Teenage Alcohol Sale Figures Expose Lack Of On-Trade Age Checks

Hospitality operators sold alcohol to one in four teenage mystery shoppers in 2016 without asking for proof of age, according to new data from Serve Legal, the UK’s leading retail age check auditors.

The company’s retail testers, all of whom are young-looking 18 and 19 year olds, undertook over 6,800 alcohol sale tests in pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and hotels across the UK in 2016.  Age ID was requested in 72 per cent of visits before alcohol was handed over.  Pass rates in 2016 remained the same as 2015 following two years of growth but test numbers fell by 28 per cent (6882 tests in 2016 vs. 9560 in 2015), to their lowest levels since 2012.  Managed establishments performed better than tenanted premises, achieving a 73 per cent pass rate compared to 67 per cent.

On-trade operators in South Central England achieved the UK’s highest alcohol sale test pass rate in 2016, passing 76 per cent of age check tests.  The poorest performer was Northern Ireland where operators passed just 50 per cent of tests.

The presence of door staff makes a significant difference to test results.  Bar staff passed 90 per cent of age check tests in 2016 when there were door personnel in operation, compared to 74 per cent when there were not.

Off-trade retailers, by comparison, achieved a pass rate of 83 per cent in 2016.  Serve Legal undertook over 40,000 (42,984) alcohol sale tests in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations across the UK in 2016.  Supermarkets were the highest-performing retailers, passing 84 per cent of tests in 2016 compared to 87 per cent in 2015.  Test levels increased by one per cent in the last year (21,069 in 2016 vs. 20,704 in 2015) and by 32 per cent in the last five years (14,224 in 2011).  Discount retailers passed 83 per cent of age check tests in 2016 but testing levels fell dramatically, from 933 tests in 2015 to 183 in 2016.  Petrol stations were the lowest-performing retailers, passing 78 per cent of alcohol age check tests.  Pass rates and testing levels fell for the second year running.

Ed Heaver, Director of Serve Legal, said: “These are undoubtedly tough times for the hospitality sector but responsible retailing must remain a priority.  The police and local authorities come down hard on those on the wrong side of the law with regards to underage alcohol sales, and yet the decline in on-trade testing in 2016 suggests that operators may not be taking the threat of fines, prosecution and business closure as seriously as they should.  We have been working with the on-trade sector for ten years and in that time, have seen that implementing rigorous and regular age-check testing improves their compliance dramatically.  This reduces the risk of alcohol getting into the hands of children.”

According to the latest Drinkaware Monitor: Young People Report(2014), 43 per cent of children aged 10-17 had had an alcoholic drink, 25 per cent of young drinkers had experienced harmful consequences as a result and 12 per cent had experienced serious harm such as getting in trouble with the police, being a victim of crime or being taken to hospital.