West Sussex County Council Trading Standards has warned shopkeepers it will take urgent action against them if they are found to be selling alcohol and tobacco to underage customers.
The warning follows a series of test purchases by Trading Standards in which two 17-year-olds and a 15-year-old attempted to buy cigarettes and alcohol from shops in Bognor Regis, Crawley, Haywards Heath, Littlehampton and Worthing.
Of the 16 shops visited, the underage customers were able to buy cigarettes or alcohol without having proof of age on nine occasions.
At one shop, a test purchaser was also able to buy illicit, non-duty paid cigarettes.
The test purchases were carried out last month after a number of complaints to Trading Standards about the shops.
Businesses are now being reminded that they must ensure they do not sell these products to under 18s. Most businesses do this by operating a Challenge 25 policy. If a customer looks under the age of 25, proof of age is required, and staff must be trained to verify the customer’s age before selling age-restricted products.
Businesses found to be selling alcohol to any person under the age of 18 could face an unlimited fine and those found to be selling tobacco to any person under the age of 18 could face a fine of up to £2,500. They could also face having their alcohol licence revoked.
The number of test purchases made at supermarkets, specialist e-cigarette shops, market stalls, independent newsagents and local convenience stores will now be increased by Trading Standards over the next 12 months.
Trading Standards also enforce the sale of other age restricted products such as fireworks, knives and nitrous oxide – and investigate tip offs and intelligence to prohibit sales across West Sussex.
Duncan Crow, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Community Support, Fire and Rescue said: “Over the last year we have found the majority of businesses selling age-restricted products are abiding by the law and helping to keep children safe, but there are still shopkeepers who are not checking proof of age.
Peter Aston, West Sussex County Council Trading Standards Team Manager added: “Simply asking a customer how old they are is not enough. Sellers must ask for and be shown, valid and recognised photo ID to prevent illegal sales of age restricted products. We recommend this is asked for whenever a customer looks under 25.
We’ll continue to carry out checks and test purchases and we’re determined to crack down on businesses flouting the law.”
Members of the public who have information about the sale of age restricted products to children or the sale of illicit tobacco should call Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133 or report the details online www.westsussex.gov.uk/TSreport.
Retailers can find more advice and guidance around the sale of age restricted products, on the Business Companion website: www.businesscompanion.info.