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UK Consultation document advocates recognition for outlets’ own ‘test-purchasing’ ops

Under a new Consultation document, set for finalisation in the Autumn in the UK, pubs and other outlets carrying out their own ‘test-purchase’ operations could cite this in their defence and be subject to fewer test-purchase ‘sting’ operations from the police and local authorities.

Such self-monitoring outlets could be “given the opportunity by enforcers to address issues using their own compliance management systems, where those systems have been demonstrated to be effective”.

With this in mind, “regulators and enforcers” will be asked to “take a risk-based approach that recognises businesses’ compliance systems and work with them”.

The UK proposals form part of a consultation on a broad framework of principles to encourage compliance and enforcement regarding sales of age-restricted products.

Run by the Local Better Regulation Office, this consultation document aims to simplify the current regulations and provide a consistent approach to test-purchasing with a view to introducing a new Code of Practice.

The new Code will be developed by drawing on the expertise of business, the Trading Standards Institute and the Association of Chief Police Officers and will be informed by the responses to the Consultation document which acknowledges the part retailers play in preventing inappropriate sales of alcohol to young people.

“An annual national survey of 11 to 15 year-olds (NHS Information Centre, 2009) confirms that retail outlets are not the major source of alcohol for children and that access to alcohol through retailers is declining. In 2008 around half of those surveyed who identified themselves as current drinkers did not usually buy alcohol. “Where they did buy alcohol they were most likely to buy it from friends or relatives (24 per cent of current drinkers). 15 per cent of current drinkers said they usually bought alcohol from an off-licence and six per cent from a pub, a  substantial reduction from 1996 (27 per cent and 10 per cent respectively).
“This survey confirmed the most common methods of accessing alcohol as being given it by friends (24 per cent) or parents (22 per cent) with a further 18 per cent reporting that they had asked someone else to buy the alcohol for them.

“It is apparent that retail access to these products has become significantly more difficult for young people with the introduction by retailers of initiatives such as Challenge 21 and Challenge 25. These schemes require prospective purchasers who appear to be below a certain age to produce valid proof of age.”

High-street businesses are at the frontline of restricting retail access, but cannot solve the wider problems of young people accessing these products and services, states the document which points out, “The greatest contribution to meeting the objectives of legislative controls can be made by children and young people themselves and by their parents and others who have a responsibility for educating and caring for them”.

The Consultation also suggests distinguishing between the two different types of test-purchasing operation — that used to gather information to diagnose a problem or to asses the extent of a problem and that used to gather evidence in response to complaints or intelligence with the intention that this will result in immediate sanctions or be used in enforcement action or to inform licence reviews.  

“It is notable that the Gambling Commission’s approach distinguishes clearly between these two methods and the way that they will be used (Gambling Commission, 2011),” notes the document.

The consultation can be found at www.lbro.org.uk/docs/age-restricted-products-consultation.pdf

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