The Portman Group has offered training on its Codes of Practice and responsible marketing standards for over 20 years. However, the way we work has fundamentally changed in recent years and we have adapted training to reflect this by producing evolving course material to engage and develop those who complete the course. We are pleased to announce that our training has now been relaunched and we are taking bookings for the coming year.

The training we provide is Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accredited, and attendees are awarded the Alcohol Marketing Accreditation certification upon completion.  The course will provide attendees with the most up to date information on alcohol marketing regulation and will train staff to approach marketing in a creative and socially responsible way.

Who can undertake training?

Training sessions are open to anyone with an interest in the alcohol industry. Typical attendees have included alcohol producers, trade associations, marketing agencies and university students studying marketing. Please feel free to get in touch and find out if training would be right for you.

What training do we offer?

The Portman Group offers three CPD certified training programmes.

General or Code Training – Our General training is designed to help alcohol producers and marketers gain a broad and thorough understanding of alcohol marketing regulation in the UK. The focus will be on the Portman Group and what we do but will explore the wider regulatory framework to provide a clear understanding of the remit of regulators in the UK in the context of alcohol. The training will explain the role of the Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) and the enforcement process and will provide an analysis of the Codes. This includes an in depth look at the Codes through case studies of real Panel decisions so that participants can engage and understand how the rules are applied.

The course is suitable for all newcomers to the alcohol industry or for those who want an in-depth understanding of the Codes and how they are applied through the Panel’s decisions.

The session lasts around two hours including time for questions.

Refresher Training – The refresher training is for those who already have an understanding of the Portman Group and the wider regulatory framework of the UK but want to refresh their understanding of the Code. It provides a less extensive recap of regulation, alongside the role of the ICP and how we enforce decisions. The training provides an in-depth look at the Codes through case studies of recent Panel decisions over the past couple of years so that participants can understand the type of complaints that have been considered and how the rules have been applied.

This session lasts approximately one hour including time for questions.

Bespoke Training or Bespoke Alcohol Regulation Training – This training is created bespoke for you and can have focus on whatever elements you think would be most valuable. For example, we can include more case studies about specific Code rules, or spend more time on different types of activities for example promotions and sampling, rather than packaging. Alongside this it also provides a comprehensive summary of current regulatory policy and the Codes of Practice.

Those who want to undertake this training have the opportunity to discuss beforehand what they want the training to focus on and we can offer advice about specific products or ideas. Depending on the request, this session could last between one and two hours.

Is there a cost?

Training is free to all Portman Group members. It is our intention to ensure that all producers are able to access support. We do not want training costs to be prohibitive so specifically created for small or start-up producers, and launching in 2022, we have created a free introductory session.

Our rates card for all other charges:

What is the introductory training?

The introductory training session provides an overview of who we are, our remit, the Code rules, the complaints process, and Panel precedent setting decisions.

This is a free, 20-minute pre-recorded webinar and is perfect for smaller producers and start-ups. Whilst not CPD certified, it will help give you an understanding of the Portman Group and its purpose, along with providing a look at a couple of case studies of real decisions made by the Panel.

Why should I undertake Portman Group training?

As the self-regulator of the naming, packaging, promotion and sponsorship of alcoholic drinks in the UK, we have over 25 years of experience when it comes to ensuring that alcohol marketing is socially responsible. Our training provides you with an overview of the Codes of Practice and the decisions made by the Panel which will help you ensure your marketing is socially responsible and will allow you to ask any questions that you might have.

Your staff will gain CPD accredited training hours and will achieve our Alcohol Marketing Accreditation – essential for those working in alcohol marketing.

If you wish to undertake training, please contact

Paula Smith, Head of Marketing, and Carolyn Jenkinson, Head of Charity Services at the Licensed Trade Charity

The importance of listening and staying agile as a charity

The Licensed Trade Charity (LTC) has been supporting people who work, or used to work, in the licensed drinks trade since 1793. In that time the help our customers (beneficiaries) need has changed many times. The most recent during COVID-19, a clear example of that, fast-paced, changing need.

Pandemic support

COVID-19’s impact on hospitality was well documented in the media. Our sector was hit hard, the first into lockdown and the last to re-open. Since the start of COVID-19 the Licensed Trade Charity is proud to have helped over 120,000 people and given over £3.3million in grants and services.

We have built good relationships with operators opening channels of communication that give our industry insight to shape our services, and in return sharing our own intel to support staff welfare planning within those organisations.

When COVID-19 hit, we listened and adapted, and made sure our services were relevant to the situation as it changed. So when the Government said that hospitality needed to close its doors, individuals working in the sector had no idea how they were going to pay their bills and lockdown started for many with immediate money worries. Our response was speedy.

What we did:

  • We adapted our application process to ensure grants could be paid more quickly and launched a digital process to support that.
  • We focused on short term hardship grants, given as digital shopping vouchers to enable people to buy food and necessities, and use their own money for rent and utility bills.
  • We spoke to operators and offered our services to deliver their team member support funds and five took us up on the offer.
  • We recruited colleagues who were furloughed in our schools to upscale the department and, in those first few months of lockdown, we processed almost 4,000 applications. This was a considerable uplift as prior to COVID-19 we processed an average of around 50 applications each month.

Protecting jobs

After the Government announced its plans for furlough and some level of financial stability was re-established for many, their focus changed to job security.  Many worried about losing their job, especially as at that time no-one knew how long it would be before hospitality would reopen.  Again, our response was speedy.

We partnered with several organisations – Hospitality Jobs UK (HJUK), CPL and Renovo – to deliver employment support services

In collaboration with Hospitality Jobs UK we created webinars that offered advice on CV writing, interview skills and job search. With CPL we offered training packages to update skills, and with HJUK and Renovo we provided intensive job search support for those who lost their job and needed help securing another.

Promoting mental well-being

As the sector moved into 2021 and settled into the next lockdown we saw an increase in calls for help with mental well-being.

Prior to the pandemic, 40% of calls to our helpline were for emotional support with 60% for practical guidance. In 2021, we reported a massive shift with almost 70% of calls for emotional help and access to our counselling services.

We have offered in the moment emotional support through our helpline for a long time and, if needed, subsequent telephone face to face counselling.

In this third wave of changing needs, we saw couples, families and housemates spending more time together than ever before during lockdown, putting a strain on many relationships.

In response to feedback we introduced couples and children’s counselling through our partnership with Relate and the demand for those services has been greater than expected.

Since 2019 we have been delivering mental health training for licensed drinks trade managers, supervisors and team leaders. These were delivered, free of charge, as one day, in person sessions to give those leaders the confidence to support their teams. We adapted those to run (still free of charge) as 2-hour online sessions that focus on first the most common mental health issues and second, practical hints and tips on managing conversations about mental wellbeing with staff and where to signpost.

Launching our app

We also launched the licensed trade charity app. Free to download, it has recognised that people who work in hospitality are busy, and for many supporting their own financial, physical and emotional well-being is low on their list of priorities

The app gives users direct access to our support, in their pocket, at a time that suits them. With one touch they can access our helpline and speak directly to an information specialist or a counsellor.

Looking ahead

Speaking and listening to operators and individuals gives us a unique and valuable insight into the challenges people in this sector face.

We are passionate about what we do. Our first and most important objective is always to reach more people that could benefit from our help. We are honest. If we do not have a service or we cannot help an individual we will say so, but you can bet we will do everything we can to find a way to help and we are proud of the relationships we have built and the work that we do.

We are #ProudToBeLicensedTradeCharity

Written by Paula Smith, Head of Marketing

Licensed Trade Charity

Our latest research report provides an in-depth look at the Portman Group’s fourth annual survey exploring UK consumer attitudes to low and no alcohol. It highlights a significant increase in the popularity of these products across adults of all ages.

The Portman Group once again partnered with the market research company YouGov, to commission an online poll of 2,079 adults from across the UK online between 9 and 10 December 2021. The results show that:

  • Use of low and no products is driven by current alcohol drinkers, with close to three-quarters (72%) at least trying these products, compared to only 38% of non-drinkers.
  • One in five (20%) of those who have tried low and no alcohol say they are more likely to drink these products now compared to a year ago, almost double the number saying this in last year’s survey (11%).
  • Over a quarter (26%) of those who have tried low and no alcohol say that their subsequent weekly alcohol consumption has decreased since they first tried it.
  • The most cited reasons for the appeal of low and no alcohol to consumers are that it enables them to drive home and not drink excessively at social events.

Becoming an everyday product or The pandemic catalyst?

With semi-regular drinkers increasing from nearly one in four to one in three in just a year we can say that this is increasingly an everyday product.  These results build on the positive results from previous years to show that low and no alcohol is fast becoming a regular feature in consumers shopping baskets. The results also suggest that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated existing consumer trends toward these products as well as increasing moderation in the UK population.

This reflects previous survey data suggesting that a significant number of drinkers have cut their alcohol consumption since the start of the pandemic, with a Portman Group analysis of 33 publicly available polls taken since March 2020 suggesting that over a quarter (26%) of overall respondents reported they were drinking less [1]. To see the full analysis click here.

Our latest evidence also bolsters the results from the last four years suggesting that consumers of alcohol alternatives are buying these products as part of a responsible approach to drinking. The key reasons cited are the ability to drive home safely or using them to moderate and not drink to excess. This underscores how these products could play an important role in tackling wider alcohol-related harm, such as drink driving, and aiding people in staying within the Chief Medical Officer low-risk guidelines of 14 units per week.

Understandably there is increased attention on the low and no category in January as people participate in a monthly abstention from alcohol, with separate YouGov data suggesting that one in eight (12%) of UK drinkers would participate in Dry January [2]. Alcohol alternatives are predicted to play a key role, with the British Beer and Pub Association expect that 7.8 million pints of low and no beer will be sold this month [3].

However, low and no alcohol sales occur year-round. Survey data from consumer behaviour specialists Oxford Partnership Market Watch suggested that 63% of UK pub-goers opted for a

low or no alcohol alternative whilst watching a match during last year’s UEFA Football Championship [4], whilst Tesco predicted that around a quarter of UK adults would drink only low or no alcohol drinks this recent Christmas [5].

This increase in reported consumption in surveys is reflected in the sales data. Market analyst Kantar suggests that low and no alcohol sales doubled in 2020/21 to £217 million[6]. The significant expansion of the low and no alcohol category in the UK is also predicted to continue, with the international drinks analysts IWSR expecting an increase in sales to £558m by 2024 [7].

The upcoming UK Government consultation on low and no product descriptors represents an important opportunity to provide further clarity to both producers and consumers alike, aiding the Government’s stated ambition to significantly grow the sector by 2025 [8].

Portman Group and low and no in 2022

It was the alcohol sector who saw the opportunity to create products with lower or no alcohol but with all of the taste. We anticipate that small and large producers will continue to invest and innovate, bringing their creativity and imagination to craft this growing category. They will build on consumer demand for these products and increase their availability.

The Portman Group will maintain its work with the sector, from producers, retailers, publicans and consumer groups, as well as the Government to help build connections and encourage development of the low and no category.

Click here to read the report.

* Use of the term ‘semi-regular drinkers’ refers to those who either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ drink low and no alcohol products.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The 2021 survey was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Portman Group. Fieldwork was undertaken on 9th-10th December 2021 and involved a total sample size of 2,079 adults. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

In the 2020 survey, the total sample size was 2,100 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 15th December 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

[1] Portman Group: Moderate majority continues throughout lockdowns and beyond, April 2021

[2] YouGov: One in eight drinkers plan to try and stay sober for the month, December 2021

[3] British Beer and Pub Association: 7.8 million pints of low and no alcohol beer will be sold this January, January 2022

[4] FMCG Magazine: Increase in sales of low and non-alcohol drinks in pubs during Euros, July 2021

[5] The Observer: Are you dreaming of a booze-free Christmas, December 2021

[6] The Grocer: Low and no alcohol category report 2021, April 2021

[7] The Observer: Are you dreaming of a booze-free Christmas, December 2021

[8] Department of Health and Social Care: Advancing our health – prevention in the 2020s, July 2019

2021 was a significant year for the Portman Group and the Independent Complaints Panel. We celebrated 25 years of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks, during which the self-regulatory framework has proven to consistently deliver efficient regulation and protect under-18s and vulnerable consumers from irresponsible alcohol marketing.

The culmination of our celebrations was the release of our report, 25 Years of Responsible Alcohol Regulation: a Spotlight on 2021. It delves into the Portman Group’s work as a regulator for the past year and reflects on the history of 25 years of the Code.

25 Years of the Code

The Code has worked effectively, responsively, and inexpensively. Since the Code was first published in 1996:

Many hundreds of additional products have been helped to adhere to the Code before appearing on shelves. This has been thanks to our free Advisory service and training team.

There have been five updates to the Code over 25 years, responding to changes in public attitudes and expanding its reach. An extensive public consultation occurs when we revise the Code. In creating the sixth and most recent update of the Code in 2019, we took advice from a range of organisations including: Public Health England, the Home Office, ASA and CAP, Alcohol Concern, British Beer and Pubs Association, Scotch Whiskey Association, Campaign for Real Ale, and the Society of Independent Brewers.

This has all occurred without recourse to Government or Parliamentary time, and these regular updates ensure that our regulation remains effective and efficient. 14 of the leading members of the industry fund the model for all to be protected and at no cost to the public purse.

A spotlight on 2021

Again in 2021, the Advisory Service was predominantly used by non-member companies showing the widespread understanding of the importance of adhering to the Code and the industry best practice. This is reassuring, and reinforces the commitment of members who are leading the industry in ensuring that the sector is responsible. Their support ensures that the Advisory Service is funded to benefit the whole of the sector, and often those who are the smallest producers.

In 2021, 16 rulings were made by the Independent Complaints Panel (Panel).

Of these decisions, 43% were considered under Code rule 3.1 (communication of alcoholic nature with absolute clarity). While considered, only a quarter of these complaints were upheld. The Panel also made three precedent setting decisions under the Code rule 3.3 (serious or widespread offence) regarding the derogatory depiction of women, mental health and the use of profanity.

The year saw a significant number of complaints under the particular appeal to under-18s rule, reflecting the fact that our primary purpose as a regulator has fundamentally been the same for 25 years; to protect consumers, particularly those who are under-18. The cases that the Panel have considered this year continue to demonstrate why our work remains pertinent and necessary. This was also the most popular Code rule to seek advice on how to ensure that the product marketing was compliant with 16% of cases considered under this rule.

And finally, we only issued one Retail Alert Bulletin in 2021 for Colorado High. The majority of producers all worked voluntarily with the Advisory Service to make changes to products in the shortest timeframe possible.

Looking forward

We look forward to another 25 years of regulating marketing for the alcohol industry. We know it is incumbent on us to continue to adapt with societal changes and expectations, and that we craft regulations that ensure that the sector is responsible, without stifling creativity. Everyday our Advisory and Training teams will be speaking with producers, helping them to embed the Codes’ rules and principles into their marketing. If you are looking for more information on the support we can offer contact

To read the full report click here.

Nicola Williams marks one year as the Independent Complaints Panel’s Chair

The third session of our Taking Responsibility Seminars series involved an informal conversation between Nicola Williams, Independent Complaints Panel (Panel) Chair, and Portman Group CEO, Matt Lambert, reflecting on Nicola’s first year as Chair of the Panel.

As Chair, Nicola has presided over a number of precedent setting decisions on the application of the serious or widespread offence rule, Cannabidiol (CBD), the product descriptor ‘spritz’ and many considerations under the rule concerning particular appeal to under-18s.  She reflected on these, her experience of the industry, the operation of the Panel, and areas producers should be mindful of in their marketing.

Panel independence

Matt kicked off the discussion by asking what initially attracted Nicola to the role. Nicola explained that she was aware the Portman Group was a well-regarded self-regulatory body and that the Panel play a vital role in this self-regulatory framework. This piqued her interest and after further investigation she knew that she could add value in maintaining the independence of the Panel.

Responding to anyone who questions this independence, as a Crown Court judge, Nicola would not accept a role to Chair an independent body that was not independent. While the Portman Group secretariat support the Panel’s work, they do not take part in discussions or make decisions during any part of the complaints process.

Nicola also remarked on the importance of having a diverse panel, who bring a wide range of experience and expertise. Each Panel member brings their own unique interpretation to a case and is prepared to articulate these opinions while also respecting the views of others. Three new Panel members have recently been recruited (watch this space to find out who) and will start at the beginning of February 2022.

Industry adherence

Nicola praised the industry’s general adherence to the Codes. Given that the Portman Group only had to issue one Retailer Alert Bulletin in 2021, out of 11 upheld cases, it was clear that the majority of the industry take the Codes seriously and are willing to work with the Advisory Service to keep products on shelves.

The Codes are enhanced by the guidance the Portman Group drafts based on the interpretation and discussion of the Panel. This helps the industry adhere to the Codes and assists the Panel in its decision making. Equally, the Code needs to be fit for purpose and must be kept up to date to ensure it reflects inevitable shifts in public opinion. The Code benefits from regular public consultations so that it has wide input from industry, government, trade associations and other bodies.

Nicola acknowledged that a high proportion of cases the Panel had considered in 2021 were against small producers and urged the Portman Group to do more to support those in the industry who were less familiar with the Codes. Matt welcomed the continued challenge and explained that the Portman Group was looking to develop the support that it already offers to the industry. More than four in five advice requests came from non-members or Code signatories in 2021 (25 Years of Responsible Alcohol Regulation: a Spotlight on 2021) which demonstrates the reach and support to the whole sector that Portman Group provides.

New rules, new challenges

In 2019, the Code had a significant review resulting in an updated principle, new rules and amendments. This included a new rule to prevent serious or widespread offence. Nicola remarked on the importance of this new addition to the Code as it has allowed the Panel to consider important issues including the derogatory depiction of women, mental health issues and the use of profanity, and led to complaints against three products being upheld. 

This year also saw a large number of cases considered under the particular appeal to under-18s rule. It is a timely reminder for producers to consider the overall impression conveyed by a product as well as its individual elements when designing packaging. Matt and Nicola highlighted the importance of the Portman Group’s free Advisory Service which is accessible to the entire industry and provides confidential and impartial advice. It is an opportunity for producers to obtain advice ahead of launching a product and strongly encouraged the industry to do so in order to minimise the risk of accidentally breaching the Code. Also, small producers are able to access free CPD accredited training.

This was the third event in our Taking Responsibility series and we will be planning further events in 2022. For updates, keep checking the website and our Twitter feed, @PortmanGroup. If you have any questions on the seminar or the issues discussed, please contact

Is mandatory alcohol labelling needed?

The Department of Health and Social Care is due to launch a consultation on alcohol labelling in order to reflect alcohol within the obesity strategy. This is likely to review whether calories should be mandated on pack along with the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) low risk guidelines and pregnancy warning labels.

We wanted to check just how well the sector was already doing. Our report, Alcohol Labelling: Informing Consumers – 2021 UK Market Review, looked at the top alcohol brands and demonstrates that significant progress has already been made by the industry to improve consumer information on UK alcohol labelling. It raises the genuine question that given the level of delivery, which is near universal for best practice measures, is there really a need for mandatory measures?

The research

Conducted between July and August 2021, we reviewed 400 alcohol products and examined the provision of information to help consumers make informed decisions. The samples were drawn from all major UK retailers and represents the majority of alcohol by volume sold in the UK. In this blog, we discuss some of the key findings.

Industry best practice – Pregnancy messages, unit content information & Drinkaware/responsibility messages

Since 2017, the Portman Group has been advising the industry on adhering to the current industry best practice guidance. It provides recommendations on how to show information including: units; the Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines; advice on drinking during pregnancy; a responsibility statement; the promotion of Drinkaware advice; calorie content; nutritional information; drink-driving messages; and the communication that alcohol is an age-restricted product. It follows from industry wide commitments made since the successful Public Health Responsibility Deal.

Of the alcohol labels reviewed, we found 99% carry a pregnancy warning logo or message, 94.25% carry unit information and 93% carry a reference to a responsibility message or to the independent alcohol education charity Drinkaware (88%).

It is a significant endorsement of the guidelines by the sector and the Portman Group Advisory Team who provide advice on their inclusion for free to the hundreds of producers who share their marketing with us to ensure compliance with the Portman Group Code and industry best practice guidelines. This near universal delivery ensures that consumers are better informed and able to make their choices.

Low risk drinking guidelines

79% carry the latest UK Chief Medical Officer low risk drinking guidelines. This is a significant increase from a 2019 survey of a similar number of products conducted in 2019, showing that 29% of products carried the guidance [3].

Portman Group members committed in 2019 to ensuring the latest Chief Medical Officer guidelines are provided on updated editions of labels, and the effect is showing through in these results and we understand that there will be more progress to increase this level of adherence still further.

Calorie information

Close to half (47%) carry calorie information on labels. This was reassuring to see given that while the majority of the sector have made commitments to carry this information, this is not due to come through until the end of 2022 at the earliest. We therefore expect this to rise significantly.

Whilst calorie labelling does not currently sit as a minimum requirement under Portman Group best practice guidance, the Portman Group’s free marketing toolkit does provide producers with advice on how to incorporate calorie information.

Next steps

These are hugely positive findings. Our research shows that the industry has already voluntarily taken action on the proposals under consideration by the Government, without recourse to legislation. We believe further progress can be made on a continued voluntary partnership basis, rather than through mandatory measures.

The Portman Group will also now seek to proactively engage with producers to help close the few remaining gaps where they exist. We will also work across the sector to launch updated best practice guidelines, ensuring that UK consumers have access to more health and product information than ever before to help them make an informed choice.

Finally, watch this space as we intend to carry out another review of the market in 2022, to track further progress that has been made in updating labels.

Download the full report here.


[1, 2 & 3] AHA: Drinking in the Dark, August 2020

Supporting the work of Only A Pavement Away

We are delighted to announce our charity partner Only A Pavement Away.

Only A Pavement Away connects forward thinking hospitality employers and charities working with people facing homelessness, prison leavers and veterans to help them find and forge new careers in hospitality. The charity currently works alongside 87 hospitality employers and 85 charity partners, and hospitality businesses to offer employment to those facing homelessness, prison leavers and veterans. In addition, the charity also has over 200 work-ready candidates listed on its Candidate Profile Page (CPP) jobs board which is designed to support individuals who are looking to start new careers within hospitality. The charity is also seeking funding from industry backers to enable it to reach its goal of placing 700 members into employment over the next 3 years.

Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group said: “The Portman Group promotes responsibility across the alcohol sector. We are impressed with the work of Only a Pavement Away who are enabling the hospitality sector to secure teams, giving second chances to former service personnel, prisoners and the homeless. The commitment that the firms are making to these new employees is testament to the support they have to helping people in their communities. This is something we have seen time and time again including during the COVID-19 pandemic and in everyday kindnesses to their teams, customers and localities. We are delighted to support Only A Pavement Away as our charity.”

As part of the Portman Group’s support, Nicola Bates, Director of External Affairs has also agreed to join as an Advisor to support the charity as it continues to grow and develop its employment programme.

Nicola commented, “Only a Pavement Away has had a considerable impact for individuals in just a short time of operation. I am delighted to be able to join the next phase of their journey and work with them to help connect businesses with people who need a hand up’.

Greg Mangham, Founder & CEO said, “I am really pleased that Nicola has agreed to join Only A Pavement Away as an Advisor. Nicola’s vast experience in business and dedication on helping those who face homelessness will be a great support to the work we do. Nicola will also bring the added advantage of the great work and support the Portman Group gives to the alcohol sector. Another crucial addition to the Only A Pavement Team and our development over the next 12 months.”

Mangham added, “By 2026, it is estimated that there will be another 1.3 million vacancies in the hospitality industry. At the same time the number of rough sleepers is on the increase. By joining forces with forward thinking companies like the Portman Group we can help someone get their life back on track and help fill the industry with hard-working, committed staff.”

For companies looking for more information on sponsorships and ways to support Only A Pavement Away, please email:  To find out more about the vital work undertaken by Only A Pavement Away, visit or keep an eye on the social media pages, Facebook: @onlyapavementaway, Twitter: @apavementaway, Instagram: @only_a_pavement_away and LinkedIn: Only A Pavement Away.



What happens if I complain?

The Portman Group is the self-regulator for the marketing and promotion of alcoholic drinks in the UK. We administer the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging, and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and the Code of Practice on Alcohol Sponsorship. Formal complaints are adjudicated on by the Independent Complaints Panel (Panel) and formal rulings are published on the Portman Group website.

This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Code. In that time, we have investigated 257 cases through our formal and informal resolution processes and seen over 160 products removed or amended. In this blog, we’ll answer some of the most frequent questions we receive about complaints.

Who can complain?

Anyone can make a complaint about the naming, packaging, promotion or sponsorship of an alcoholic product and we will investigate all matters brought to our attention.

Complaints from members of the public are kept anonymous. Complaints from competitors, organisations or individuals with a commercial or specialist interest in the alcohol industry will be named.  We name these organisations to ensure a fair and transparent process; a producer subject to complaint has a right to know if the complainant falls into one of these categories.

What if a complaint is vexatious?

To ensure that complaints are treated equally and fairly, all complaints are subject to the same process formalised in the Code.

The Portman Group provides the Secretariat function to the Independent Complaints Panel and will ask complainants certain questions to establish whether the complaint can be taken forward.  However, it is not for the Portman Group to determine the validity of the complaint itself.  It is our role to ensure that there is a fair and robust system for complaints to be considered by an independent Panel.

How many complaints are needed to trigger an investigation?

Only one. Alcohol marketing is regulated in the UK by Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Portman Group. All three regulators operate on a one complaint basis for consideration.

Why do you act on one complaint?

Alcohol is an age-restricted product, and it is important that companies market alcoholic products in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not appeal particularly to those who are vulnerable – these are the core principles of the Code. Every consumer, regardless of the product or promotion, has a right to have concerns heard through a fair and transparent process that can address any potential harm being caused. We are all consumers in our day to day lives and when encountering an issue, most of us would expect a route for our concerns to be addressed.

It is important to note that numbers in and of themselves do not necessarily translate to a breach. This means that marketing in receipt of one complaint may result in an upheld ruling or conversely a product with 100 complaints will be considered fairly against the Code and maybe not upheld. The decision will be made purely on the merits of the case. This also means that marketing which attracts numerous complaints may not be found in breach of the Code.

It is not for the Portman Group to create an arbitrary threshold of complaint numbers in order for concerns to be heard. We understand that a concern for one person, may not be a concern for another, but it is for the Panel to determine whether a breach of the Code has occurred and this consideration will be on a case-by-case basis.

Is it fair?

Is it fair that one complaint can commence the process as it could cost a producer a lot of time and money?

We’re incredibly conscious of the time and cost associated with going to the Panel, especially where there is an upheld decision. This is why we offer a free Advisory Service to the entire industry so that producers can ideally discuss products ahead of launch so they understand how they may appear under the Code. We provide around 500 pieces of advice a year and help producers avoid costly mistakes with their marketing before going to production and sales.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to regulate the industry. We have a duty to ensure that our Codes of Practice are adhered to in order to protect vulnerable consumers and to maintain the sector’s justified reputation for taking a responsible approach.

What happens next?

In the event of a complaint being referred to the Panel, the producer will always have a chance to respond to the complaint. This information is compiled into a factual, neutral dossier which will be given to the Panel for its consideration. The Panel are a lay Panel, and it is their role to judge complaints under the Code while bringing their own experiences as members of civic society.  You can find out more about how the Panel works here, but in a nutshell, having a complaint made about alcohol marketing does not automatically result in an upheld decision. The Panel will judge each complaint on a case-by-case basis, but the intent of the complainant is not taken into consideration.  For instance, a complaint about a gin bottle which particularly appeals to under-18s will be upheld regardless of the motive of the complainant; it is the product, not the complainant that the Panel will assess under the Code.

As a transparent regulator, all upheld and not upheld decisions are published in full on our website.

want to know more?

If you find that you have a question that is not answered here, please feel free to contact us at


UK Government changes how it tracks alcohol health trends as drinking rates fall

The Portman Group welcomes the UK Government’s announcement that it has implemented an update to its use of alcohol-attributable fractions (AAFs). If you haven’t heard of them before, an AAF denotes the proportion of disease cases which are estimated to have been caused by alcohol. The change in the calculation impacts how alcohol-related mortality and hospital admissions in England are calculated. This change has been made as the result of persistent falls in the levels of drinking across the population as the latest evidence suggest that the majority of AAFs are smaller than previously thought. Down by ¼

This led PHE to conclude that “currently published rates are too high and if LAPE [Local Alcohol Profiles for England] were to continue producing statistics using the older AAFs then this inaccuracy would continue and indeed worsen over time.”

PHE said updating its methodology to account for declining alcohol consumption across the population, as well as harmful drinking patterns such as binge drinking, would result in current estimates of alcohol-related deaths and admissions being lowered by around a quarter.

The Portman Group feels that it is important that PHE makes clear that it is changing its methodology to account for positive behaviour change amongst the general population, whilst also recognising the harm that alcohol misuse can cause to individuals remains unchanged.

Implementing the new methodology in the latest Local Alcohol Profiles for England has meant that:

  • Estimated alcohol-related deaths across England for 2018 have been lowered by around 5,700. This equates to around 23% of deaths previously estimated and lowered the death rate per 100,000 for 2018 from 46.5 to 35.8.
  • Estimated hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions (narrow) for 2018 have been lowered by around 83,000. This equates to around 23% of admissions previously estimated and lowered the rate per 100,000 for 2018 from 664 to 512.
  • Estimated hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions (broad) for 2018 have been lowered by around 320,000. This equates to around 25% of admissions previously estimated and lowered the rate per 100,000 for 2018 from 2,367 to 1,766.
  • However, whilst the rates have been lowered, it is important to note that the direction of the trend in rates since 2016 for mortality and admissions remains unchanged, showing the relative stasis in mortality and increase in admissions evident before the revision, which continue in the latest statistics released for 2019.

As an evidence-based body, we support the change which is based on new data. It will present a more accurate picture and will take into account over a decade of progress of tackling many areas of alcohol-related harm, though recognise the consecutive increase in alcohol-related admissions in recent years shows there is much more to do.

We also welcome that the update to methodology will be backdated to 2016, to allow for a more accurate long-term view of trends.

We believe this update is especially important as it will allow policymakers to make better informed decisions and help to more effectively target policies towards those drinking at the heaviest and most harmful rates.

Taking this forward

The Government will apply this updated methodology to wider estimates of alcohol-related harm based on these calculations (i.e., previous PHE estimates on the economic cost of alcohol misuse).

Public Health England collaborates with colleagues across the UK and we hope will encourage public health authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to also update their own estimates of alcohol-related harm, taking account of declining trends in harm across the whole of the UK.

Overall, this consultation has been welcome chance for the Government to take ownership of over a decade of progress in tackling alcohol misuse, as the UK increasingly becomes a nation of moderate drinkers.

Read more

Office for Health Improvement and Disparities blog explains the new estimates on deaths and hospital admissions caused by alcohol – here.

Previous blog write up on our consultation response April 2021 – here.

Consultation response in full April 2021 – here.

The Portman Group has published its response to the latest draft World Health Organisation (WHO) action plan to implement the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol. We are concerned that the action plan is moving away from the stated aims of the strategy. We call on the WHO to commit to a renewed focus on harmful drinking and to recognise the industry as a constructive partner in tackling harm.

As the UK alcohol industry voluntary regulator and social responsibility body we have been committed to promoting responsible drinking for over 30 years. We have worked in conjunction with the sector and others to reduce harms and have seen significant declines over most metrics in the decades we have operated.

Perception of the industry

We are disappointed that the latest draft continues to frame the industry negatively and therefore does not utilise the ideas, enthusiasm and energy that the sector has in dealing with harm. It fails to recognise the ongoing work of the industry to promote moderation as well as tackling alcohol harm in both the UK and around the world, and its engagement as a constructive partner.

We believe the UK market stands as an international example of industry best practice and the substantial progress that has been made to tackle the harmful use of alcohol in the country. This has been achieved, in part, through the ongoing success of voluntary cross-industry initiatives, as well as public-private partnerships implementing public health initiatives which should not be downplayed in the current action plan.

There has been significant progress made in tackling alcohol-related harm. The moderate majority of consumers drink responsibly and the work to get here should be recognised and used as a foundation for further work.

A commitment to alcohol responsibility is evident in initiatives across the whole of the sector. This includes the high retailing standards to prevent underage sales by the UK Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, who operate the Challenge 25 scheme where 99% of retailers seek evidence that people looking under the age of 25 are of legal age to purchase alcohol.

The sector also voluntarily funds a number of partnership schemes at a local level such as Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP). Over the past 14 years, CAP have worked across 216 projects with local authorities, police, schools and local retailers to prevent underage drinking and alcohol harm to young people through a three-pillar model to educate, prevent underage sales and engage young people in positive activity to enhance their confidence, health and wellbeing[i].

Let’s focus on reducing harmful alcohol use

There is more work to be done and the action plan could be used to galvanise action. It should focus on reducing harmful alcohol use. Unfortunately it is unhelpfully diluting its focus to emphasise a reduction in overall use and the blunt measure of alcohol consumption per capita. This is especially pertinent given the polarisation in alcohol consumption and harm witnessed under COVID-19, where alcohol related deaths in England and Wales rose by 20% from 6,209 in 2019 to 7,423 in 2020[ii]. Surely this emphasises that we need to focus resources at targeted support and treatment for those drinking to highest harm.

However, the plan focuses on reducing overall alcohol consumption seeking an unrealistic 20% target to be achieved in less than a decade. It needlessly focuses capacity and resources on those individuals already drinking at moderate low levels which is close to 4 in 5 people in the UK[iii]. This is a chance to help the world come up with recommendations to reduce those drinking at the highest harm levels which, if the plan remains unchanged, will be missed and by shifting its focus away from harmful drinking, it will likely undermine the commitment of the strategy to a harm reduction approach.

Drinking and pregnancy

In the spirit of focusing on harm, we also welcome and are supportive of the inclusion of taking appropriate action to ‘prevent drinking in pregnancy and prevent foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)’ in the action plan, as an important targeted step in order to prevent alcohol harm.

We also welcome the removal of the previous wording regarding the ‘prevention of drinking among women of childbearing age’. This sentence was ill considered and was language that was counterproductive to the vital intention to prevent FASD.

This point echoes the need for the strategy to return to a focus on alcohol misuse and harm, rather than a broad attempt to reduce all consumption regardless that the majority of drinkers drink within Government recommended guidelines. When encouraging moderation and responsibility, it is essential that the steps seem reasonable, proportionate and appropriate, otherwise it may result in the counterproductive situation where people potentially ignore public health advice.

Valuing the regulators

We believe the WHO should also take note of the success of the self-regulatory and co-regulatory system which exists in the UK, with the Portman Group working alongside the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Ofcom to ensure that alcohol marketing is covered in the round across all platforms. Portman Group and ASA data shows widespread industry compliance and support for this system, ensuring that alcohol is only marketed to adults in a responsible manner.

The Portman Group Code of Practices on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks and Alcohol Sponsorship are a prime example of how self-regulatory action, with wide industry buy-in across the supply chain from producers to retailers, can have a demonstrable impact in protecting the most vulnerable in society and is a legitimate model to be included in the Action Plan. The Code of Practice, now in its 25th year, ensures that alcohol is marketed in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not have particular appeal to vulnerable consumers. Respect for the complaints process has led to more than 160 irresponsible and inappropriate products either being re-branded or removed from the market, in turn driving industry changes and protecting consumers.

The success of self-regulatory and voluntary measures, combined with a variety of initiatives from the UK Government to tackle alcohol-related harm, also underscores that the action plan should recognise the broad suite of policy options and interventions included in the Global Strategy for reducing harmful alcohol use.

The success of industry initiatives also demonstrate that the sector has a serious commitment to tackling harm in the UK and across the world. The industry is responsible and should continue to be seen as an active and willing partner as part of a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to tackling harmful alcohol use.

What next?

The Global Strategy is an opportunity to make the most of all the ideas, initiatives and investment from NGOs, governments, industry and bodies such as the Portman Group to tackle alcohol harm. This should be the focus of the plan and an opportunity to be captured. We hope that we can play our part and for the successes and learnings which come from the sector to be utilised.

The baton is now handed to the UK Government. We support much of their submission which recognises the need to focus on harm. We hope that the UK’s voice will be heard within WHO and that the action plan can be drawn back to delivering the agreed strategy. We stand ready to work with Government and the WHO.

[i] Community Alcohol Partnerships 2020 Annual Report, accessed July 2021

[ii] ONS: Quarterly alcohol-specific deaths in England and Wales, May 2021

[iii] NHS England, December 2020 / Scottish Health Survey, September 2020/ National Survey for Wales, September 2020 / Health Survey Northern Ireland, December 2020