It is vital that you do not supply age-restricted products to children. This section tells you which products are restricted and how you can ensure that your business avoids breaking the law.
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Alcohol must not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
It is an offence for anyone to sell alcohol to a person under the age of 18 or for a person under 18 to sell alcohol. In the latter case, if the cashier is under the age of 18 then they must get specific permission from a member of staff who is over the age of 18 who can have a clear view of the person who is attempting to purchase the alcohol.
A store manager or person in charge of the premises where a sale has been made to a person under the age of 18 may be held responsible if a sale takes place. However, even the actual cashier who made the sale but who is not a store manager or person in charge could have action taken against them as well.
Making a sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 can result in a fine of up to £5,000 and the business also risks having its licence suspended or revoked. An £80 on-the-spot fine can also be issued and, ultimately, a suspension from selling alcohol from the premises can be imposed.
You should ensure that you have in-store notices, that your staff are well trained and that a refusals log is completed to prove your diligence and efforts in ensuring compliance. Please see Section 9 below for more information.
A person who buys or attempts to buy alcohol on behalf of a person under the age of 18 commits an offence. This is known as proxy purchasing. If you know or believe that an adult is specifically buying alcohol to pass on to someone under the age of 18, then you should refuse to serve them.
The age limit for alcoholic (i.e. liqueur) chocolates is 16.
Cigarettes, other tobacco products and butane must not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
It is an offence for you or a person you employ to sell tobacco or tobacco products and lighter refills to anyone under the age of 18. This includes cigarettes, cigarette papers, products intended to be smoked as a substitute for tobacco and any other product containing tobacco.
NOTE: the law for tobacco sales used to state that the legal limit was 16 years but it is now 18.
You must ensure that cigarettes are sold in their original packaging and you must not sell single cigarettes, as this too is an offence.
A warning notice must be displayed prominently at the point(s) of sale and should state:
IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL TOBACCO PRODUCTS TO ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18
The wording on the above notice must be at least 297mm x 420mm wide in lettering of at least 36mm high.
If you are responsible for a Public House or anywhere that has a cigarette dispensing machine then please note that from 1st October 2011 the sale of tobacco products from vending machines was made illegal in England. It is now also against the law to display advertisements or pictures of tobacco products on vending machines. Businesses can still sell tobacco products if they wish to, but must comply with the current law (see above re warning notice). The legislation does not ban vending machines themselves, the machine can stay in its current position if it is no longer used to sell tobacco products and all advertisements of tobacco products are removed from it or covered up. The vending machine could, for example, be behind the bar, provided that the machine is positioned where the owner or manager of the premises can guarantee that it is impossible for any member of the public to use the machine.
Cigarette lighter refills that contain butane or any other product containing butane must not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
The sanctions for selling tobacco products to under 18s were increased significantly from 1 April 2009. The maximum fine is £2,500 but your shop could now be prohibited from selling tobacco products for up to 12 months or a named individual could be prohibited from selling tobacco or from being involved in the management of a business selling tobacco for up to 12 months. If either of these prohibitions is broken, then the fine increases to £20,000 maximum.
Generally, fireworks must not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
You should not sell any firework (including sparklers) to anyone under the age of 18 as to do so is an offence.
In the case of caps, cracker snaps, novelty matches, party poppers, serpents and throw-downs, it is an offence to sell to anyone apparently under the age of 16.
However, you must not sell the following fireworks to members of the general public, regardless of their age:
· Fireworks intended for professional use
· Bangers (including batteries containing bangers, for example Chinese crackers)
· Aerial shells and maroons, shells in mortar and maroons in mortar
· Fireworks with erratic flight (e.g. jumping jacks, ground spinners)
If you sell sparklers, they must be labelled with the words ‘Warning: not to be given to children under 5 years of age’.
Where you do sell fireworks that are intended for public use, then they must comply with BS 7114, and be labelled accordingly.
You cannot store fireworks without a licence or registration granted by your local Trading Standards or Fire & Rescue Service which is renewed annually. There are strict rules relating to the storage of fireworks and your local Trading Standards or Fire & Rescue Service will be able to advise you specifically as to what these are.
A notice must be displayed prominently stating:
IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL ADULT FIREWORKS AND SPARKLERS TO ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18
and a notice stating:
IT IS ILLEGAL FOR ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18 TO POSSESS ADULT FIREWORKS IN A PUBLIC PLACE
The notices must be of a minimum size of 400mm x 300mm, with lettering at least 16mm in height.
Boxes of fireworks must not be split up and sold separately.
Failure to comply with these requirements can result in prosecution and a heavy fine and/or imprisonment.
Knives and offensive weapons must not be sold to anyone under the age of 18.
With some limited exceptions, you should ensure that you do not sell the following items to a person who is under the age of 18: any knife, axe, knife blade, razor blade or any item with a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is adapted for causing injury to a person. It is possible to overlook razor blades as we tend not to think of them as weapons but they are still age-restricted to 18.
The following bladed and pointed items are banned from sale so you cannot sell these to anyone, of any age:
· Flick-knives, gravity knives, belt-buckle knives
· Swordsticks containing a blade
· Push daggers, butterfly knives
· Kyotetsu shoge (a rope, cord or chain fastened to a hooked knife)
· Hand and foot claws, hollow kybatan with spikes, shuriken or death star
· Kusari gam (a rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a sickle)
Whilst there is no legal requirement to display a notice, you may wish to have one at the most appropriate location(s) stating that it is illegal to sell knives and other sharp objects to anyone under 18, especially if this is a significant part of your business.
Selling these items to someone under the age of 18 - or at all for any of the banned products - could result in you being prosecuted and facing a large fine and/or imprisonment.
DVDs and computer games are marked with an age restriction. You must not sell these products to anyone under the age with which the products are marked.
It is perhaps easy to forget that DVDs, videos and computer/Wii games and the like will have a suitability rating on them. Where these are printed on the game they should not be sold to persons who cannot demonstrate that they are the required minimum age.
· DVDs and videos marked with letters only, rather than an age, can be sold to everyone.
· Uc means Universal and suitable for everyone but especially younger children.
· U means Universal and suitable for all ages of viewing.
· PG means that parts of the film will need Parental Guidance when a child is watching it. It can be sold to a person of any age.
· E means that it is more Educational or sport and, again, can be sold to a person of any age.
· However, it should be noted that products marked 18R can only be sold via a registered sex shop to those over the age of 18.
· Selling these types of product to those under the allowed age could result in you being prosecuted and facing a large fine, imprisonment or both.
You should not allow anyone under the age of 16 to buy petrol.
The vapour from petrol is extremely flammable and should be treated with extreme caution. If you work in a fuel station, that station will have a licence granted to it for the safe storage of petroleum. You may be in breach of the petroleum licensing conditions if you supply petroleum to anyone under the age of 16.
You may also be in breach of your licensing conditions if you allow the supply of petroleum into a non-approved container. For details of what does and does not constitute an approved container, you should contact your local Trading Standards or Fire & Rescue Service.
Failure to comply with licence conditions could result in a substantial fine.
You must not sell lottery tickets or scratch cards to anyone under the age of 16.
You must not sell weekly National Lottery tickets to a person who is under the age of 16 and similarly for any of the mid-week or daily draws, Euro Lottery and scratch cards; you should ensure that you and your staff are aware of this. As well as having your lottery terminal removed, a fine of up to £5,000 can be imposed for failure to comply with the legislation.
Although not likely to apply frequently, no-one under the age of 16 is allowed to sell a National Lottery ticket, scratch card etc.
Surprisingly, there is no legal requirement to display a notice advising of the age limit but one is suggested in the vicinity of the lottery terminal.
The Gambling Commission is as likely as Trading Standards to pro-actively send a child into your shop to see if you are vigilant in refusing a sale.
If you are responsible for a Public House or a café that has a fruit machine (or similar) in it, whilst not a lottery ticket dispenser you must still ensure that no-one under the age shown on that machine uses it.
Aerosol paints should not be sold to anyone under the age of 16. If you are selling intoxicating substances such as other aerosols, solvents or cleaning fluids, you must not sell them to anyone under the age of 18 if you believe that they are likely to be abused.
You should refuse to sell the following products if you have reason to believe that anyone under the age of 18 will inhale the fumes to cause intoxication:
· Aerosol cans such as those containing anti-perspirant or hairspray. Please note: it is illegal to sell aerosol paint containers (regardless of what you believe them to be used for) to anyone under the age of 16
· Paint stripper and thinners (but not paint)
· Cleaning fluids
· Office correction fluids
· Glue (solvent based)
· Nail polish remover (but not nail polish)
· Marker pens
The products listed above can be sold to under 18s for their normal purposes. You should look to see whether the young person is buying only these products; be alerted if he or she is buying plastic bags at the same time or demonstrates behaviour similar to drunkenness or of being ‘high’ on drugs when deciding whether or not to make the sale.
You should ensure that all of your staff are trained and fully aware of the rules relating to selling age-related products.
The whole purpose of imposing age limits on the sale of certain items is ultimately safety. Usually this is the safety of the user, such as tobacco inhalation or unsuitable DVDs but it could also be to protect the wider society as well as the user. This could be applied to alcohol and knives, which have anti-social behaviour implications for those in the vicinity of the actual user, or indeed mis-user, of the product.
The laws have changed in recent years which demonstrates a less tolerant approach by the UK Government. Laws have been introduced which show that sales to under-age buyers are being taken more seriously. Increasing the age limit from 16 to 18 for tobacco and knives, coupled with the suspension from being able to make sales at all, along with increased fines all mean that you need to be vigilant and that both you and your colleagues must do all they can to ensure that you or they do not supply goods to those not meeting the legal age requirements.
Trading Standards officers regularly send children into shops to see if they can purchase various age-restricted products. There is often no pattern as to when they do this; it could be at any time your shop is open and it could be more than one attempt in a short period of time so as to avoid any complacency.
Here are a few ways you can protect yourself from selling under-age restricted products to those under age:
a. Maintain a refusals log – and use it! Make a note of the date, time, description of the person and what was attempted to be bought, and for the cashier to initial the entry.
b. Adopt a ‘Think 21’ or even ‘Think 25’ approach whereby you ask for proof of age unless you think the person is at least 21 or 25. Refuse the sale if they cannot produce appropriate ID.
c. Train your staff with regular checks on their knowledge and record all the training given.
d. Ensure that the notices are prominent. Having a notice reminding customers that you cannot sell certain goods to those under 18 is not prominent if it is obscured by bottles of alcohol!
e. If the person is ‘borderline’ age, consider what type of product they are buying. ‘Alcopops’ and packets of 10 cigarettes tend to be favoured by the younger buyer.
f. Remember that products such as computer games and DVDs often have an age limit printed on the item; don’t overlook the less obvious age-restricted items.
g. The Home Office has produced some useful guidance on how to help staff faced with an under-age person attempting to purchase something that they are too young to buy legally. Although this advice relates to the sale of knives, much of it can apply to any product. It is found here:
h. Do not forget that the sale of under-age products can perhaps take place more easily if the person intending to buy is not in front of you. This applies if you sell age-restricted products over the internet or where there is any other form of ‘distance’ between you and the prospective purchaser. You still need to take precautions to warn prospective buyers of the age limits and make reasonable efforts to check that a person is of the required age.
i. Finally, remember that Trading Standards officers accept that no matter what precautions are in place, from time to time a mistake will happen and a sale to a young person will take place. So long as it is a rare event and you can demonstrate that you take great diligence in preventing under-age sales taking place, then it is unlikely that the action that will follow will be as severe as a prosecution. Officers are often more keen to educate and to work with you than they are to take more formal action and will take a lot of factors into consideration. Having said that, the policy of each enforcement agency may vary and so leniency cannot and should not be assumed. As stated previously, sales to under-age people are always taken seriously. If in doubt ask your local Trading Standards service for advice.