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Selling Knives Online: Age Verification & The Law

With rising knife crime in the UK, there is increasing pressure on retailers to be certain that they’re not selling knives to minors. Retailers failing to conduct due diligence on knife sales are also facing stiff penalties. In 2018, retailer B&M paid £480,000 in fines while in 2019, three other retailers each paid £8,000 in fines. As a result, retailers selling knives online can no longer rely on inadequate, passive means of age verification.

To ensure your age verification is a cut-above the competition, read on to learn:

  • the legal age for purchasing knives in the UK,
  • UK Knife Laws for online retailers,
  • non-compliance penalties,
  • how to be legally compliant when selling online, and
  • an easy online compliance solution.
Knife stuck in a log

Selling knives online? Sharpen your act on age verification to avoid penalties.

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

To purchase knives in the UK, the law states that the customer must be 18 years of age or over.

However, the law differs in Scotland where 16 to 18 year olds are allowed to buy cutlery and kitchen knives.

UK Knife Laws For Online Retailers.

The laws around selling knives in the UK are constant under review so retailers must take care to remain abreast of changes affecting their business.

At present, the two acts covering knife laws in the UK: the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Knives Act 1997. Online retailers should familiarise themselves with these two pieces of legislation as they apply to both purchases made in physical stores as well as online.

1. Criminal Justice Act 1988

To quote the government guidance:

“Under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, it is an offence for any person to sell to a person under 18 any:

  • knife, knife blade or razor blade
  • axe
  • other article that has a blade or is sharply pointed and is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person

The prohibition does not apply to:

  • folding pocket knives if the cutting edge of the blade is less than 7.62 cm (three inches).
  • replacement cartridges for safety razors, where less than 2 mm of the blade is exposed.

Whether a particular article is a knife is a question of fact, but using a wider definition this legislation prohibits sales of, for example, sheath knives, kitchen knives, craft knives and carpet knives to persons under 18. The prohibition is not intended to apply to articles such as scissors or compasses.”

2. Knives Act 1997

To quote the government guidance:

Under the Knives Act 1997 it is an offence to market a knife and also an offence to publish marketing material in relation to a knife in a way that either:

  • indicates or suggests that it is suitable for combat (the term ‘suitable for combat’ means that the knife is suitable for use as a weapon for inflicting injury or causing fear of injury to the person), or
  • is otherwise likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of the knife as a weapon.

Penalties For Non-Compliance.

Online retailers face unlimited fines and/or up to six months in prison for failure to comply with UK knife laws.

Legal Compliance When Selling Knives Online.

With the penalties for non-compliance severe, online knife retailers need to understand how they are expected to comply with UK knife laws so their verification measures are deemed adequate in a worst case scenario.

However, verifying a customers’ age is obviously more difficult for online retailers as they don’t have physical contact with the customer to check identification like a driving licence.

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.

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’ve outsourced your age checking process, it might be worth seeing if your supplier is 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. Voluntary Code of Conduct For Knife Sellers

In 2018, over 15 major UK retailers agreed to a voluntary code of conduct with the government relating to the sale of knives. Online retailers today can review the principles agreed and ensure they’re meeting them too.

4. 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.

AgeChecked App For Shopify: An Online Solution You Can Trust.

Compliance can be time consuming and an administrative burden, giving you less time for essential activities to build your business.

However, for Shopify retailers, the new AgeChecked App solves this problem.

The AgeChecked App: making life easier!

What Is The AgeChecked App For Shopify?

Created in partnership with leading age verification company, AgeChecked, the AgeChecked App is the first truly regulatory compliant app for Shopify stores selling age restricted products such as alcohol, knives or vaping products.

How Does It Actually Verify Age?

The customers’ age is verified behind the scenes without them having to submit any details. The check is completed using a variety of data sources like the UK electoral roll, credit card data, mobile network search, and drivers licence to name a few.

This process is different to all other Shopify Plus age verification apps on the market. The AgeChecked App actively seeks to confirm the customers’ age with reliable data sources. All other apps on the market do not offer this; they simply rely on pop-up windows asking the customer to confirm their age without providing any proof.

Does The AgeChecked 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).

Find out more about how the technology works, how data is used, and how it meets regulations on the AgeChecked website.

Why Pay For The AgeChecked App When There Are Free Options?

As explained in the previous sections, 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.

However it’s understandable that online retailers seek to know why paying for an age verification app is a safer bet than something free.

Here’s the answer:

1. Protect Your Business

The responsibility is on the retailer to thoroughly check a customers age before selling a knife. If a retailer is purely asking the customer to state their age without providing proof at the point of purchase, they cannot be sure they’re not selling to a minor.

With the AgeChecked App, you can have complete confidence that you’re only selling to customers over the age of 18.

2. Cost Savings

The unlimited fines and/or prison sentences for non-compliance would obviously be catastrophic for your business. So implementing a reliable system like the AgeChecked App for Shopify will save you money in the long run.

The basic app plan is free to install (and is contract-free) and then you just top up credits as and when you need them. There are no charges for returning customers. Read more details here.

3. Seamless Customer Experience

Thoroughly verifying your customers’ age doesn’t have to involve cumbersome pop-up windows or intrusive questions. A solution that works behind the scenes like the AgeChecked App enables you to make quick and painless checks, benefitting both you and your customers.

With AgeChecked, once your customer has chosen their products to purchase, they simply proceed through the checkout as normal. There are no annoying pop-ups and at no point do they need to enter their age. Watch our short video to learn more here.

4. Efficient Administration

With the AgeChecked App, you’ll be relieved of tedious and time consuming administration, thus freeing up valuable time to grow your business.

The AgeChecked App process is simple: you’ll be able to select the orders that you want to verify, 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. Then the app will quickly run the age verification and show you the results. You’ll see which customers have passed or failed the age verification and you can then either ship the order or follow up with them.

Sharpening Your Act & Next Steps.

So while the UK laws around selling knives may be strict, remaining compliant needn’t be a headache. For Shopify retailers, a regulatory compliant and well-priced solution exists with the AgeChecked App now available in the Shopify App Store. Happy checking!

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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