UK retailers slam underage drinking crackdown

By Leah Vyse

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Retailing

Retailers say they are being used as a scapegoat by the government,
which is failing to tackle underage drinking.

The new year has brought more problems for alcohol retailers across the UK as Trading Standards officers are set to lift a 20 year ban on sting operations in order to catch out retailers selling alcohol to minors.

Current legislation allows local authorities to carry out test purchases using minors, however, guidelines stipulate that if questioned about their age the person must not lie about how old they are.

Retailers fear that other regions of the UK may replicate the actions of Liverpool City Council which has taken the decision to ignore current guidelines following a consultation with the police and prosecution services and allow test candidates to lie about their age.

This is something which the Home Office appears to be in favour of: "It's all very well saying don't lie about your age but it's not realistic,"​ it said in a recent report in The Times.

However retailers claim they are being used as scapegoats by government as they are an easy target when allocating blame for what they believe is a much greater social issue.

A spokesperson for the Association of Convenience Stores told FoodandDrinkEurope.com​: "We do not see the need or case for changing the existing code of practice."

He claimed that the problem of underage drinking does not lie solely in the hands of the retailers but also with parents and adults who go out and purchase alcohol for minors. "Everyone has a role in it,"​ he said.

He was also concerned that not enough action is taken to punish the child involved or those who are supposed to be responsible for them.

"Yes we accept retailers have to comply, but where is the enforcement for those who buy the alcohol?"

The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (Lacors), which overseas the guidance for banning minors in test purchases, is currently in consultation with the Home Office, police authorities and members of the retail industry as there has been some concern over differences in the approaches used within the regions of the UK.

The group hopes to outline the future guidelines by the start of February, which will be finalised by the end of March.

It seems that retailers have remained in the spotlight over underage drinking despite their attempts to produce a single signage to be displayed throughout all stores.

Last month retailers joined forces in a bid to tackle the problem of underage drinking and chose to display standard signage in all the major retail stores and asked employees to wear badges saying "Under 21? I've got to ask for ID. It's my job."

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) told FoodandDrinkEurope.com​ that this was a great success and there has been a daily uptake by other retailers such as off-licences and even on-trade retailers.

Director general of the BRC, Kevin Hawkins, said last month: "With the support of the Government, the retail industry seeks to eliminate underage sales by the end of 2006 and will be reviewing progress regularly with the Home Office during this period."

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