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‘Major concern’ over online alcohol sales

Pubs and clubs are lagging behind supermarkets in the UK’s battle against underage alcohol sales, while online shopping is also a “major concern”.

The failure to verify the age of shoppers who buy alcohol online is a "major concern"
The failure to verify the age of shoppers who buy alcohol online is a “major concern”

According to data from 40,000 test visits in 2015 by auditor Serve Legal’s “young-looking mystery customers”, supermarkets successfully completed 87% of age verification checks.

On-trade licensed venues showed lower compliance levels, passing 70% of 6,800 age verification checks.

However, Serve Legal said its “major concern” was with home shopping, since ID checks at the point of delivery are “rare”. Only 44% of age check tests were passed by the 1,000+ online retailers tested by Serve Legal in the last three years.

“The culture of continual, well-managed test and inspection programmes adopted by the majority of UK supermarkets and high street retailers is undoubtedly driving improvements in compliance,” said Ed Heaver, director of Serve Legal.

“We believe this positive commitment to responsible retailing is a significant contributing factor in reducing access to alcohol – and other age-restrictive products – by underage people.

He added: “However we are concerned about the delivery practices of online retailers – including supermarkets – where there is little evidence that age verification checks are taking place.

“The law requires that delivery companies request ID from the recipient on the doorstep if the delivery contains any age-restricted products, including alcohol. That is simply not happening.”

Serve Legal also said that with regards to the on-trade, door staff have a “significant” negative impact on test results, since bar staff assume IDs have been checked upon entry. Bar staff passed just 37% of ID verification check tests when door personnel were in operation, compared to 70% when there were none.

Nevertheless, overall pass rates rise considerably where door teams are present, with a 92% pass rate for venues with door teams on duty in 2015.

Scotland has the UK’s highest overall test pass rate of 87% – a position it has held since Serve Legal began testing in 2008.  Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of 70% in line with low levels of compliance for sales of other age-restricted goods like tobacco.

A recent study by Drinkaware revealed that young people in the UK are drinking alcohol to cope with life pressures.

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