Industry slams unlimited fines for selling alcohol to minors

By Ellie Bothwell

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: License

BBPA chief Brigid Simmonds said it is rare licensees purposefully 'flout the law' on underage sales
BBPA chief Brigid Simmonds said it is rare licensees purposefully 'flout the law' on underage sales
Leading industry figures have said the Government’s plans to allow unlimited fines for selling alcohol to under-18s are unnecessary and potentially damaging.

Last week, the Government proposed changing sentencing guidelines so there is no maximum fine for a ‘Level 5’ offence, including selling alcohol to minors, and a four-fold increase to £4,000 for the maximum fine for selling alcohol to a drunk person (see table below).

The changes are being tabled under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and will be brought into force by secondary legislation, which means there will be no formal consultation. The Ministry of Justice said the proposals will be debated and then approved by Parliament “when Parliamentary time allows”.

'Not helpful'

British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said the proposals have “come out of the blue” and it is rare that licensees purposefully “flout the law” on underage sales and sales to drunk people.

“We’ve tightened up procedures enormously in terms of the number of refusals and it’s almost impossible to get into a pub without showing ID if you’re anywhere near looking under the age of 21.

“I don’t think increasing fines is necessary given the other powers that are available, nor is it helpful.”

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers strategic affairs director Kate Nichols added: “It’s taken us all by surprise, especially given how much the law has tightened up in this area already.”

She added that she will be contacting the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to question the practicality of the unlimited fines and urged magistrates to “act with caution, because it’s people’s livelihoods we’re talking about”.

'Sharpening a rarely used tooth'

Poppleston Allen solicitor Andy Grimsey said the “first resort” for authorities in the case of underage sales is usually a fixed penalty notice for the bar staff and a threat of review for the licence holder, rather than prosecution.

“I still believe these will be the preferred options for the police and trading standards, where prosecutions involve higher costs and a tougher standard of proof.

“As for sales to drunks, I don’t believe there have been many such prosecutions in any event so the Government may be sharpening a rarely used tooth,” he said.

John Gaunt of John Gaunt & Partners also said maximum fines are “hardly ever, if ever” imposed, and a licensee will only be hit with a large fine in the “most exceptional circumstances”.

“A threatened review is probably a greater sanction than the imposition of a one-off fine,” he added.

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said: “Financial penalties at the right level can be effective in punishing criminals and deterring them from further offending. That is why we are updating the maximum levels of fines that can be issued for the first time in more than 20 years.”

The list of offences and proposed fines:

Scale Level

Maximum fine - current

Maximum fine - proposed

1

£200

£800

2

£500

£2,000

3

£1,000

£4,000

4

£2,500

£10,000

5

£5,000

Unlimited

 

Offence

LA 2003 (section)

Level

Failure to leave licensed premises on request when drunk or disorderly

s.143

Level 1

Unsupervised sales by children

s.153

Level 1

Failure of premises licence holder to update name or address

s.33

Level 2

Failure to display or produce premises licence

s.57

Level 2

Failure to produce personal licence

s.135

Level 2

Failure of personal licence holder to update name or address

s.127

Level 2

Failure to produce personal licence to Court when charged with a relevant offence

s.128

Level 2

Keeping alcohol on premises for unauthorised sale

s.138

Level 2

Allowing disorderly conduct on licensed premises

s.140

Level 3

Sale of alcohol to a person who is drunk

s.141

Level 3

Obtaining alcohol for a person who is drunk

s.142

Level 3

Permitting unaccompanied under 16s on certain premises

s.145

Level 3

Purchase of alcohol by children

s.149

Level 3

Under 18 knowingly consuming alcohol on relevant premises

s.150

Level 3

Obstructing an authorised person investigating licensable activities

s.179

Level 3

Failure to notify licensing authority of relevant convictions during personal licence application period

s.123

Level 4

Sale of alcohol to children

s.146

Level 5

Allowing the sale of alcohol to children

s.147

Level 5

Purchase of alcohol on behalf of children

s.149

Level 5

Knowingly allowing the consumption of alcohol on relevant premises by children

s.150

Level 5

Delivering alcohol to children

s.151

Level 5

Sending a child to obtain alcohol

s.152

Level 5

Knowingly or recklessly making a false statement in connection with applications

s.158

Source: John Gaunt & Partners

Related topics: Legislation

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4 comments

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No Evidence

Posted by Robert Feal-Martinez,

Government are supposed to provide evidence as to why something is necessary. Given there is simply no evidence of the levels of under-age drinking or attempts, other than stings penalties are far from justified, let alone increased.

What I don't accept is that bar staff need training to simply ask for proof of age. Refer them to the Challenge notice.

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Real World

Posted by geo halliday,

Most licensees run decent law abiding pubs. This is using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Why is the first on the list the idiot who won't leave? That should be scale 5 not scale 1. Yet again no protection for the true victim of the crime, the licensee. Instead the criminal gets mollycoddled and the government coffers get fatter.

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Time to look at training as an alternative to prosecution?

Posted by Rachel Jones,

One of the main excuses staff give when issued with a fixed penalty is that they haven't been shown how to check ID and refuse sales confidently. Some Local Authorities have experimented with Age Verification training as an alternative to prosecution (like the Speed Awareness courses for drivers) - cheaper, less administration, and should reduce re-offending. The threat of unlimited fines isn't the answer here.

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