The UK’s Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has responded to reports it is planning to allow alcohol-free beers to contain a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) content.

In correspondence with Just Drinks, the DHSC said it was not currently considering proposals to increase the ‘alcohol-free’ descriptor threshold to 1% ABV, nor to increase the ‘low-alcohol’ descriptor threshold from 1.2%.

This contradicts earlier reports suggesting the Government was planning to allow “no-alcohol” products to contain ABV of up to 1% and “low-alcohol” beers to be up to 3% in strength.

Under current legislation, “no-alcohol” beer in the UK must be less than 0.05%, and “low-alcohol” beers can be up to 1.2%.

Responding to the initial report, Laura Willoughby, co-founder of the mindful drinking movement Club Soda, had warned a change to confirm 0.5% as alcohol-free was sensible but warned that raising the limit to 1% could “scare a lot of people” and was not based on science.

“Customers and the alcohol-free drinks makers have always asked for clarity that 0.5% is considered alcohol-free like the rest of the world,” she said. “At the moment, government guidance is confusing. 0.5% and below is a trace element of alcohol naturally occurring in many foods and drinks.

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“Consumers need clear guidance on the level of alcohol in drinks that will impact them if they are driving, pregnant or avoiding alcohol. The science is clear on 0.5% ABV. Confirming this level as alcohol-free makes sense.”

Her views were echoed by British charity and campaign group Alcohol Change UK, which said that a distinction between products of below 0.1% and those between 0.1-1% was needed “for both religious purposes and for pregnant women”.

The proposals under consideration by the DHSC are thought part of a push to encourage drinkers to switch to low- and no-alcohol alternatives in a bid to reduce their overall alcohol consumption. A white paper is reportedly being readied by the Department but requires sign-off by the new UK Prime Minister, due to take office in September.

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