A ‘two-pronged’ approach to preventing young people accessing age-restricted products

Published: 15 January 2023

Many laws deal with the sale of age-restricted products and services, and the local authority’s Trading Standards Service plays a vital role in educating young people and businesses. Therefore, restricting access to age-restricted products and services by young people.

Which products are age-restricted?

Goods Age restriction
Fireworks 18 and over
Aerosol paint 16 and over
Alcohol 18 and over
Animals 16 and over
Botulinum toxin (Botox) and cosmetic fillers (England only) 18 and over
Christmas crackers 12 and over
Corrosive substances 18 and over
Crossbows 18 and over
Knives / axes / blades 18 and over (in Scotland domestic knives can be sold to those aged 16 and over)
Lighter refills containing butane 18 and over
Lottery draw-based and instant-win (such as scratchcards and online instant win) games 18 and over
Nicotine inhaling products 18 and over
Party poppers and similar low-hazard low-noise fireworks (category F1) (except Christmas crackers) 16 and over
Petrol 16 and over
Sunbeds 18 and over
Tobacco 18 and over
Video recordings: U (universal) unrestricted
Video recordings: PG (parental guidance) unrestricted
Video recordings: classification 12 12 and over
Video recordings: classification 15 15 and over
Video recordings: classification 18 18 and over
Video recordings: classification R18 18 years and over in a licensed sex shop
Video games: PEGI rating 3 unrestricted
Video games: PEGI rating 7 unrestricted
Video games: PEGI rating 12 12 and over
Video games: PEGI rating 16 16 and over
Video games: PEGI rating 18 18 and over

For some products, such as alcohol, you are required to obtain a licence before you can legally sell them.

Using young people to make test purchases

Trading Standards Officers can instruct young people under the age of 18 to make test purchases of age-restricted products to ensure businesses are complying with the law. These test purchases can be from physical shops and online.

If you sell age-restricted products to a person under the minimum legal age, you may commit an offence under the relevant law. The penalties can include a fine or even imprisonment.

Taking steps to prevent underage sales

There are laws that give you a legal defence, which is often referred to as the ‘due diligence’ defence.

Basically, you must prove that you took ‘all reasonable precautions / all reasonable steps’ and exercised ‘all due diligence’ to avoid committing an offence.

This means that you are responsible for making sure that you and your staff do not sell age-restricted products to people under the minimum legal age. You can do this by setting up effective systems within your business.

These systems should be regularly monitored and updated as necessary to identify and put right any problems or weaknesses, or to keep pace with any advances in technology.

Key best-practice features of an effective system include:

  • Age Verification Checks.

Verify the age of potential buyers by asking to see an identity card that bears the PASS hologram (the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) is the UK’s national proof-of-age accreditation scheme supported by the Home Office.

  • Challenge 21 / Challenge 25.

In England and Wales, you can participate – or must participate as a licensing condition if you sell alcohol – in a scheme to carry out age verification checks on anyone who looks younger than 21 or 25.

  • Staff training.

Make sure your staff receive adequate training on underage sales. Keep a training record and make sure the training is regularly updated.

  • Use of till prompts.

You can use prompts that appear on the till when an age-restricted product is scanned to remind staff to carry out age verification checks.

  • Store layout, signage, and CCTV.

Keep your age-restricted products where they can be monitored by staff. For example, fireworks stored on the shop floor must by law be kept in a secure cabinet. Ensure you have adequate signs to inform consumers of the minimum legal age to purchase. You are legally required to display notices for tobacco and fireworks.

  • Keep and maintain a refusals register.

This means keeping a record (date, time, incident, description of potential buyer) where sales of age-restricted products have been refused. This helps to demonstrate that you actively refuse sales and have an effective system in place.

Educating young people

Local Authorities must work with schools, youth centres and youth groups to educate people of the harms of age-restricted products as well as, empower them to report businesses to Trading Standards.

This two-pronged approach of education and firm enforcement is vital to prevent young people from accessing age-restricted products.

Hence, recently I attended the London Enterprise Academy, Commercial Road, East London and delivered educational trading to classes in year 8 and year 10. The training was well received by the school leadership; Ashid Ali (Principal), Muhi Mikdad (Careers Advisor) and the young people. It was not at all surprising that young people were not aware of the role of Trading Standards in protecting young people. We have a lot of work to do to better promote the functions of Trading Standards Service.

Please note:

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

For consumer help and advice in the different parts of the UK, please contact the following : England & Wales – Call the Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 (Welsh speakers can call 0808 223 1144) or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk. To report a business for underage sales: https://www.tradingstandards.uk/consumer-help