Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the legislation relating to the sale of age restricted products such as alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, knives and fireworks. Test purchasing of businesses forms an important part of a local authority’s strategy in enforcing this legislation and improving compliance.
Recently, the Morning Advertiser reported that less than half of tenanted and leased pubs passed the test purchasing carried out by an independent test purchasing company, Serve Legal. Large retailers have also been caught out in recent years with an Asda store in East Renfrewshire being banned from selling alcohol for 24 hours following a failed test purchase of alcohol to a 16 year old and Tesco receiving a six month ban from selling National Lottery products after a failed test purchase.
For most offences that relate to underage sales of age restricted products, it is not just the person who made the sale who can be held responsible. The owner of the business, or where the case involves alcohol, the premises licence holder, DPS or personal licence holder are all liable to prosecution. In some circumstances, it may be possible to avail oneself of a due diligence defence if the retailer has exercised all due diligence and taken all reasonable precautions to avoid committing an offence.
So how does due diligence and taking all reasonable precautions work in practice? Many local authorities will offer guidelines on preventative measures retailers can take.
We have summarised some of the key measures below.
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Carrying out the above will help businesses to comply with the law and potentially avoid prosecution. Given that the government has recently announced its intention to increase magistrates’ courts fines (meaning that a level 5 fine currently set at £5,000 maximum could become unlimited), the need for businesses to proactively manage the due diligence process is becoming all the more important.
If you do find yourself in a position where you have failed a test purchase, it is important that you are proactive in your response to this. Do not hide your head in the sand! A quick and proportionate response will stand you in good stead should the authorities decide to pursue the matter further.