Selling alcohol to underage customers is a legal offence which can result in unwanted penalties for the premises licence holder.
Through Challenge 25, responsible licensees can reduce the risk of breaking the law and having enforcement action taken against them.
What is Challenge 25?
Challenge 25 is a policy whereby anyone buying alcohol who appears to be below 25 is asked to provide an acceptable form of ID to verify their age.
By raising awareness as to the illegality of underage sales, with both staff and customers alike, the scheme is aimed at reducing underage drinking.
The Challenge 25 policy follows on from the Challenge 21 campaign introduced by the British Beer and Pub Association. The scheme is now led by the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group.
What does the law say about underage sales?
In the UK there are strict laws relating to the sale and supply of alcohol. Under the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003, it is illegal in England and Wales:
- To sell alcohol to someone under the age of 18 anywhere.
- For someone under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy alcohol.
- For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under the age of 18.
- For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under the age of 18 for consumption on licensed premises, save except where this is the purchase of beer, wine or cider to be drank by a 16 or 17 year old with a table meal, where s/he is accompanied by an adult.
- For someone under the age of 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, save except where s/he is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink, but not buy, beer, wine and cider with a table meal.
Penalties for underage sales
If you are found guilty of an offence under the 2003 Act, there can be significant consequences. These include:
- A potentially unlimited fine if you or a member of staff makes an underage sale, unless it can be shown that reasonable steps were taken to verify the customer’s age.
- A potentially unlimited fine for licensed premises that persistently sells to people underage, defined as happening on just two or more occasions in a 3 month period.
- A closure order for a maximum of 14 days following persistent underage sales.
- A potential suspension or revocation of your licence for breach of the licensing objective relating to the protection of children from harm.
Why use the Challenge 25 policy?
Under the Licensing Act 2003, it is mandatory for all licensed premises in England and Wales to adopt an age verification policy in relation to the sale or supply of alcohol.
In accordance with the Home Office licensing guidance, this policy must as a minimum require individuals who appear to the responsible person (i.e staff carrying out the sale) to be under the age of 18 to produce on request, before being served alcohol, identification bearing their photograph, date of birth, and either a holographic mark or ultraviolet feature.
The premises licence holder must also ensure that staff, especially those involved in the sale of alcohol, are made aware of the existence and content of the applicable age verification policy.
Whilst the Challenge 25 policy is not mandatory or a legal requirement, for responsible licensees it can be a sensible way to meet this statutory “proof of age” condition. It can also prove to be an effective way of preventing underage sales.
The Challenge 25 policy is shown to encourage staff to verify the age of any individual who looks under the age of 25 when buying alcohol, so as to prevent the commission of an offence. Equally, it will encourage anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to carry suitable ID when buying alcohol on your premises.
What can I do to avoid underage sales?
There are various ways in which you may be able to show that you have exercised due diligence as a licensee to prevent underage sales. Whilst in no way a guarantee that you will avoid financial penalty, the following tips will go some way to demonstrating your commitment to responsible licensing:
Provide regular staff training on when and how to verify a customer’s age. As a licensee you are responsible for ensuring that your staff are not only aware of, but are also applying a proof of age policy, not least that they understand there obligation to ask for identification, that they understand what are acceptable forms of ID and they are able to spot fake ID.
Only accept suitable forms of ID as proof of age, ie; photographic driving licence, a passport or a proof of age card, such as the PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme bearing the PASS hologram. You should also publicise to your customers what forms of ID are acceptable.
Display posters in prominent places in the store, including at the tills or behind the bar, to advertise your proof of age policy. This will help not only to deter potential underage customers, but will also act as a back up to staff members who make challenges.
Support your staff in applying your proof of age policy. It is important not to undermine any decision-making, for example, where any difficult decisions made by staff not to serve a customer alcohol are not subsequently challenged and overturned.
Keep records of all failed attempts to buy alcohol of those without ID who look under 25, as this could help with police or trading standards operations.
Publicise your right to refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult where accompanied by a child and you suspect that the alcohol is being bought for the child. Many licensees have rules requiring ID from all members of a group in order to proceed with the sale, notwithstanding that this may lead to adults being refused service when shopping with someone under the age of 18.
You may also want to make use of the Challenge 25 test-purchasing programme, whereby test purchasers will look and act as underage purchasers of alcohol, and report back on how the purchase or refusal was conducted on your licensed premises.
In this way you can monitor how staff handle transactions where the customer looks underage, and if necessary put in place additional training to ensure that all members of staff are confident in making the necessary challenges to prevent underage sales.
Licensing legal advice
The law relating to underage sales can attract tough financial penalties, as well as the risk of temporary closure or revocation of your licence.
Moreover, it is not uncommon for the police or trading standards to test licensees and their staff in the sale of alcohol to underage customers. This is done by arranging for underage volunteers to enter the premises and attempt to purchase alcohol.
In the event that you are facing prosecution, it is always best to seek legal advice from an expert in licensing law. Your legal adviser can help to raise any defence, especially where reasonable steps have been taken to verify the age of a customer.
Your adviser can also guide you on what steps need to be taken to implement an appropriate age verification policy such as Challenge 25. In this way you can help to prevent any further underage sales on your premises.
Challenge 25 FAQs
What is the Challenge 25 policy?
Challenge 25 is a voluntary policy requiring anyone who appears to be below the age of 25 to provide ID to verify their age before they can purchase alcohol.
Why is challenge 25 good?
Challenge 25 is an effective way to manage the risk of selling alcohol to underage customers who look older than they are.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute tax, financial or legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the rules and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert tax, financial, legal or other advice should be sought.