This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law.
It is illegal to sell to children under 18 years old any knife, knife blade or razor blade, any axe, or any article with a blade which could cause injury.
You have a responsibility to make sure staff are complying with the law, as you can be liable for any sale that takes place – whether you were present or not.
The legislation is enforced by the Police and anyone found selling these items to children less than 18 years old risks a maximum fine of £5,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to six months or both.
We investigate complaints made by consumers or traders about shops believed to be supplying knives to young persons.
In appropriate cases we will use young volunteers to attempt to buy knives.
Think about the range of knives you sell and if this needs to change
You should ensure all staff are trained at the start of their employment. Repeat this at regular intervals so staff do not forget or become complacent.
To show your staff are following their training, set up or include ‘Knives’ in your current ‘Refusals Register’ or similar system, so staff can record when they refuse a sale.
Regular supervision of employees to ensure they are following instructions is important. Consider how your staff can keep in touch or be seen if you are away from the sales area by using intercoms, signals or CCTV systems.
Because it can be difficult to tell a customer’s age, particularly those in their late teens, it is wise to challenge anyone who appears to be under 21 to prove their age. This is the basis of ‘Challenge 21’ and similar schemes used for alcohol and cigarettes. Consider adopting a similar policy in your store.
Unless it is beyond doubt that a buyer is over 18, you must take steps to check the buyer’s age.
Don’t avoid asking for proof of age just because you think you might cause offence. Remember, if you sell to someone under 18 you will be breaking the law.
The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 amended and previous legislation makes it illegal to sell to children under 18 years old:
This does not apply to
Whether a particular article is a knife is a question of fact, but using a wider definition this legislation prohibits sales of eg sheath knives, kitchen knives, craft knives and carpet knives to persons under the age of 18.
Further restrictions are included in the Knives Act 1997. This legislation prohibits the marketing of a knife or the publication of marketing relating to a knife, in a way which:
The term ‘suitable for combat’ means that the knife is suitable for use as a weapon for inflicting injury or causing fear of injury to the person.
There are exemptions to allow sales of such items for legitimate purposes, such as use by armed forces or as collectors’ pieces.
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