Underage Sales

Sales of Alcohol

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

Sales of Alcohol

Alcohol image

It is a criminal offence to sell alcohol to persons under 18.

If a sale is made to a person under 18, the person buying, the cashier selling, the designated premises supervisor and the owner of the business commit an offence.

The retailer’s licence to sell alcohol may be at risk.

It is also an offence for any person under the age of 18 to sell alcohol without direct supervision from a duly authorised person. It is an offence to supply anyone under 16 with liqueur chocolates.


The maximum penalty for these offences is a fine of £5000.

If there are two sales in a short period, a Review of the premise licence may be called for and the Licensing Authority may revoke the licence.


Why not display these on your premises


Selling alcohol from Licensed Premises

If you are a licence holder or Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS), you are responsible for ensuring your staff comply with laws designed to restrict the availability of alcohol to youngsters.

The Licensing Act 2003 strengthens the prohibition on selling alcohol to under 18s. Underage drinking is increasing and there is now a duty on the Trading Standards Service to enforce the controls on alcohol sales.

It is an offence to sell alcohol to youngsters under 18 years of age.

A fine of up to £5000 can be imposed, and your premise licence may be revoked.

It is a defence to prove

  • a) that you believed that the person was not under 18; AND
  • b) either that you had taken all reasonable steps to establish the person's age or that nobody could reasonably have suspected from his/her appearance that the person was under 18.

'All Reasonable Steps' means you and your staff are required to ask for evidence of the person's age ie. an appropriate and valid proof of age document, such as:

When you see the PASS hologram logo you can be confident that it is a valid photo-ID.

If a licensed premise sells alcohol to a person under 18 on two occasions in a three month period, a closure notice can be issued by Trading Standards or the police, in lieu of prosecution. Alternatively, a premise licence holder can be fined a maximum of £20,000.

There is no due diligence defence available for this offence. It is also likely that the premise licence will be reviewed, with the possibility of the premise licence being suspended for a period not exceeding three months or even revoked.

The legislation is changing fast in the alcohol licensing area and the Home Office introduced amendments to the Licensing Act in 2012.

You must be careful to ensure that whatever evidence of proof of age is used, that it is genuine and reliable. It will not be a defence if no reasonable person would have been convinced by it. The best advice is always to ask for proof of age unless you are convinced the person looks at least 21. In this way you will always err on the safe side of the law. Genuine persons of the correct age will not mind being challenged in this way if approached sensibly. The message is clear – No ID, No Sale.

It is also a criminal offence for a DPS or manager to knowingly allow the sale of alcohol to a person under 18 and for an adult to buy alcohol on behalf of a person under 18.

Test Purchasing

In appropriate cases we will use young volunteers to attempt to buy alcohol.

What can you do?

This will depend on the size of your business, the volume of alcohol sales, the number of staff you have and how 'at risk' your business is of making illegal sales. For an up-to-date Licensee Pack please contact Trading Standards, tel 01962 833620.

You should

  • Display appropriate ‘Challenge 21/25’ posters, point of sale material and window stickers to dissuade youngsters from trying to purchase and to remind your staff (you can download posters from our web site)
  • Train all your staff on the law, how to question and refuse sales (keep records of the training and we recommend reminders are given quarterly)
  • Give advice to your staff about what Age ID cards are acceptable
  • Support staff if refusals are made
  • Keep a log of 'refused sales' and check and sign it weekly
  • Use CCTV cameras to spot potential problems early

Test purchases

Great progress has been made since 2003 with our test purchase results, outlets have received advice folders on Age Restricted Goods and other resources. The trade have generally improved their staff training and systems, have introduced Challenge 21/25. We have worked closely with businesses who want to improve and on a few occasions have agreed voluntary conditions to their premise licences, all to improve compliance. Unfortunately, there are occasions when a business does not comply and in 2012/13 we took nine businesses to a Licensing Review Hearing. One business had it's alcohol licence revoked and subsequently went out of business, five had their licence suspended and the other three had stringent conditions attached to their licences.

The following shows the results of recent test purchases in Hampshire using youngsters aged 16 years.

Year Attempts Sales % Complaints
2012/13 98 12 12.3% 51
2011/12 82 8 9.5% 94
2010/11 120 12 10% 108
2009/10 146 18 12.3% 179
2008/09 180 23 12.8% 155
2007/08 161 26 15% 125
2006/07 123 25 20% 195
2005/06 122 41 34% 211
2004/05 122 32 26% 167
2003/04 59 23 39% 99

Our results were slightly worse in 2012/13, however in the first 3 years underage sales averaged 1 in 3. There will still be young people who get access to alcohol, and we do seek and receive complaints which help us target our resources effectively. Work does go on in schools with young people, and there are media campaigns to raise awareness of the consequences and harmful effects of alcohol.



Help us stamp out underage sales of age restricted products

Trading Standards
Montgomery House
Monarch Way
Winchester SO22 5PW

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