I am not trying to boast – there are greys in my hair and loved ones assure me I am not youthful enough to be captured by a Challenge 25 policy. Although it can be mildly annoying (especially if one does not happen to be carrying their ID and must leave precious supplies at the till), I have seen the impact that failed test purchases can have on individuals and businesses in the licenced trade so I tend to sympathise with the supermarket staff.
The fact of the matter is that selling alcohol to minors is serious. It is a criminal offence under the Licensing Act 2003 and not only could the individual who makes the sale be liable, but the designated premises supervisor (DPS) and the premises licence holder (PLH) can also find themselves being prosecuted for allowing the sale to happen. A person found guilty of selling or allowing the sale of alcohol to anyone under 18 could receive a fixed penalty notice, a caution, a significant fine and/or potentially have their personal licence suspended or revoked.
Matters can escalate
If two offences of selling alcohol to children occur within three months on the same premises, matters can escalate. For the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children, the PLH can be prosecuted and, on conviction, can receive a significant fine (maximum fine is unlimited) and/or the premises licence can be suspended for up to three months. Police and Trading Standards often carry out test purchases to check licensees are complying with the law. If a premises fails a test purchase, the operator should assume the authorities will try again soon.
Every premises licence includes a mandatory condition requiring an age verification policy to be adopted. The standard now is Challenge 25 and this is often requested by Trading Standards or the police as a condition on the licence. I cannot remember the last time I saw a new premises licence granted with a Challenge 21 condition.
Check ID properly
The importance of having an effective age verification policy in place and training staff on this cannot be overstated. Staff should be trained to check ID properly, especially at peak trading times. Periodic refresher training should be carried out and documented in training records. While door staff, if on duty, may be considered the first line of defence in checking IDs, do not let your bar staff solely rely on this. Ensuring you have good due diligence measures put in place can be used in defence of the DPS and PLH in the event of prosecution.
After leaving my beer at numerous supermarket tills, I have wondered whether these shops are putting their staff through some sort of age verification boot camp at which shop-branded drill sergeants petrify them into never trusting someone’s apparent age. Whatever they are doing, it seems to be working and I encourage all managers and licence holders to review and enforce their own policies and training, as putting in the due diligence will help prevent unnecessary woes.