By Claire West
Retailers, who spend £20m per year on preventing sales to underage people of alcohol, tobacco, spray paint, knives, fireworks and other age-restricted products, have set out their ideas in a report published today.
The Age-restricted Products Review Group, representing major businesses, trade associations and professional bodies (with around 250,000 retail outlets), has made 12 recommendations in Better Regulation of Age-restricted Products: A Retail View, following an independent investigation for LBRO, the experts on better regulation.
The report's authors want to see the law on underage sales simplified and made more effective, with the current 18 separate pieces of legislation unified, compliance partnerships between local regulators and trade associations; closer working on the wider underage sales agenda with local businesses; LBRO's primary authority scheme extended to cover age-restricted products; shared responsibility for under-age sales amongst business, young people and adults who buy on their behalf; and a binding code of practice to improve the effectiveness of test purchasing.
Retailers have identified age-restricted sales as their number one concern within local regulation. The review group, a sub-group of LBRO's Business Reference Panel, was led by Geoffrey Budd MBE, the former Company Secretary of DSG International and a long standing Chair of the CBI Consumer Affairs Panel
He said: "Retailers are keen to play their part in denying children access to age-restricted products such as alcohol or knives, but their role can be more effective if retailers are seen as part of the solution, rather than the problem.
"Retailers take their responsibilities to their communities very seriously and I believe the sector is entitled to be embraced as part of the 'front line' in this campaign. What the law currently requires of them is often hard to deliver."
The report says retailers want to stop underage sales but find the regulations brought in to tackle this issue place huge burdens on their business.
Jennifer Brown, Public Affairs Manager for the Association of Convenience Stores, said: "Our members are all too aware that sales of restricted products to youths can create anti-social behaviour problems which harm young people and communities. However, the current regulations brought in to tackle underage sales are often disproportionately focused on the shop and those that work there and fail to acknowledge good work done by responsible firms to keep these products out of the hands of young people.
"Effective enforcement has to encompass actions not only against businesses but against the individuals that willingly buy and supply alcohol to those underage and the young people themselves that seek to obtain products by deception. This report points to a fairer and more holistic approach to underage sales enforcement. "
And Rebecca Abbott, Information Manager with the BHF:BSSA Group, said: "In the context of changes underway to reform licensing, it is an apt time to consider how all age-restricted products are controlled and how the system of regulating these products can be improved to protect young people and communities and make life easier for business."
British Retail Consortium Director General Stephen Robertson said: "Retailers have an excellent record on preventing under-age sales of restricted products, such as alcohol. They are part of the solution to under-age sales not part of the problem.
"We're keen to work more closely with local authorities on joint initiatives to tackle the root causes of young people gaining access to regulated goods. The LBRO report points the way to a more joined up approach."
LBRO made this report possible, by bringing business together as one voice on the subject for the first time, as part of its drive to create the right conditions for changes that deliver prosperity and protection.
The public body accountable to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will now prepare a response which will be sent to Government, alongside the report, for consideration.
LBRO Chairman Clive Grace said: "Age-restricted sales are a continuing focus of public and media concern, and often for good reason given the damage which can follow from inappropriate access to these products by young people.
"It is very important that sellers comply with the relevant regulations, yet those regulations are numerous, complex, and often experienced by businesses as unnecessarily burdensome. It is quite possible that the regulatory requirements could be considerably simplified whilst increasing the level of compliance, and also producing better social and community outcomes - a powerful 'win-win' for business, communities, and regulatory reform."
The full report can be viewed at www.lbro.org.uk/publications-external-research.html