News item

TS issue warnings to traders selling alcohol to under-18s

Traders and publicans are being told to expect severe penalties if they are caught selling alcohol to under-18s, the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) warned today.

The warning follows the results of a national survey which revealed many supermarkets, off licences and pubs were illegally selling alcohol to youngsters.

Seventy local authorities across England and Wales took part in the investigation, which saw Trading Standards Officers supervise young volunteers, aged between 15 and 16, while they attempted to buy alcohol from a variety of shops and pubs.

The results showed that 34 per cent of the total number of on-licensed premises, such as pubs, surveyed sold alcohol to the volunteers without querying their age.

However, only 16 per cent of off-licensed premises and 12 per cent of supermarkets surveyed sold alcohol to the youngsters taking part in the investigation. This is an improvement on the results of a similar survey carried out last year. But Brandon Cook, TSI's lead officer for age restricted sales, said this figure was still too high.

He said: 'Trading standards authorities across the country are making this issue a high priority - illegal sales of alcohol to youngsters are not acceptable.

'We work very hard with the trade to make sure premises understand their responsibilities and appreciate it is sometimes difficult to distinguish if a person is over 18. But the bottom line has to be - no ID, no sale.

'General consumer awareness about underage sales is such that traders should not be embarrassed to ask a person for identification. Young people now accept they will be asked for ID so there is no excuse for premises to be caught making illegal sales.'

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: 'The Government is committed to working with our partners in trading standards and the police to tackle underage sales and clamp down on youngsters drinking in public. Successive national enforcement campaigns have seen the proportion of sales to under 18s fall from nearly half to around 15 per cent and I want to congratulate all the volunteers and trading standards officers for their ongoing hard work.

'But, although we are moving in the right direction, this figure is still too high. We will redouble our efforts to tackle the minority of irresponsible retailers, alongside giving police and local authorities all the powers they need to intervene early and to provide parental support to keep youngsters on the right track.'

Legitimate proof of age cards are available under the PASS approval scheme, which is administered by the industry and supported by TSI. PASS cards carry a hologram to help retailers identify genuine ID.

TSI chief executive Ron Gainsford said: 'Trading standards plays an important role in the battle against anti-social behaviour.

'Surveys such as this one help tackle the problem of underage drinking by sending out a clear message to traders about the consequences of selling alcohol to a youngster who is under 18.'

The two authorities exposing the highest failure rates in the survey were Blackpool and Bedfordshire.

Tim Argent, senior enforcement officer at Bedfordshire County Council, said: 'We are very proactive and tackling underage sales is one of the service's top priorities with a significant amount of resources being dedicated to it.

'An explanation for the high number of failures is that we no longer adopt a scatter gun approach of premises tested. Instead, we target premises through assessed intelligence.

'We have seen improvement across Bedfordshire in relation to businesses not only complying with the law, but taking additional responsibility for underage alcohol consumption in the area.'

Glen Phoenix, trading standards manager at Blackpool Borough Council, said: 'We take a very robust approach to enforcement and the message to traders is there is nowhere to hide.

'We carry out test purchasing exercises all year round so we are able to survey a large number of premises.

'All our operations are intelligence-led which is why the failure rates are high, but we are already seeing a positive effect in reducing alcohol-related anti-social behaviour.

'From this recent survey, we have done 30 licence reviews, which have resulted in traders receiving sentences varying from a three to eight week suspension and, in one case, a revocation of a licence. This shows the support of elected members who are as determined as we are to protect health and reduce crime and disorder.'

Cardiff and the London Borough of Newham were the authorities with the lowest test purchasing failure rate.

Sangeeta Patel, underage sales manager at London Borough of Newham Council, said: 'I am a dedicated officer looking at underage sales all year round and our authority goes out test purchasing very regularly.

'All traders in our area know they will get tested and we produce an information booklet to help them understand their responsibilities which is probably why we have had good results in this survey. We have also heavily promoted the Challenge 21 scheme, where we have asked traders to ask for ID if a person looks under 21.'

Steve Grey, trading standards operational manager at Cardiff County Council, said: 'We have long concentrated on the intelligence-led approach to make best use of resources and bear down on the 'rogues'. Five years ago our failure rate was 54 per cent. We have now got that down to around four per cent in the most recent surveys we have taken part in.

'This is a mind-blowing reduction. One of the main reasons for it is the robust support we have received from our licensing committee when we take businesses to them under "review".

'Traders will take a £200 fine on the chin but if they temporarily lose their licence it really hits them hard. We are very aggressive with our enforcement action and our test purchasing never really lets up.'

Notes to editors

Participating authorities:

RB of Kensington & Chelsea
North Tyneside
Stockton on Tees
Rhonda Cynon Taff
Stoke on Trent
West Yorkshire
North Lanarkshire
Isle of Wight
RB of Windsor & Maidenhead
Nottingham City
Dumfries & Galloway
North East Lincolnshire

Results for 70 local authorities:

Total off-licensed premises test purchased = 1402, total illegal sales = 231 (16 per cent)

Total supermarkets test purchased = 219, total illegal sales = 27 (12 per cent)

Total specialist off-licences test purchased = 419, total illegal sales = 65 (16 per cent)

Total general stores test purchased = 632, total illegal sales = 119 (19 per cent)

Total on-licensed premises test purchased = 130, total illegal sales = 44 (34 per cent)

Highest and lowest failure rates:

Blackpool Borough Council - Total test purchases attempted = 97, total illegal sales = 25

Bedfordshire County Council - Total test purchases attempted = 93, total illegal sales = 45

Cardiff County Council - Total test purchases attempted = 95, total illegal sales = 4

London Borough of Newham Council - Total test purchases attempted = 80, total illegal sales = 7

PASS is the UK's national guarantee scheme for proof-of-age cards which is backed by the Government and supported by the authoritative organisations, including the Association of Chief of Police Officers (ACPO) and the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).

The national Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2008, organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) - a 'must' for consumer journalists!

The TSI-hosted annual Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe.

Conference 2008 is being held at Bournemouth International Centre from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 June. The conference press office will be open from 8am on Monday 23 June (the day before the event starts) until 2pm on Thursday 26 June.

Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.

The conference is hosted by TSI chairman Bryan Lewin.

Almost 2,000 people are attending the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations. This makes it an ideal place for consumer affairs journalists to mingle and make contacts!

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.