Top tips: A timely reminder on prevention of underage sales of alcohol

By Graeme Cushion, partner, Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

(image: Getty/zamrznutitonovi)
(image: Getty/zamrznutitonovi)

Related tags Licensing Training Pubco + head office

With Christmas now approaching I thought it would be a good time to remind operators of their obligations in terms of the prevention of sales of alcohol to persons under the age of 18.

The festive season is a time of year which drives customers to licensed premises like no other, including in all likelihood those who have not yet attained the legal age to drink.

While it is perfectly legitimate to serve alcohol to be consumed by 16 or 17 year olds in the company of a meal (when paid for by someone over the age of 18), that relates only to beer, wine and cider.  It is otherwise illegal to sell alcohol to someone under the age of 18. 

Enforcement can arise through the test purchasing process, when the police and/or Trading Standards are permitted to send persons under the age of 18 into licensed premises in an endeavour to get served.  Equally, it is not uncommon for a parent to complain when they realise that alcohol has been served to their child in a particular licensed premises. 

Unlimited fines

Either of these eventualities can give rise to enforcement action through the review of premises licence process, or through reliance on the fact that it is a criminal offence to sell alcohol to someone under the age of 18.

A prosecution can be undertaken against the individual who made the sale, anyone in a supervisory capacity or, indeed, potentially the premises licence holder themself.  The fines are unlimited in the magistrates’ court, albeit that such infringements are often dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice at least on the first occasion. 

It is also worth remembering that there is a separate offence of persistently selling alcohol to children which is engaged following two sales to minors within a three month period.  That is an offence which is aimed at the Premises Licence Holder and carries a potential unlimited fine, together with a period of suspension of alcohol sales at the premises.

Due diligence

All of the potential enforcement outcomes come in tandem with the inevitable adverse publicity which comes alongside such enforcement proceedings.

The following should therefore be considered as a part of any operator’s due diligence and prevention systems:

  1. Make sure all staff involved in the sale of alcohol are regularly trained in terms of their responsibilities and, indeed, the potential consequences including ending up with a criminal record.
  2. Make sure the training includes reference to any Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 Policy which is in operation at the premises. 
  3. Keep well organised written training records to demonstrate the preventative system, particularly in the event that something goes wrong in spite of it.
  4. Keep a refusals log requiring staff to enter details of any occasion when they have asked for identification and it has not been produced.
  5. The Designated Premises Supervisor should regularly check the refusals log to make sure that all members of staff are making some entries, as that will be useful to demonstrate that they are following their training.
  6. Be vigilant! – make sure that senior members of staff in particular are keeping an eye on any younger ones who may be less comfortable with the challenge process.

All of this is particularly important at a time of year when you may be employing temporary staff, and against the backdrop of an ongoing issue of high turnover of staff in licensed premises generally.

We don’t want anyone’s Christmas ruined by enforcement action.

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