Underage sales of alcohol

Published: 14/11/2014

A notable rise in the number of underage sales of alcohol has been reported and licensees need to be mindful. It is more important than ever that a proactive attitude is adopted. There is increasing concern about the adverse health effects of children drinking and Trading Standards and the police are clamping down on establishments failing to adhere to the law. Getting it wrong could result in a damaging impact on a premises licence or possible prosecution for the license holder.

The Licensing Act 2003 sets out the offences, defences and penalties that relate to underage sales of alcohol with breaches of sections 146 and 147 of the Licensing Act 2003 being punishable with a maximum fine of £20,000.

Sec 146 (sale of alcohol to children) affords a defence if it is believed the individual was 18 or over and either all reasonable steps had been taken to find out the individuals age or that no one could reasonably suspect form their appearance that they were under 18. ‘Reasonable steps’ means asking the individual for evidence of their age, and that the evidence would convince a reasonable person.
Where a person is charged with an offence due to the conduct of someone else, for example an employee, (Sec 147 allowing the sale of alcohol to children) they have a defence that they exercised all due diligence to avoid committing it.

If an establishment fails two test purchases within a period of three months then that will be classed as persistently selling alcohol to children. This will be an offence under Sec 147A Licensing Act 2003 unless it can be shown that there were reasonable grounds for believing the individual to be over 18.

Research suggests that the majority of establishments do not initiate testing until after a venue has been caught selling to underage drinkers by the police or Trading Standards and by then it can be too late. Failure to demonstrate a commitment to improve performance can result in a review of the premises licence, revocation of that licence and/or prosecution. There is the option of a period of ‘voluntary cessation’ that can be agreed with the police or Trading Standards (two weeks) but this is rarely used. More often than not charges will be brought.

As a licence holder there is a duty upon you to ensure that those employed by you are following procedure and taking all reasonable precautions to ensure sales to underage people are not occurring. Steps include giving employees training, Think 25 policy, ID prompts on cash registers, refusals register and records being kept and regularly reviewed. With fines for breaching the regulations running into the thousands investing in training can be money well spent and could provide a defence if prosecuted under Sec 146 Licensing Act 2003.

If you sell alcohol to an individual under the age of 18 you could be prosecuted and fined. A personal licence could be at risk and the premises licence could be reviewed which in turn could lead to it being suspended or revoked. It is essential that you keep within the law.

For further information of this topic please contact Julie Gowland.

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