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‘Damned if we do, damned if we don't’ - the shopworkers’ experience of policing age-restricted sales

Date: 18 January 2022 Retail trade union Usdaw says many shopworkers are worried about facing criminal prosecution or disciplinary action from their employer if they get a decision about the sale of an age restricted product wrong. Asking customers for proof of age identification or refusing a sale of an age-restricted product can be a key flashpoint for abuse, threats and violence against shopworkers.
Responsible retailers now operate a 'Think 25' policy on age-restricted sales, so shopworkers are instructed to ask for proof of age identification from any customer the shopworker thinks might be under 25. 'Think 25' is a legal requirement in Scotland.
 
Paddy Lillis - Usdaw General Secretary says: “Age restricted sales are a real minefield for our members. If they make a mistake and sell alcohol to a customer under 18 they could receive an £80 on-the-spot-fine or be prosecuted and fined. If they fail to ask for age identification from somebody who looks under-25, they run the risk of being disciplined for not following company policy and it is a legal requirement in Scotland.
 
“Asking for age identification can lead to abuse from frustrated and angry customers and a refusal of a sale can be a real flashpoint for abuse, threats or even violence. Many of our members feel they are damned if they ask for ID and damned if they don't.
 
“We are campaigning to raise awareness of the 'Think 25' policy and why it exists, to help reduce the impact on our members. We are also asking shoppers to show respect and understand that shopworkers asking for ID are only doing their job and protecting themselves from possible criminal prosecution or disciplinary action from their employer.
 
“Usdaw wants the Government to run awareness campaigns about age-restricted sales and introduce a single and voluntary national entitlement card for young people that would show proof of age. This would make it much easier for workers to check a person's age when needed.
 
“We'd also like to see a change in the law to make it an offence for an underage person to attempt to buy any age-restricted product, not just alcohol, or for an adult to proxy purchase any age-restricted product. The law definitely needs to be rebalanced so that those attempting to break the law are the focus rather than the shopworkers who are currently expected to police the law.”
 
Notes for editors:
 
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 370,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades.
 
Shopworkers need to know the age-restrictions that apply to a wide range of products and are even required to make judgements about the purpose or for whom some products are being purchased. The table below shows the minimum purchase age and maximum penalty for a range of popular age-restricted products:
 
Product Minimum Age of Purchase Maximum Penalty
Alcohol 18 Unlimited fine  and forfeit of licence
Cigarettes, tobacco and e-cigarettes 18 £2,500
Fireworks 18 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Solvents (if not for intended use)* 18 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Butane gas lighter refills 18 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Knives, blades and similar items 18 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Air guns and pellets 17 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Lottery tickets and scratch cards 18 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Petrol 16 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Party poppers and caps 16 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
Aerosol paints 16 £2,500
Corrosive substances 18 Unlimited fine and 51 weeks imprisonment
Videos, cinema and computer games 12, 15 and 18 Unlimited fine and up to 6 months imprisonment
 
*It is legal to sell solvents to under-18s if you believe they will be used for their intended purpose. But it is illegal if you have reason to believe they may be used for inhaling.
 
For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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