Q. I own and operate a pub and we have a mix of customers including younger children under 18. We sell low alcohol beers of less than 0.5% ABV, which I understand under licensing law is not defined as ‘alcohol’ so can be served to under 18s.
However, to avoid unwittingly being caught on the wrong side of the law in terms of underage sales, I want to put in place a policy that we only serve such drinks to persons over 18 and request proof of ID where unsure of a person’s age for all alcoholic drinks sold including those under 0.5% ABV. Firstly, can I do this? Secondly, if I operate this policy will my customers be required to show ID if asked for it when buying low alcoholic beer that is 0.5% or below ABV?
A. You are quite right in that under-18’s can purchase low and non-alcoholic beers in pubs as long as the drinks you are selling are 0.5% ABV or below and this is because the Licensing Act 2003 defines “alcohol” under the provisions of the Act as beer, wine, cider, spirits and other liquors over 0.5% ABV.
As a result, a drink of 0.5% ABV or below is not classed as alcohol so relevant underage sale offences do not apply. Having said that, in my experience, many licensed operators still operate an age verification policy for low and non-alcoholic drinks as well as those above 0.5% ABV on the basis of practicality, as opposed to legality, as well as reducing the risk of an underage sale.
I appreciate it can be confusing for your bar staff to be constantly checking the ABV of drinks they are selling to people that they suspect of being under 18 and information shown on the drinks themselves do not always make it obvious which drinks are low or alcohol free and which are not. It is perfectly acceptable for licensed operators to take this extra-cautious approach with such a policy in place, particularly given the risk of getting it wrong– as you will know it is a criminal offence to sell alcohol (over 0.5% ABV) to a person under 18 and you can receive a range of penalties which, in a worst case scenario can include an unlimited fine and the possible suspension of alcohol sales for up to three months.
In terms of whether your customers are required to show ID if asked for it when buying low alcoholic beer, effectively, yes, they would. As stated above, although under licensing law under-18’s can purchase low and non-alcoholic beers 0.5% ABV or below in licensed premises such as pubs, the licensed operator can still choose to put in place a policy to only serve to those over 18 and requesting proof of ID where unsure of a person’s age.
As the operator of the pub you/your bar staff have a common law right to refuse entry as well as service to whomever you choose, provided the refusal is not unlawful (that is, discriminatory on grounds of sex, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation and religion or belief). Given this, if you chose to have such a policy that proof of ID is requested for service, even where the drink is 0.5% ABV or below, customers will be required to comply with request or face refusal of service as a result.