Targeting Teenage Binge Drinking and Test Purchasing of Alcohol

Posted: Tuesday, 7 July 2009 @ 15:09

Since 2004 not a summer has gone by without a campaign to target licensed premises selling alcohol to under 18’s. This year sees a slightly different approach, with the focus on 69 youth crime priority areas designated by the government.

£1.4 million of “new cash” has been committed to the 69 youth crime priority areas in response to feedback that alcohol “remains a major factor influencing low level crime and anti-social behaviour”. The 69 areas have to submit a 3 point plan to tackle prevention and enforcement.

What this will mean for the licensed premises in the 69 areas is a significant increase in the risk of test purchasing over the summer holiday period.

The 69 designated areas include most of the London boroughs, north east cities such as Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, north west cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, Bolton and Wigan, in the midlands Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Birmingham, Coventry, in the south east Brighton, Portsmouth, and Southampton, and in the south west Bournemouth, Bristol and Plymouth.

To minimise risk of selling alcohol a 4 point plan should be adopted:
1. Prepare a written policy on measures to prevent sale of alcohol to under 18’s
2. A proof of age scheme such as “Challenge 21” should be adopted and publicised in the premises.
3. Staff training on the policy should be thorough, repeated regularly, and recorded.
4. A refusals book should be kept as evidence of use of the scheme.

Any worthwhile proof of age scheme will emphasise the need to identify what form of proof of identity will be accepted in your premises. The normal ones are a Passport, European Driving Licence, of a PASS accredited proof of age card.

You must not forget that there are only limited defences to a charge of selling alcohol to someone under 18. Firstly you must have believed they were under 18, and secondly you must have taken all reasonable steps to establish their age, unless no one could have reasonably suspected from their appearance that they were under age. Obviously it would be dangerous to rely on this last defence as the girl who looked 25 when served will most likely appear in court in school uniform without make-up.

What that means is you must have asked for their age and been provided with evidence of that age which would have convinced a reasonable person. You must therefore have seen identification evidence which was not obviously forged and which included a photograph which looked very much like the person involved.

And don’t forget the penalties which you or your staff could face for selling alcohol to under 18’s. Firstly a Fixed Penalty fine could be handed out. Secondly, on conviction in court, up to a £5000 fine. Thirdly, a holder of a premises licence could also be prosecuted if a sale of alcohol to someone under 18 has taken place 3 times in a 3 month consecutive period. They face a fine of up to £10000 and suspension of the premises licence for up to 3 months.

And that is not all. At any time the premises licence could be made the subject of a Review by the Licensing Authority, which could result in the suspension or revocation of the licence. And any personal licence holder appearing before a magistrates court on alcohol related offences such as sale to under 18’s, could find that the court revokes the licence.

The government will shortly make life much more difficult, reducing the 3 month strike rate to 2 occasions. This merely underlines just how important it is to prevent sales of alcohol to under 18’s.

Nigel Musgrove

Licensing Law Specialist

For free advice on this topic please call us on 0845 003 5639.

This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.


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