The festive period can be a busy time for authorities as well as operators, with many licensees experiencing increased test purchase operations relating to underage sales.
The unlawful sale of alcohol to an underage person is an extremely serious issue and there may also be implications for your premises licence. Remember:
- It is an offence to either sell, or knowingly allow the sale, of alcohol to a person who is under the age of 18.
- Even the exception relating to table meals, where beer, wine and cider can be consumed at a table meal by a 16 or 17-year old, only applies to beer, wine or cider purchased by an adult for consumption by that person with a meal in a restaurant area.
- Remember, if alcohol is unlawfully sold to an underage person on two or more different occasions within a three-month period, the premises licence holder commits the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children. This could lead to enforcement action including closure of the premises for up to three months and a premises licence review.
- There is a legal defence for a person who sells alcohol to a person under the age of 18, namely that he believed that person was over 18, and had used all reasonable steps to establish that individual’s age. Evidence of that is if he or she asked for identification which would have convinced a reasonable person.
- The mandatory age verification condition that applies to all licensed premises, requires that any form of identification accepted by a member of staff must show the bearer’s photograph, date of birth and a holographic or ultraviolet mark.
- It is mandatory to have an age verification policy in place (ideally in writing), applied by the designated premises supervisor. Ensure all staff learn this policy and give training, plus refresher courses, in relation to underage sales. Keep records of training and due diligence procedures on site to show to authorities, should the need arise.
It is best practice, and may be a licence condition, to maintain a refusals log detailing any refused alcohol sales and review it regularly.
Some till systems can do this electronically. You should risk-assess the likelihood of underage persons attempting to purchase alcohol. Consider staff deployment. Where door staff are used, they may be the first line of defence, however, other staff members still retain the responsibility to be alert to any potential underage sales.
Ensure you keep in contact with your local authority and police officers. If you do fail a test purchase operation, make sure you contact the relevant officer and pay close attention to their concern and any preventative measures suggested.
Keep the above in mind this Christmas and if in any doubt speak to your local officers or take legal advice.