Underage Sales

Knives and offensive weapons

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

Knives image

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.


Employers responsibility

Think about the range of knives you sell and if this needs to change

  • Where are the knives displayed?
  • Can staff see the aisles?
  • Is it appropriate to security tag some of them, or keep them in a locked display unit?
  • Are any Point of Sale deterrent notices displayed?

Staff training is vital

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 demonstrate you have trained your staff, keep records of any training or instructions given.
  • Ask employees to date and sign training records to confirm they have understood it.
  • Use your staff notice board to provide reminders.
  • Reminders of the law at the point of sale are a good idea – this can be by means of a ‘till prompt’
  • if you have an EPOS system or by notices on the tills.
  • Move reminders around or replace them frequently to make sure your staff notice them.

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.

  • You, or a person you have authorised, should check this record frequently and sign it to show it is being monitored. If the refusal record doesn’t reflect the normal operating pattern for your premises, find out why.
  • If the refusals record shows some staff refuse more sales than others or make fewer refusals than you would expect, check why this occurs and take appropriate action. Make comments in the register to explain what you did, and when.

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.


Sales staff

Unless it is beyond doubt that a buyer is over 18, you must take steps to check the buyer’s age.

  • Ask for photographic proof of age and only accept PASS-approved identification cards or the new-style driving licence or a passport.
  • If they cannot prove they are over 18, you should refuse to sell to them.
  • Make a record of the refusal.

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 law in detail

The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 amended and previous legislation makes it illegal to sell to children under 18 years old:

  • any knife, knife blade or razor blade
  • any axe
  • any article that has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for causing injury to the person.

This does not apply to

  • a folding pocket knife with a blade of less than 3 inches or 7.62 cm
  • a razor blade permanently held in a cartridge or similar housing where less than 2mm of the blade is exposed.
  • articles such as scissors or compasses.

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.

Combat Knives

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:

  • Indicates or suggests that it is suitable for combat or
  • Is likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of the knife as a weapon.

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.



Help us stamp out underage sales of age restricted products

Trading Standards
Montgomery House
Monarch Way
Winchester SO22 5PW

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