Trade welcomes proposals for voluntary proof-of-age card initiative
The Government is to trial a new proof-of-age card scheme after the General Election.
The "Connexions" card, developed by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), is to be issued to 16 to 19-year-olds who are still in education.
It was originally intended to act as a discount card for students buying train tickets or using public amenities like libraries but the Government is now understood to have agreed to trade requests that a photograph and date of birth is added so that it can be used as a proof-of-age card in pubs and off-licences.
The scheme will be rolled out across England starting in September and may be extended to Scotland and Wales if it proves successful.
Licensees have been increasingly concerned over the difficulty in spotting underage drinkers. There are now increased penalties for publicans who serve under 18s included in the new Criminal Justice and Police Bill.
The variety of existing schemes is also confusing for many licensees who find it hard to spot fake cards.
The largest of the existing schemes is the Prove-It Card from drinks watchdog The Portman Group.
The new card, while voluntary, will be sent out free of charge to 16 to 19-year-olds in education. The DfEE estimates the take-up among that group could be as much as 70 per cent.
While the trade would ideally like to see a compulsory card, the proposed scheme should offer an improvement on the existing system. But licensees will not be able to use it exclusively since pupils who are not in education after 16 will not be eligible for the card.
Tony Payne, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations, said he would support the card.
"If you are a licensee it is very difficult to spot underage drinkers, especially with young girls who dress up and wear make-up and can look much older.
"This proposal is a step forward for the trade."
A spokeswoman for the Connexions card scheme at the DfEE said: "The first thing to say is this is not an ID card. It is a government-backed scheme that is voluntary and is aimed primarily at encouraging continued education after school."
But she added: "It will have a photograph, number, name and date of birth on it so that if a young person wants to they can produce it in a pub or off-licence."
Research by the British Institute of Innkeeping last year found an overwhelming 95 per cent of licensees accepted it was the licensees' responsibility to check customers' ages subject to the introduction of a nationally recognised proof-of-age card.
It concluded: "There is a groundswell of opinion in the sector that it defies logic to place these responsibilities on licensees without supporting a card that can be readily identified and checked."
Graham Goodwin, spokesman for The Portman Group said: "We have always been firmly behind the introduction of a more reliable national Government-backed proof-of-age scheme and we believe Connexions could provide one option to do that."