A study published today by Public Health Scotland (PHS) examined the extent to which people might be travelling outside Scotland to purchase alcohol at a lower price, since the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland.

The findings indicate that minimal cross-border purchasing occurs, and this is unlikely to be happening on a scale that would significantly affect alcohol consumption at a population level or impact the intended outcomes and aims of MUP.

Interviews with retailers indicated that households in close proximity to the border made most use of cross-border purchasing, reflecting established shopping habits. None of the retailers had knowledge of people from Scotland appearing to travel to England to buy large quantities of alcohol. Analysis shows that substantial bulk purchasing would be needed for individuals to make significant savings whether purchasing in-person or online, once travel and delivery costs are taken into account.  

The research also shows that licensing near the border did not display a shift from Scotland to England following the introduction of MUP legislation. Analysis of off-trade alcohol sales data in the combined areas of North East and North West England in the 12 months following implementation of MUP showed a small increase (1.14%). When a panel of over 1,000 Scottish adults was asked whether they have travelled to another part of the UK for the sole purpose of buying alcohol, only 3% responded that they had done so.

Helen Chung Patterson, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at PHS, said:

“The research published today shows that while cross-border purchasing does happen, the extent is small relative to the purchasing behaviours of Scotland’s population as a whole.

“A key strength of this report is that it enables us to build up a picture of cross-border alcohol-purchasing behaviours from several perspectives. We have examined data on retail sales and alcohol licencing near the border, drawn on qualitative interviews with retailers, gathered customer survey data and explored the factors affecting in-person and online cross-border purchases. When several different methods produce broadly similar results, as is the case with the report published today, this increases confidence in the findings”.

Further evidence may arise on cross-border purchasing at a later date (both from within and out-with PHS’s portfolio on MUP evaluation), for example as part of the study on Drinking at Harmful Levels, which is due to be published by PHS later this year.

For more information, read the briefing paper.

Last updated: 06 October 2022