With rising knife crime in the UK, there is increasing pressure on retailers to be certain that they’re not selling knives to minors. Retailers failing to conduct due diligence on knife sales are also facing stiff penalties. In 2018, retailer B&M paid £480,000 in fines, while in 2019, three other retailers each paid £8,000 in fines. As a result, retailers selling knives online can no longer rely on inadequate, passive means of age verification.

To ensure your age verification is a cut above the competition, read on to learn:

  • the legal age for purchasing knives in the UK,

  • UK Knife Laws for online retailers,

  • non-compliance penalties, and

  • how to be legally compliant when selling online

Selling knives online? Age verification and the law.

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

To purchase knives in the UK, the law states that the customer must be 18 years of age or over.

However, the law differs in Scotland, where 16 to 18-year-olds are allowed to buy cutlery and kitchen knives.

UK Knife Laws For Online Retailers.

The laws around selling knives in the UK are constantly under review, so retailers must take care to remain abreast of changes affecting their business.

At present, the two acts covering knife laws in the UK: the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Knives Act 1997. Online retailers should familiarise themselves with these two pieces of legislation as they apply to both purchases made in physical stores as well as online.

1. Criminal Justice Act 1988

To quote the government guidance:

2. Knives Act 1997

To quote the government guidance:

Under the Knives Act 1997 it is an offence to market a knife and also an offence to publish marketing material in relation to a knife in a way that either:

  • indicates or suggests that it is suitable for combat (the term ‘suitable for combat’ means that the knife is suitable for use as a weapon for inflicting injury or causing fear of injury to the person), or

  • is otherwise likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of the knife as a weapon.

Penalties For Non-Compliance.

Online retailers face unlimited fines and/or up to six months in prison for failure to comply with UK knife laws.

Legal Compliance When Selling Knives Online.

With the penalties for non-compliance severe, online knife retailers need to understand how they are expected to comply with UK knife laws so their verification measures are deemed adequate in a worst-case scenario.

However, verifying a customer’s age is obviously more difficult for online retailers as they don’t have physical contact with the customer to check identification like a driving licence.

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.

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’ve outsourced your age-checking process, it might be worth seeing if your supplier is 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. Voluntary Code of Conduct For Knife Sellers

In 2018, over 15 major UK retailers agreed to a voluntary code of conduct with the government relating to the sale of knives. Online retailers today can review the principles agreed upon and ensure they’re meeting them, too.

4. 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.

Sharpening Your Act & Next Steps.

So, while the UK laws around selling knives may be strict, remaining compliant needn’t be a headache. For Shopify retailers, a regulatory-compliant and well-priced solution exists within the Shopify App Store. Happy checking!

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