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Trader's advice - age-related sales

Ignorance, carelessness or greed? Is it really worth it?

There are strict laws prohibiting the sale of certain items to under-age youngsters. But independent surveys and regular swoops by Trading Standards Officers have shown that a worrying number of children below the legal age are finding it easy to buy products like cigarettes, alcohol, adult videos, solvents, fireworks, and lottery tickets from shops and off-licences.

When these illegal sales take place, the seller could be held personally liable, the company could be held liable, and in some cases, a business may even lose a licence. We realise that the vast majority of retailers take their responsibilities very seriously. For those that do not, however, there are stiff penalties for not complying; both managers/owners and employees being liable to prosecution. For example, in the case of under-aged alcohol sales typical maximum penalties are currently £5,000 per offence and/or imprisonment and loss of liquor licence. 

Most laws relating to the prohibition of the sale of products to young persons are enforced either by Trading Standards Officers or the Police. Hillingdon Council and the Metropolitan Police are working together to improve community safety and make Hillingdon one of the safest boroughs in London.

Complaints against traders

All complaints to the Service, alleging that traders are selling age-restricted products to persons below the permitted age, are noted and filed for action at a future date. If the Department receives a further complaint it is likely that the trader will receive a personal visit from a Trading Standards Officer.

Further complaints will ensure that a Trading Standards Officer, a police officer and a volunteer youngster visit the shop unannounced. The young person will be instructed to attempt to purchase an age-restricted product and in the event of a sale, a criminal prosecution may follow.

A national Code of Practice and our own Service procedures strictly control the use of youngsters in this area of work. All attempts by the volunteer to obtain a sale are witnessed by officers in close attendance. So if you follow the guidelines set out in our notes for guidance and ask for proof of age, an illegal sale will NEVER be made. 

Determining a customer's age

We acknowledge that it is very difficult to determine a youngster's age by looks alone. So why not set an artificially higher age limit in your mind when selling to a youngster? For example, if you are selling alcohol, where there is a restricted age limit of 18 years, say to yourself, 'Does that person look under 21?' If the answer is 'yes', then seek proof of age. Doing no checks at all is not a defence at law. Remember,

DO - Ask for proof of age

DO - Exercise your right not to sell

DO - Challenge the age of any young person

Better to be safe than sorry.  If you make a sale, you will be responsible

DO NOT - Rely on looks alone

DO NOT - Sell if in any doubt

DO NOT - Sell if a child says, 'it's for an adult'

Age-restricted products booklet

We have produced a free, easy-to-use booklet to help retailers and their staff to comply with the law in relation to underage sales. The book is also designed to help retailers keep a log of the training they provide to employees and to monitor the effectiveness of that training.

If you would like a copy of the booklet, please feel free to contact us.

We can also supply you with additional manager sign-off pages, training logs and refusal record sheets, or you can download the relevant documents from the links below:

Manager sign-offs:

Training Log [8kb]

Refusal Record [26kb]

Refusing sales - what to do if you are threatened

If you are receiving threats there and then you should, of course, ring 999. If immediate danger has passed but you wish to discuss threats with the police, call the local police responsible for the area in which your shop is located.

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Article utilities:  Bookmark and Share Print Print this page Last updated: 07 Jan 2015 at 10:19