Back to basics: don't be caught out serving underage drinkers

Related tags Underage sales Public house Abuse Chairman Football

As The exclusively reported last week pubs are to face a crackdown on underage sales from Easter.Under a new 'three-strikes-and-out'...

As The​ exclusively reported last week pubs are to face a crackdown on underage sales from Easter.

Under a new 'three-strikes-and-out' policy licensees found selling alcohol to under-18s on three occasions in the space of three months could be forced to close down for three months or pay a fine of up to £10,000.

And from May and throughout the summer an enforcement campaign will be actively trying to catch pubs out.

It might seem unfair on the vast majority of licensees who have no intention of breaking the law by serving minors. But it means that it's in the interests of every pub to make sure their policy and practice is water-tight.

Nothing is fool-proof, but if you can demonstrate due diligence it will help your case if you are unlucky enough to get caught.

So what can you do about it? It's not just a matter of telling your staff not to serve under-18s and making them aware of the law. They also have to be able to identify an underage customer - and it's also a good idea, too, to train them in techniques of refusing a sale.

Without this kind of training they may not have the confidence to turn someone down and will take a chance rather than endure the embarrassment of a confrontation.

They might even feel intimidated into serving an underage person - with good cause if a recent survey is anything to go by.

Research among more than 1,000 pub and bar licensees and staff carried out by training provider CPL revealed that 53 per cent had endured verbal abuse, threats of violence or had been physically attacked when refusing to sell alcohol to an underage customer.

Although 87 per cent of them said they had received training on the issue, CPL chairman Paul Chase believes the problems encountered by most of them suggest that the training and support they are getting is "ineffective and inadequate".

"While the survey demonstrates a growth in the number of staff being trained in underage sales prevention, if that training doesn't include conflict management, how to identify underage customers and how to refuse sales, then it leaves licensed retailers and their employees in a very vulnerable position," he says.

To help licensees address the issue CPL has launched a one-day course at the end of which successful candidates receive a new qualification - EDI's Goal Level 2 National Certificate in Underage Sales Prevention.

As well as alcohol it covers other products such as tobacco, solvents, fireworks and knives. But the main thrust is around drink.

Delegates are taken through the reasons why the law restricts sales, the damage that can come from underage sales and the effects of alcohol before going into the practicalities of preventing underage sales.

The following advice is based on the course handbook.

The law

It is illegal for staff to sell or supply alcohol to anyone under 18, and it is also an offence to knowingly allow someone else to sell alcohol to an underage person and to allow underage consumption on the premises.

Staff can be fined £80 under a fixed penalty notice for serving alcohol to a child.

Under-18s themselves are also breaking the law by attempting to buy alcohol as are over-18s who buy a drink for an underage person.

The only exceptions are when 16 and 17-year-olds are drinking beer, cider or wine with a table meal as long as an adult buys it and accompanies them.

Unaccompanied children under the age of 16 are barred from all on-licensed premises.

Identifying underage customers

Deciding who to ask for ID is sometimes difficult because children can look much older than they actually are.

The best plan is to err on the side of caution and many managed pub groups now have a 'challenge 21' policy, which means anyone who looks younger than 21 must be asked for proof of age - a photo driving licence, a passport or a dedicated proof of age card.

It's important that staff ask politely to minimise hostility - they are still customers after all! You might want to agree a form of words that everyone uses, perhaps explaining that it's the pub's policy to ask for ID from anyone who looks under 21. You can even turn it into a compliment!

Proof of age cards

Acceptable proof of age cards carry the PASS logo. They include:

  • Citizen Card
  • Connexions card
  • Portman Group card
  • Validate UK card
  • Young Scot card.

Checking ID

Staff must:

  • Carefully compare the photograph with the person's face. Don't just glance
  • Check the date of birth
  • Check ID is current
  • Check the card has not been tampered with or that it isn't a crude forgery.

Refusing service

If there is any doubt at all that the customer is over 18, or there is a suspicion that an adult is buying alcohol for an underage person, staff must refuse service.

Again, it's important to do this politely. Say you're sorry and explain the law. If they have no ID explain to them what you need to see.

It helps if you've got leaflets and posters explaining your Challenge 21 policy. Your local trading standards department will be part of a 'Think 21' campaign and can supply these materials, or you can download posters from the PASS scheme website -

Problem groups

Your staff should be especially alert when certain groups turn up at the pub, for instance hen and stag nights, birthday parties and football fans. They may include under-18s.

Abuse and threatening behaviour

Refusing service to a young person can sometimes make them feel humiliated and embarrassed -

especially in front of their friends. They can then become threatening, abusive or, in extreme cases, violent. There are techniques to reduce the chances of this happening.

  • Depersonalise your refusal to serve. Emphasise company policy and your professional and legal responsibilities
  • Avoid refusing service in front of other customers, especially their friends
  • Detach troublemakers from their group - they like an audience
  • Provide face-savers, for instance by saying something like 'you're not the problem, it's just that you can't prove your age'
  • Avoid point-scoring exchanges - they will only make the customer angrier.

But you must never back down and serve the customer. If you feel you need suppport ask for help from a colleague.

Always keep a barrier between yourself and the customer. It's what the bar's for.

If the abuse continues and the person refuses to leave, call the police. They will appreciate the fact you're helping to enforce the law.

Keeping records

All admission and service refusals must be noted in a simple logbook behind the bar. Records need to state what was refused and why, the gender of the customer, the date and time and the member of staff's signature.

This will demonstrate due diligence and shows the pub is well run. If you do make a mistake, proving you've prevented underage sales in the past will work in your favour

Related topics Legislation

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