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UK on-trade failing to keep up in battle against under-age drinking

Published:  11 December, 2015

The UK on-trade needs to do more to contend with the problem of under-age drinking, according to a new survey released this week.

Serve Legal, which provides companies in both the on- and off-trade with an independent audit of compliance with age-restrictive sales legislation, reported that pubs, clubs and bars passed just 70% of the 6,800 age-check tests it conducted in 2015. 

The pass-rate for leased or tenanted premises was just 64%, out-performed by managed establishments at 71%.

But the on-trade has some way to go to match the off-trade, where 87% of supermarkets, 84% of petrol stations and 83% convenience stores checked the IDs of Serve Legal's young mystery shoppers.

The presence of door staff is the crucial difference to compliance in the on-trade.

There was a 92% pass-rate for venues with door teams operating, a factor Serve Legal attributes to British Security Industry Association's drive to professionalise the sector.

However, the presence of door staff also led bar staff to presume that customer IDs had already been checked, with only 37% of venues passing the verification test once Serve Legal's shoppers had been admitted by security.

Ed Heaver, director of Serve Legal, said: "With 29 pubs closing every week, we appreciate that training programmes and a regular age-check testing regime aren't necessarily top of their agenda. 

"But local authorities and the police impose heavy penalties on those caught selling alcohol to children which could put even more operators out of business. 

"Rigorous testing demonstrates commitment to responsible retailing. Operators that introduce regular testing programmes see compliance levels improve almost immediately."

According to Drinkaware,  43% of young people aged 10-17 say they have had an alcoholic drink, 12% of whom experienced harm as a result.

Serve Legal conducts some 100,000 mystery shopper-style tests on behalf of a range of clients each year, from major chains to single-site independent businesses.

Serve Legal's team of shoppers purchase an age-restricted item and record key information about the transaction, including whether ID was requested, a description of the server, a till receipt and other key facts. 

All shoppers are young-looking and should be asked to provide ID to complete the transaction.  

If a visitor is required to provide official ID - a passport, photocard driving licence or PASS accredited ID - then the test is passed.

If the shopper is not asked for ID, or if another kind of ID is accepted as proof of age, then the test is failed.