Underage Sales

Advice for retailers

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law.

The law makes selling of age restricted products to those under age a criminal offence, with various penalties.

Product Legal Minimum Age
Tobacco Products 18
Fireworks 18
Videos, DVDs and Computer Games
12 Classification
15 Classification
18 Classification

Alcohol 18
Lottery tickets and scratch cards 16
Lighter refills containing Butane 18
Solvents and volatile substances 18
Knives and offensive weapons 18
Aerosol paint containers 16

A responsible retailer will

  • Train till staff and provide regular reminders/refresher training.
  • Adopt a policy not to sell when there is doubt.
  • Display statutory signs and deterrent posters.
  • Always ask for proof of age. “No ID, No Sale”
  • Comply with the spirit and the letter of the law.
  • Work with enforcement agencies and make them aware of suspected sources.
  • Keep a record of refusals.

Defences to these offences are provided if you can show you exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence.

Due diligence defence

Implement a company policy

To whom and in what circumstances a customer will/will not be served such as only on production of proof of age.

Adopt a written procedure

It should be brought to the attention of all employees dealing with age-restricted sales. For example, that before selling to a person suspected of being under age, refer to other senior staff for advice (if possible).

Provide staff training

You have a responsibility to ensure your employees are aware of the legal requirements relating to age-restricted sales. Download the Training Questionnaire Download Acrobat Reader to view this PDF 87kb to help you and your staff to understand these issues.


Statutory notices should always be displayed prominently. Additional notices may also be displayed to deter potential underage purchasers and to remind employees.

Refusals log

This will demonstrate to any enforcement body that refusals do occur. It also enables you to monitor refusals by individual employees. A history of refusals acts as evidence that your business is attempting to comply with the law.
Download Refusals Record Download Acrobat Reader to view this PDF 396kb

Till stickers/prompts

Reminds employees that the product is age-restricted and encourages them to consider their response to the attempted purchase.

Trading Standards conduct test-purchase operations on age-restricted products using volunteer children. If a sale is made we will investigate what precautions the retailer took to avoid the sale occurring.


Your employees

You are legally responsible for the actions of your staff so if they sell to an under-age person you could be prosecuted.

All staff selling age-restricted products must have an understanding of the law. Training must be given to all new starters and refreshers given to all staff on a periodic basis. Talk to them about proof of age cards and the ones your company will accept and encourage them to take time to look at their customers.

Training should be recorded and must cover

  • Knowledge of the law
  • Awareness of company policies and procedures
  • Guidance on how to assess age. Download Age Calculator "Ready Reckoner" Download Acrobat Reader to view this PDF 379kb
  • Advice on handling refusals
  • As part of your procedures you should ensure that employees sign a declaration or pledge sheet Download Acrobat Reader to view this PDF 408kb, to say that they have received training and understand the legal requirements imposed upon them and your business.

If appropriate there should be a regular staff audit to ensure that they are up to date and continue to understand what is required, you may even wish to do your own test purchase exercise.

Download Authorisation Certificate - Sale of Alcohol Download Acrobat Reader to view this PDF 178kb


What does a 21 year old look like?

It is very difficult these days to judge a person’s age correctly.

A proof of age scheme such as Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 is a subjective test. Whether or not someone appears to be 21 or 25 years old will depend on the person making the decision.

Different things will affect the decision. Ask the question “What makes you ask for ID?”

Is it sufficient for a business to simply instruct staff to ask for ID if they consider the person appears under 21/25 if they do not provide them with ideas of what to look for?

Examples which may help staff decide to ask for ID

  • Lack of confidence of the person in front of them
  • Over confidence - “All right mate”/shifty. “It’s her 18th Birthday today, say Happy Birthday”
  • Loud
  • Failing to look at member of staff/evasive
  • Staff member unable to fully see their face
  • Lots of change
  • Strange choice/ mix of alcohol including cases of beer
  • Small bottles of spirit with small bottles of soft drinks
  • Number of small bottles of spirits
  • Packs of 10 cigarettes, multiple pack of 10 cigarettes
  • Watches - often children are bought a nice watch for their 18th or 21st birthday


  • baseball caps, hoodies, very low slung jeans showing their underwear
  • facial hair, strong hair growth
  • Depth of voice
  • Do they have an Adam’s apple?
  • Don’t just rely on height and build


  • Heavy make-up
  • Inappropriate clothing
  • Older clothing
  • However jewellery and accessories tend to be age appropriate. So look for Claire’s Accessories type jewellery and hair accessories
  • Remember unlike lads, girls are trying to make themselves look older than they actually are
  • Small bags/ handbags/ purses. Counterfeit type bags

It is important that employees appreciate why age restricted products must not be sold to underage children. As well as the potential health and social consequences of selling such products as discussed in this pack, there is the risk to the seller of several courses of action which can be taken against them personally. Such penalties for a member of staff selling age restricted products (depending on the product) can range from an £90 PND, up to £20,000 fine, a custodial sentence or the risk of losing their job as a very minimum. Such a sale by an individual employee will obviously have a knock on effect on the business itself which may include a restricted premises order, fines or a risk to the premise licence for an underage alcohol sale.

If alcohol has been sold to someone under 18 years old, it is worth while explaining about the Licence Review procedures and the likely consequences, which may include, additional conditions, a suspension or a revocation which can have a serious effect on the financial viability of the business, that can in turn affect jobs.

Test purchase operations do take place regarding age restricted products to ascertain whether they are being sold and underage volunteers are used. This Service is not out to trick anyone, the reasons why we target premises, are usually a result of specific intelligence, general intelligence or anti social related youth disorder in the vicinity.


Fake IDs

How to identify fake and genuine ID?

  • Read what is actually written on the card. Does it say Driving Licence or Provisional Driving Licence? Or does it say National Identity Card, Driving Permit etc?
  • Does it say European Identity Card or European Driving Permit?
  • Is the card too thick or too rigid/Is it too flexible?
  • Does it have a swipe bar on the back?
  • Is the person in front of you the same person in the photograph?
  • Has the date been altered?
  • What are the conditions on the alcohol licence about acceptable forms of ID?
  • National Identity Cards - do they exist? Are they an acceptable form of ID?

What is the problem with non UK ID?

The Licensing Act does place a burden on the sales person to check the age of the person they are selling to is over 18 unless no one would believe that the person was underage. The Act requires them to ask the person for evidence of their age and that evidence should convince or satisfy a reasonable person.

Remember it is important that sales assistants either, take the ID off of the customer and ‘ or take the ID out of any holder so that they can feel it and look at it closely. This also enables them to look closely at the photo on the print. It may also enable them to use a UV or black light to check security measures.

If you don’t know whether or not you have a problem with fake or novelty ID in your area, speak to either your Police Licensing Unit, Neighbourhood Support Teams or equivalent or SIA Door Staff. Also speak to your traders.

Children will often target premises at a time when they know staff will be busy and distracted. For instance Wednesday and Saturday evenings where the premises sells lottery tickets. They may come in as a large group then one or two will enter separately and will attempt to buy the age restricted products. There is the perception that the shop staff will be under pressure with the lottery products and will also be watching the group for shop-lifting etc.

Children may also enter a large premises then split-up and the older amongst the group or the one with ID both fake or genuine will attempt to buy the alcohol.

Valid Photo-ID

Also accept UK Passports

Examples of valid photo ID

Citizen Card Driving licence

Young Scot card Validate UK card

Portman card Connexions Card

Portman 'Prove It' cards are no longer being issued,those that are in date are still valid.

Connexions Cards are no longer available.Existing cards are still in circulation.


Proxy Sales

This is when an adult attempts to buy age restricted products on behalf of an underage person.

How to spot proxy sales

  • When groups of youth congregate outside approaching members of the public who enter the store.
  • If members of the public who might have been approached, ask for the same alcohol product, etc which you have just refused to sell to an underage person.
  • If the adult pays separately for the product and keeps the change separate.
  • If the age restricted product is kept separate from their other shopping.
  • If you know your local community and your customers, and the purchase of such an alcoholic product is totally out of character, remind them that it is an offence to “proxy” purchase.
  • If the adult re-enters the store just to buy alcohol after they have left.

You do not have to sell anything to anyone if you are in doubt.

Such Best Practice procedures should be adopted for all age restricted products, however at present it is only an offence for an alcohol proxy sale. Section 149 of the Licensing Act 2003 makes it an offence for a person to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol for a child, as where a child gives money to an adult to buy alcohol in an off licence for consumption by the child.

Who is responsible for the sale?

The person making or attempting to make the purchase (unless by the parent or legal guardian for responsible consumption within the home).

Cover Retailers Pack


Help us stamp out underage sales of age restricted products

Trading Standards
Montgomery House
Monarch Way
Winchester SO22 5PW

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