Licensees cannot wait for the government's ID cards to provide them with a proof-of-age defence. But there are other options, Daniel Pearce discovers.
No-one needs to be reminded of the string of negative headlines which appeared this summer about pubs selling to underage children. The 191 targeted outlets found to be contravening the law represented just a fraction of the thousands of pubs visited under the Home Office's Alcohol Enforcement Campaign, although that didn't stop them giving the rest of the trade a bad name.
Licensees looking to a national ID card to offer the final solution to underage serving dilemmas seem to have a long wait in store. Although the Prime Minister confirmed that they were on the way at last month's Labour Party Conference, the target date is still nine years away.
Meanwhile the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), introduced two years ago, offers licensees a real defence against underage sales.
PASS aims to give licensees the confidence to know if the proof-of-age card brandished in front of them is legitimate. Participating schemes must pass a thorough list of criteria, based on how easy it is to apply for the card and how forge-proof they are, before they can become PASS accredited.
Five national schemes - the Portman Proof-of-Age card, CitizenCard, Validate UK, Connexions and Young Scot - have been accredited with the PASS hologram so far, in addition to a small number of regional schemes.
Unfortunately the scheme has been slow to gain recognition and there are countless tales of licensees across the country who have been advised by licensing officers and Pubwatches to only accept passports, which are inconvenient to carry around, and driving licences as proof of age.
A recent poll on thepublican.com offered some dispiriting findings for organisers of the PASS scheme, revealing that 86 per cent of retailers say they would not understand or recognise the PASS logo. Indeed, finding a licensee who is even aware of the scheme proves a difficult task.
Rick Robinson, licensee at the Willoughby Arms in Kingston-Upon-Thames, said: "We only accept driving licences or a passport as proof of age. We don't accept anything else as all the other cards can be easily forged. I play safe - most young people expect to be asked for proof these days."
Debbie Vince, who runs the Queen's Head in Stratford, London, said passports were the only proof of age she accepted.
"I've never heard of the PASS scheme, to be honest. We get a lot of students, but we don't ask for their student cards as these don't carry their date of birth. We ask for passports. More than 99 times out of 100 they just accept it."
Oxfordshire licensees Peter and Tracie Lafford who run the Railway at Wheatley have been operating their own ID scheme for seven years.
"We ask young people to bring in their passport and a photo, and then we give them our own ID cards, which are numbered," says Tracie. The pub won't accept other cards as proof of age as they claim they are "too easily forged".
But this view is stoutly refuted by the scheme's chairman, Malcolm Hurlston, who claims the PASS hologram is virtually forge-proof.
Awareness of the scheme is growing all the time, as is the number of cardholders carrying a card with the logo.
"We now have half a million cards with the PASS logo, and we should have a million by this time next year," says Malcolm.
"Anyone asking for proof of age will soon notice that the PASS logo is appearing more and more frequently. At the moment it's about educating local authorities about it, and getting trade associations to spread the message to licensees and retailers."
Carol Brodie co-ordinates the Validate UK scheme, which received PASS accreditation earlier this year. In the past year more than 250,000 Validate UK cards have been issued - with adults paying £7.50 a time.
"The growth over the past year has been unbelievable. We are distributing more and more cards to 18-year-olds, which suggests it is being used in pubs," says Carol.
True, proof-of-age cards may become obsolete when ID cards come in, she concedes. But who knows when that might be? "The government has said the scheme will be fully operational in 2013," she points out.
"There are some perfectly adequate cards they can use in the meantime. If they need to cite due diligence, accepting a card with the PASS logo could then be their defence."
The following schemes are PASS accredited:
- CitizenCard: www.citizencard.net, 01782 741982
- Portman Card: www.portman-group.org.uk, 01782 741968
- Validate UK: ww.validateuk.com, 01830 530078
- Connexions: www.connexionscard.com
- Young Scot: www.youngscot.org.