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Preventing underage sales

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How can I be sure of a purchaser’s age?

It can be very difficult to assess a person’s age from their appearance. This is why you should always ask for proof of age if there is any doubt over the age of the purchaser.

Many large stores now operate a ‘Think 21’ policy, whereby anyone appearing under the age of 21 is asked to prove their age.

Acceptable forms of proof would be:

  • a passport
  • a photo-driving licence, or
  • a proof of age card bearing the PASS hologram, for example a Validate card or Citizencard.

The PASS logo means that the card belongs to a scheme that has been accredited to the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme. The PASS logo is illustrated in the specimen ‘Validate’ card below.

validate uk cardWhichever form of proof of age is offered to you, it is essential that you take the time to read it carefully, ensuring that the photograph is in fact of the holder, and that the person is at least the minimum age to purchase.

Note that a seller is unlikely to have any defence if they did not ask for proof of age.

If any doubt remains about someone’s age, the sale must be refused.

Won’t customers get annoyed if I refuse to serve them?

Always remember that you are not obliged to sell anything to anyone if you do not wish to. If there is any doubt about the age of the purchaser, politely decline the sale, and provide the young person with one of the Refusals Slips included with this pack.

What can I do to prevent those involved in my business breaking the law?

The law generally provides a retailer with a defence if he can demonstrate that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to prevent an offence being committed.

‘Reasonable precautions’ means setting up a suitable system and ‘due diligence’ means ensuring that the system is working effectively. Remember that the defence is only available if you have taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence, however, what is reasonable will depend on the size and nature of the business. A large multiple retailer would be expected to have a far more sophisticated system in place than say a small corner shop.

What might be expected of me?

The essential elements of a system to prevent underage sales being made are as follows :

  • staff training
  • warning notices
  • till prompts
  • records of occasions when sales have been refused - the ‘Refusals register’
  • monitoring and control by management / owner of the business

As outlined above, how this is achieved will depend on the size and nature of the business. As a basic guide, the following standards might reasonably be expected. Remember however that ultimately only the courts can decide what is reasonable, taking into account all of the circumstances.

The small independent retailer

To safeguard against underage sales, there are a number of simple steps that even the smallest business can put in place, for example you should:

1. Ensure that staff (and anyone else serving in the store) understand: 

  • the different age restrictions on the products you sell
  • that they should look closely at prospective purchasers, even at busy times
  • that if they doubt a person’s age they should ask for proof of age
  • the proof of age scheme operating locally, and the other types of proof which are acceptable (see ‘How can I be sure of a purchaser’s age?’ above)
  • that if doubt remains, the sale should be refused
  • what to do in the event of a refusal (see 4 below)

Ideally you should keep a record of the training given to staff, and ensure that any new employees also receive the necessary training. Any new additions to the age restricted goods on sale should be reflected in staff training.

2. Make good use of warning notices on the premises. Although the only warning notices required by law are in respect of sales of tobacco and fireworks to minors, you may wish to draw up others for different products, along the lines suggested in this guidance pack. Such notices should jog the memory of staff as well as acting as a deterrent for underage purchasers.

3. Use a prompt for staff at the point of sale. The minimum age notice included with this pack can be attached to the till, or close to it, to act as a final reminder before a sale is made.

4. Keep a record of occasions when sales have been refused. For convenience you may wish to use the ‘Refusals Record’ sheet included with this pack. The manager or owner of the business should check to see that the records are kept up to date.

5. The manager or owner of the business should check regularly that the system put in place to prevent underage sales is being followed by staff and is working.

The medium sized retailer

It is reasonable to expect a larger scale business to have a more sophisticated system in place than the small retailer.

1. Staff training should be formal and written, again covering:

  • the different age restrictions and other legal requirements relating to the products on sale
  • the proof of age scheme operating locally, and the other types of proof which are acceptable (see ‘How can I be sure of a purchaser’s age?’ above)
  • what to do in the event of a refusal.

2. If the store has an EPOS system at the till, it may be possible for till prompts to be electronic. This would allow a message to be displayed querying the purchaser’s age every time an age restricted product is scanned.

3. While the only warning notices required by law are in respect of sales of tobacco and fireworks to minors, you may wish to draw up others for different products, along the lines suggested in this guidance pack. Such notices should jog the memory of staff as well as acting as a deterrent for underage purchasers.

4. Keep a record of occasions when sales have been refused. For convenience you may wish to use the ‘Refusals Register’ sheet included with this pack. Details of each refused sale should be given to the store management.

5. The store manager / area manager should monitor the effectiveness of the system in place to prevent underage sales. If CCTV is in operation, this may be a useful tool for example in monitoring the decisions of staff, and of checking whether the refusals register is complete.

The large multiple retailer

While the elements of the system will be the same as outlined above, the large retailer will generally have quite extensive safeguards and systems in place.

1. There should be a clearly defined line of communication, e.g., staff member to supervisor / departmental manager / store manager / area manager / trading standards manager etc. The company should be able to demonstrate that any problem areas highlighted within the organisation have been investigated and acted upon as appropriate.

2. Staff training should be formal and written, possibly with some form of written assessment, with regular monitoring of competency in relation to underage sales.

3. This type of retailer will invariably have an EPOS system in each store, so that till prompts can be displayed electronically each time an age restricted product is scanned.

4. Similarly, stores will normally have a CCTV system in place which can be used effectively by management for monitoring and training purposes.

5. A Refusals Register should be maintained and signed off by the appropriate manager.

6. The systems in place should be subject to regular review to ensure their continued effectiveness throughout the organisation.


Underage sales - retailer materials

age restricted products refusal log (PDF 118KB)

employee training log (PDF 141KB)

underage sales refusal slips (PDF 125KB) (*cut into three and give individually)


Advertising / posters

no proof point of sale advertising - English (PDF 54KB) or  Cymraeg (PDF 126KB)

no proof poster (PDF 152KB)