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Selling Alcohol Online: Age Verification & The Law

The government has estimated the cost of alcohol misuse in society at around £21 billion a year, including £11 billion in alcohol-related crime in England and Wales. As such, both in-store and online retailers are under greater scrutiny to ensure they’re taking all reasonable precautions to verify age when selling alcohol. Past court cases have also clearly established that a retailer is more likely to face conviction if they can’t demonstrate positive steps taken to comply with the law.

To ensure your age verification meets all due diligence requirements, read on to learn:

  • the legal age for purchasing alcohol in the UK,
  • UK sales of alcohol laws for online retailers,
  • non-compliance penalties,
  • how to be legally compliant when selling alcohol online, and
  • a reliable online compliance solution.
Person holding cocktail with umbrella in it.

Selling alcohol online? Straighten up your act on age verification to avoid penalties.

Buying Alcohol In The UK: What Is The Legal Age?

In the UK, you must be over the age of 18 to purchase alcohol.

UK Sale Of Alcohol Laws For Online Retailers.

1. Alcohol & Young People.

To quote the government guidance:

If you’re under 18, it’s against the law:

  • for someone to sell you alcohol
  • to buy or try to buy alcohol
  • for an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
  • to drink alcohol in licensed premises (such as a pub or restaurant)

2. Licensing Act 2003.

Laws around the actual sale of alcohol, whether it be in-store or online, fall under the Licensing Act 2003. It’s important to read up on the different types of alcohol licences available as the rules vary considerably between each option and how businesses are set-up their sales and distribution. The government guidance can be found here.

Non-Compliance Penalties For Online Retailers Selling Alcohol.

According to government guidance, online retailers face a maximum fine of £5,000 for selling or supplying alcohol to children. In addition, personal licences can be suspended or forfeited on a first offence.

If a retailer persistently sells alcohol to customers under the age of 18, the fine increases to £20,000.

Legal Compliance When Selling Alcohol Online.

Online retailers need to not only understand the law, but also the level of due diligence expected from them to avoid penalties. For example, the Trading Standards Institute Advice outlines what wouldn’t be considered satisfactory due diligence.

Trading Standards Institute Advice:

“Retailers should take positive steps to verify the age of the purchaser when selling age-restricted products. The following are examples that are unlikely to be enough to satisfy the requirements of taking all reasonable precautions and exercising all due diligence:

  • relying on the purchaser confirming they are over the minimum age
  • asking the purchaser simply to provide a date of birth
  • using tick boxes to ask purchasers to confirm they are over the minimum age
  • using a general disclaimer such as: ‘Anyone ordering this product from our website will be deemed to be at least 18’”

To check their own age verification measures are compliant with the law, online retailers can refer to:

1. Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 1296: Online Age Checking.

In May 2020, the Home Office advised that “anyone selling alcohol online or by phone should already be taking all reasonable steps to verify age at the point of sale in order to avoid committing an offence of selling alcohol to a child. PAS 1296 is a good point of reference for these steps.”

Developed by the Digital Policy Alliance and British Standards Institution (BSI), PAS 1296 is the industry standard for effective age verification. It offers a code of practice for businesses that either provide age checking services or need to use these services in order to sell their products. By following the due diligence recommendations PAS 1296 provides, businesses can ensure they are fully compliant with the law.

2. Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA) Code Of Conduct.

If you’re using a third party to manage your age checking process, it may be worth checking to see if they are an AVPA member. Representing businesses providing age verification services, the association has a code of conduct for its members to ensure trading standards in the following areas: fairness and transparency, use of appropriate verification methods, security and privacy, accuracy, and independence.

3. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to all retailers, regardless of the type of products and services sold, and is designed to ensure your customers’ personal data is held safely and securely. As such, this legal framework applies when you are verifying your customers’ age during the selling process. Any measures you take must be compliant with GDPR regulations.

Shelf with rows of beer bottles

Age verification: have you got all your bottles lined up in a row?

The AgeChecked App: A Reliable Online Solution.

With the law clearly stating that the onus is on retailers to complete due diligence, having an easy, reliable solution in place is essential. For Shopify retailers, the new AgeChecked App is the solution.

What Is The AgeChecked App For Shopify?

The AgeChecked App is the first truly regulatory compliant app for Shopify stores selling age-restricted products such as alcohol, knives or vaping products. The basic app plan is free to install (no contract) and then you just top up credits as and when you need them.

How Does It Actually Verify Age?

The app verifies the customers’ age behind the scenes using a combination of data sources like the UK electoral roll, credit card data, mobile network search, and drivers licence. At no point does the customer submit their details.

All other Shopify Plus age verification apps do not offer this. They rely on pop-up windows asking the customer to confirm their age but don’t check to see if the customer is telling the truth.

Does The App Comply With UK Laws?

Yes. The AgeChecked App is compliant with:

  • the British Standards Institution’s PAS 1296: 2018 Online AgeChecking Code of Practice,
  • the Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA) Code of Conduct, and
  • General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Why Not Use A Completely Free Age Verification App Instead?

Here are four great reasons to choose the AgeChecked App over of a completely free one:

1. You’ll Actually Be Verifying the Customers’ Age

There aren’t any other Shopify Plus apps offering the same age verification service i.e. one that actively checks the customers’ age using third-party data sources.

To remain on the right side of the law, retailers must prove that they’ve taken reasonable steps to ensure they’re selling to an adult. By using the AgeChecked App, you can demonstrate that beyond doubt.

2. Avoid Heavy Fines

The penalty for non-compliance would obviously be costly so installing a reliable system like the AgeChecked App for Shopify will protect your business.

3. Great Customer Service

Intrusive forms and pop-up windows may discourage sales so a solution that works behind the scenes like the AgeChecked App is ideal. With the app, once your customer has chosen their products to purchase, they simply proceed through the checkout as normal without having to enter their age. Watch our short video to learn more here.

4. Less Administration

With the app, you can verify orders either in bulk or one at a time. And, if you’re using the ‘Plus’ version of the app, it will automatically select new orders to process. With such a speedy process, you’ll have more time to focus on other areas of your business.

Sobering Thoughts & Next Steps.

The pressure is high to ensure all reasonable precautions to verify age when selling alcohol, particularly with the threat of fines and closure of your business. However, by selecting a reliable and cost-effective online solution like the AgeChecked Verification App, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your processes are regulatory compliant. The app now available in the Shopify App Store.

Have More Questions?

Contact us here to chat about the AgeChecked App or indeed any eCommerce projects you might want help with.

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