The government has estimated the cost of alcohol misuse in society at around £21 billion a year, including £11 billion in alcohol-related crime in England and Wales. As such, both in-store and online retailers are under greater scrutiny to ensure they’re taking all reasonable precautions to verify age when selling alcohol. Past court cases have also clearly established that a retailer is more likely to face conviction if they can’t demonstrate positive steps taken to comply with the law.

To ensure your age verification meets all due diligence requirements, read on to learn:

  • the legal age for purchasing alcohol in the UK,

  • UK sales of alcohol laws for online retailers,

  • non-compliance penalties, and

  • how to be legally compliant when selling alcohol online.

Buying Alcohol In The UK: What Is The Legal Age?

In the UK, you must be over the age of 18 to purchase alcohol.

UK Sale Of Alcohol Laws For Online Retailers.

1. Alcohol & Young People.

To quote the government guidance:

2. Licensing Act 2003.

Laws around the actual sale of alcohol, whether it be in-store or online, fall under the Licensing Act 2003. It’s important to read up on the different types of alcohol licences available as the rules vary considerably between each option and how businesses are set-up their sales and distribution. The government guidance can be found here.

Non-Compliance Penalties For Online Retailers Selling Alcohol.

According to government guidance, online retailers face a maximum fine of £5,000 for selling or supplying alcohol to children. In addition, personal licences can be suspended or forfeited on a first offence.

If a retailer persistently sells alcohol to customers under the age of 18, the fine increases to £20,000.

Legal Compliance When Selling Alcohol Online.

Online retailers need to understand not only the law, but also the level of due diligence expected from them to avoid penalties. For example, the Trading Standards Institute Advice outlines what wouldn’t be considered satisfactory due diligence.

Trading Standards Institute Advice:

“Retailers should take positive steps to verify the age of the purchaser when selling age-restricted products. The following are examples that are unlikely to be enough to satisfy the requirements of taking all reasonable precautions and exercising all due diligence:

  • relying on the purchaser confirming they are over the minimum age

  • asking the purchaser simply to provide a date of birth

  • using tick boxes to ask purchasers to confirm they are over the minimum age

  • using a general disclaimer such as: 'Anyone ordering this product from our website will be deemed to be at least 18'”

To check their own age verification measures are compliant with the law, online retailers can refer to:

1. Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 1296: Online Age Checking.

In May 2020, the Home Office advised that “anyone selling alcohol online or by phone should already be taking all reasonable steps to verify age at the point of sale in order to avoid committing an offence of selling alcohol to a child. PAS 1296 is a good point of reference for these steps.”

Developed by the Digital Policy Alliance and British Standards Institution (BSI), PAS 1296 is the industry standard for effective age verification. It offers a code of practice for businesses that either provide age-checking services or need to use these services in order to sell their products. By following the due diligence recommendations PAS 1296 provides, businesses can ensure they are fully compliant with the law.

2. Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA) Code Of Conduct.

If you’re using a third party to manage your age-checking process, it may be worth checking to see if they are an AVPA member. Representing businesses providing age verification services, the association has a code of conduct for its members to ensure trading standards in the following areas: fairness and transparency, use of appropriate verification methods, security and privacy, accuracy, and independence.

3. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to all retailers, regardless of the type of products and services sold, and is designed to ensure your customers’ personal data is held safely and securely. As such, this legal framework applies when you are verifying your customers’ age during the selling process. Any measures you take must be compliant with GDPR regulations.

Age verification: have you got all your bottles lined up in a row?

Sobering Thoughts & Next Steps.

The pressure is high to ensure all reasonable precautions to verify age when selling alcohol, particularly with the threat of fines and closure of your business. However, by selecting a reliable and cost-effective online solution, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your processes are regulatory compliant.

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