Ban on using loyalty points to buy alcohol triggers next month
Supermarket customers face a ban on using loyalty card points to buy alcohol under new regulations.
The regulations will be triggered next month and following a year-long lead in, the ban will be operational in January 2021.
Customers will be banned from using loyalty card points or similar benefits generated by alcohol products during grocery shopping both in-store and online.
The clampdown will be part of a series of regulations which will be made by Health Minister Simon Harris on January 11, aimed at ensuring alcohol is no longer treated as a grocery item.
The regulations will have a 12-month notice period and will not become effective until January 11, 2021.
The measure will also outlaw short-term price promotions of three days or fewer, covering items such as slabs of beer, also with effect from January 2021.
The regulations, part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act, had to be sent to the EU for assessment and approval.
Mr Harris said that under the EU assessment, two comments were received.
One from the European Commission queried whether the regulations applied to online sales.
The Department of Health confirmed online sales will also come under the new restrictions.
Another response from Spain said that the regulations are anti-competitive.
However, as no detailed opinions were received up to December 3, the way was cleared for the minister to make the regulations.
A spokeswoman said Mr Harris has already stated that he intends to provide for a one year lead-in time for the regulations so that businesses will have time to prepare for the changes.
"As Christmas is the busiest time of year for retailers it may be perceived as unreasonable to apply the regulations in December 2020 and likely to be perceived as more reasonable to hold off on their application until January 2021.
"On that basis January 11, 2021 is proposed as the date of introduction."
Mr Harris said: "Alcohol is not an ordinary grocery product. By restricting access to alcohol products through promotions or loyalty card programmes, the regulations align with the objectives of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, which are to reduce alcohol consumption and reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol.
"Alcohol is a drug and one which has real risks and harms associated with it and as such, should not be a subject of promotional activity."
Referring to calls for the legislation's provision on minimum unit pricing to also be introduced, he said: "It remains the Government's policy to enact those provisions at the same time as similar provisions are enacted in Northern Ireland.
"Talks with the Northern Ireland parties are now under way... We would like a date for the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Northern Ireland to be part of any agreement among the Northern Ireland parties.
"We could then agree to do it on the same date. However we cannot wait forever. If it does not prove possible to adopt the approach I have set out, we may need to go ahead with the introduction of minimum unit pricing unilaterally."
Data from the Central Statistics Office shows that €7.447bn was spent on alcohol in 2018, half of which was bought in shops to be drank at home. The average household spends €10.56 on drink consumed at home every week.