your Christmas party is likely to draw a large crowd, and involves the supply of alcohol on unlicensed premises, the safest option might be to apply for a special licence from your local territorial authority.

[1]Police v MacDonald [2016] NZDC 2371; BW Camping-Grounds Ltd v Police [2015] NZDC 22460

[2]Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 s 235

[3]Charges under s 235 of the Act carry fines of up to $20,000 (organisers and/or occupiers); and under s 236, fines of up to $2000 (attendees).

[4]Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 Section 233 – which carries penalties of imprisonment for up to three months, and fines of up to $40,000.

Simon Middlemiss and Levi Harris are part of our Commercial Disputes & Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon.