A powerful alliance of different industries has called for a fairer and more consistent approach by authorities for tackling underage sales.
A report to the Government's regulations watchdog recommends a series of measures that, if enacted, could ease the pressure on pubs that feel unfairly targeted.
The report for the Local Better Regulation Office (LBRO) has been endorsed by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) among others. The Age-restricted Products Review Group report covers a variety of products, so national retailers such as B&Q and Halfords are also represented, alongside supermarket giants Tesco and ASDA.
The recommendations include:
• Having a binding code of practice for authorities, with input from businesses, on test purchasing
• The use of lying or other deception in test-purchase operations should only occur in the "most exceptional circumstances", with specific independent authorisation
• Giving firms "prompt no-tification" of test-purchasing results
• Licence conditions should not be used to "gold plate" legal requirements. For example, requirements to operate Challenge 25 or be a pubwatch member
• Better partnerships between authorities and local trade groups
The report flags up the "widely held perception" that test purchasing is
"sometimes used in an un-fair way to secure prosecutions rather than promoting compliance".
Business owners feel it amounts to entrapment, and several point to a lack of consistency across different authorities.
The report highlights the good work by industries to avoid underage sales. For example, BBPA members have spent £8.1m since 2008 promoting and training on Challenge 21.
BBPA midlands secretary Richard Matthews, who sat on the group, said: "We need a system that focuses on helping licensees to achieve compliance, with a fair recognition of the role that personal responsibility must play."
The LBRO will now prepare a response, to be sent to Government alongside the report.