The Government has proposed controversial changes to sentencing guidelines which would allow unlimited fines for selling alcohol to under-18s, but 78% of those surveyed believe more should be done to tackle those underage individuals trying to buy alcohol.
Of the 350 respondents to the online survey, many suggested it was the young person who should be punished for breaking the law, rather than the licensee or bar staff who served them.
Many advocated the use of fixed penalty notices and fines for both the young people and their parents.
One said: “Apply the same levels of fines to those trying to buy, even if the service is refused. All the emphasis is put on publicans and their staff, though the purchaser is breaking the law.” Others suggested compulsory ID cards for under-18s, tougher action on proxy purchasing and one-year pub bans for those underage caught trying to buy alcohol.
The majority of respondents said the problem was more prevalent in the off-trade with availability of cheap alcohol, while pubs provide a supervised, responsible environment for consumption.
When asked whether they agreed with Government plans for unlimited fines, 84% said no.
In fact, more than half (57%) agreed with the statement that fewer underage drinkers were attempting to buy alcohol. Just one-fifth said the problem of underage sales was worse compared to 10 years ago.
When respondents were asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, how serious they would rate the problem of underage sales in the on-trade, the average response rating was 4.2.
The survey also asked licensees about their age-verification policies. Almost all respondents (95%) said they operated a policy, with the majority subscribing to the Challenge 21 proof-of-age scheme. Virtually all participants trained their staff in preventing underage sales.
In terms of accepted ID, the two most popular forms were full driving licences and passports. Interestingly, the PASS proof-of-age card, which the Home Office wants all pubs and clubs to accept, is only accepted by about half of venues. It was also cited as the second most commonly faked form of ID.
Tim Hulme, chief executive of the BII (British Institute of Innkeeping) said: “This survey underlines the seriousness with which professional licensees treat the issue of underage drinking and the importance they attach to staff training and age checks. The progress the industry has made on this issue is commendable.
"I am not surprised that the survey suggests fewer underage drinkers are now attempting to buy alcohol in pubs, because the checks now in place in all well-run establishments make it impossible for them to do so.
“Professional licensees are fully aware of their responsibilities when it comes to underage drinkers and face tough penalties already if they breach their licence conditions, so increasing the penalties for them is unlikely to have any impact.”
A separate survey by test-purchasing company Serve Legal found the number of pubs passing ID checking tests has dropped by 10% since 2010, with fewer than half of tenanted and leased pubs passing the test.