Pubs failing more underage test purchase checks

By Mike Berry contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pass, Serve legal

The pass rate for pubs has declined further during the first six months of 2014
The pass rate for pubs has declined further during the first six months of 2014
Pubs have fallen well behind the off-trade when it comes to staff carrying out age verification checks.

New figures from test purchasing company Serve Legal reveal a growing decline in the number of on-trade outlets passing ID checking tests.

Last year, two thirds (66%) of pubs passed checking tests, a fall of around 4% on 2012, and a decline of 8% from a peak in 2010 where outlets passed about three in every four cases.

Serve Legal said the pass rate for pubs has declined further during the first six months of 2014 - down a further two points to 64%.

In comparison, supermarkets increased their pass rates in 2013 to an all-time high of 85%, with convenience stores and forecourt retailers also showing upward improvements.


The company said the dip in performance of pubs was largely a result of the leased and tenanted sector, where fewer than half (46%) passed the tests. This compared to 85% in late-night venues and 66% in the managed sector.

It also highlighted a particularly disappointing performance in London and Scottish pubs, where the pass rate was lower than that in other regions.

Serve Legal said that while some pub companies have used testing as part of their strategy to improve their performance and driven up pass rates as a result, the majority of pubcos do not have effective, rolling programmes designed to improve staff performance.

Many, for example, only initiate testing after venues have been caught selling to underage drinkers by police or Trading Standards, by which time they have to demonstrate a commitment to improve staff performance or face the consequences.


Serve Legal director Ed Heaver said: “Landlords and pub owners have faced tough trading conditions in recent times, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the ID check pass rate has declined.

“However, serving underage customers carries the risk of a hefty fine or loss of licence, so conducting the appropriate ID checks is paramount.

“Ensuring all staff are aligned with the ID checking policy and have received adequate training is crucial. Independent testing of staff has a key role to play in this process - enabling establishments to improve overall performance, as well as helping them demonstrate to local authorities that they take the issue seriously.”

To pass a test, Serve Legal’s team of visitors purchase an age-restricted item and records key information about the transaction, particularly whether ID was requested. All its visitors are young looking 18 or 19 year old people, who should be asked to provide ID to complete the transaction.  

If a visitor is required to provide official ID to complete the transaction then the site passes. If they purchase the items without showing ID then the site fails.   

View an infographic featuring the key results



Related topics: Other operators

Related news

Show more


Show more

Perhaps this

Posted by Dave Evans,

Has it occurred to anyone that staff correctly judged the age of the purchasers?
It does happen you know.

Report abuse

Why the disparity..

Posted by Keith Hardy,

Between lessees and tenants and the managed sector? Hard to tell, but it could imply the former group are less risk averse for revenue reasons perhaps? Whereas the managed sector are simply 'following orders' and exercising best practice.

In my experience customers in the target age group are not at all bothered by being ID'd and usually expect it.

Report abuse

Too difficult for some, apparently

Posted by david,

The testers were "young looking 18 and 19 year olds who should be asked to provide ID".

Of course they should. No licensee has extraterrestrial powers to determine someone's age without proper ID. Selling alcohol is not a game that involves guessing whether someone is 17 or 18.

What is in the minds of licensees who risk their entire livelihood by failing to operate a simple age-verification procedure that they know full well is a fundamental condition of their licence?

Report abuse