Future test purchase efforts targeting only trouble spots

The era of general test purchasing has come to an end, with local authorities moving towards targeting problem premises only, according to a top Trading Standards official.

Speaking on Nov 22 at the Responsible Drinks Retailing conference, the Trading Standards Institute's lead officer on age-restricted sales, Brandon Cook, said police and councils had limited funds and would rather focus on known trouble spots.

This summer's test purchase campaign targeted only problem premises and a Christmas campaign, just announced by the Home Office (see box), will do the same.

The focus of future crackdowns will switch from test purchasing to surveillance, Cook told the audience at the conference, which was sponsored by Off Licence News and sister paper Morning Advertiser.

He said: "Local authorities are fairly limited in resource and on the amount of test purchasing they can do, so we now need proper intelligence ... The benefit is not only do you pick up young buyers but you also pick up the proxy buyers."

Cook urged retailers to attend joint operations meetings and come forward with information on irresponsible operators.

He also gave his support to test purchasers lying about their age in some circumstances. "My view is that if there's no other enforcement method then maybe go down that route."

In his speech, which was aimed at dispelling myths about test purchasing, he said the TSI accepted that pubs and drinks shops were not the "root cause" of children drinking.

"The root cause is the desire and demand for people under 18 to want the alcohol in the first place. In the short term, all you can do is keep a lid on the problem; but in the long term, we've got to reduce the demand."

Shop owners should make more use of

window space to promote responsible drinking messages, Cook added.

Top trade figures speak out on Responsible Drinks Retailing, page 6.

Christmas crackdown

Police will target problem premises in another round of test purchasing in the run-up to Christmas. Around 1,500 off-licences, pubs and clubs in 90 police districts will be targeted over the next month. The latest operation, which follows the Tackling Underage Sales Campaign of this summer, will target retailers and pubs who sell alcohol to under-18s and pubs who serve drunken customers.