Free Water: what the law says

Do dance clubs have to provide drinking water?

The answer is yes.  Here are the details…

Paragraph 2 of the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) (Amendment) Order 2014, says that free tap water should be available in any location licensed to sell alcohol.

So the first point is to say that if a dance venue does not sell alcohol there is nothing in law to say that it must provide water for the dancers.

But it clearly is a matter of responsibility for venues to ensure that free tap water is available for dancers, to avoid dehydration. It is also the responsibility of the clubs that book venues to ensure that their clientele will not be dehydrated.

It is the legal duty of the manager of the venue to ensure that this provision of the law are acted upon, and there is also a moral responsibility upon the club hiring the venue to ensure that the venue operates legally.  This means that fire doors should be operational and kept clear – as well as free tap water being available.   A dance club that hires a venue which it knows is not operating legally is as responsible for the result as the venue itself.

The 2014 Order on the provision on supplying water provides that the responsible person (normally the licensee) must ensure that free drinking water (known in the act as “potable water”) is provided on request for customers.

The Home Office guidance of mandatory licensing conditions states that  “This condition means that responsible persons at all premises must ensure customers are provided with potable (drinking) water for free if they ask for it.”

Some venues try to get around this by charging for the glass, and maintaining that the water is still free, but this is quite clearly against the Home Office guidance and is most certainly not a reasonable excuse if it is combined with a rule that people must not bring their own drinking vessels into the venue.

Another ploy is to say that there is a tap and people can go and help themselves.  This is within the guidance providing two conditions are met

a) the tap must be easily accessible – and thus not in a room a distance away from the function nor indeed in a location that the individual is unlikely to be able to find, or which is only accessible via another room that is being used for another purpose.

b) there must not be a ban on people taking their own drinking vessels into the venue.  It is perfectly ok for a licensee to ban people from bringing their own drinks in, but not to combine this with a claim that water is available from a tap.