Retailers sold alcohol to nearly one in six teenage mystery shoppers in 2016 without asking for proof of age, according to new data from Serve Legal. 

The retail age check auditor said its testers, all of whom are young-looking 18 and 19-year-olds, undertook nearly 43,000 alcohol sales tests in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations across the UK in 2016. 

Age ID was requested in 83% of visits before alcohol was handed over. Supermarkets were the highest-performing retailers, passing 84% of all tests in 2016 compared with 87% in 2015. 

Scotland achieved the highest overall alcohol test pass rate in the UK with retailers there passing 87% of age check tests in 2016. Northern Ireland was the poorest performer with a pass rate of 72%.

Online shopping poses a particular risk for under-age sales and in more than 500 age check tests among online retailers undertaken by Serve Legal in 2016, only 41% of young mystery shoppers were asked for proof of age at the point of delivery. 

Serve Legal director Ed Heaver said: “We are seeing far too few online retailers committing to age check testing at the point of delivery. 

“Even the most stringent age check measures at the point of online purchase do not prevent a delivery driver failing to ask for proof of age before handing over age-restricted goods on the doorstep or leaving goods in a porch or shed for an under-age buyer to collect. 

“Responsible retailing – and the law supporting it – should apply to every link in the chain. The nature of the tight delivery schedules driven by the so-called gig economy is almost certainly a factor in the low levels of age checks revealed by our data.”

According to the latest Drinkaware Monitor: Young People Report, 43% of children aged 10 to 17 have had an alcoholic drink, 25% of young drinkers have experienced harmful consequences as a result and 12% have experienced serious harm such as getting in trouble with the police, being a victim of crime or being taken to hospital. 

Heaver said: “Rigorous, regular testing for age-restricted sales sees compliance levels improve dramatically, which reduces the risk of alcohol products getting into the hands of children. It should be an integral part of retail training and operational best practice, not a panic purchase after a
sting by trading standards or
the police.”

Serve Legal provides an independent test purchase service for retailers of age-restricted products across the UK to check that staff are checking young people for ID. Using a database of mystery shoppers, the company conducts around 100,000 tests a year across the UK for both major blue-chip multiples and single-site independents. 

To pass a test the mystery shopper buys an age-restricted item and records key information about the transaction, including whether ID was requested, a description of the server and a till receipt. 

Serve Legal said all are young-looking 18 and 19-year-olds and should be asked to provide ID to complete the transaction. Only passports, photocard driving licences or PASS-accredited IDs are accepted.