Underage Sales

The authorities take a dim view of underage drinking and even dimmer one of the shops, bars and pubs that sell alcohol to Minors. That’s why they regularly send mystery shoppers into licensed premises to test their procedures.

If you make a mistake and are caught selling alcohol to someone under age you can be Cautioned, offered a £90 Fixed Penalty Notice or given an unlimited fine by the Magistrates. If you also happen to be a Personal Licence holder your licence can be suspended or taken away completely. 

On top of the punishment for the person selling the alcohol to someone underage, the premises licence holder can also be penalised, even if it wasn’t them making the sale. If two offences are committed within three months the police can offer a voluntary closure of between two days to two weeks as an alternative to prosecution. If prosecuted, the Magistrates’ Court can impose a suspension which can last up to three months and/or a fine of up to £20,000.

Preventing underage sales

Age verification checks

To prevent underage sales from occurring at the point of sale, you must have a system in place to check and verify customer ages. Checking that the customer has a valid ID if they appear underage and refusing service should be essential for your staff to know.

Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • Photo driving licences
  • Passports 
  • Photo ID that displays the Pass hologram

You should also be aware of anyone attempting to use an ID that doesn’t belong to them, or attempting to use a fake ID. If you or your staff are ever unsure, it is always best to refuse the sale. Having a system in place to record refusals, using the POS or till system for example, helps to provide evidence to licensing authorities that you are refusing sales.

Operating a challenge 21 or challenge 25 policy

Many bars, pubs and clubs operate a challenge 21 or challenge 25 policy in order to guard against underage sales. For some, it can be challenging to determine whether a customer is over the age of 18 so having a policy of checking for higher ages covers a wider range and gives staff greater confidence in preventing underage sales.

The premises licence holder must make all staff aware of the policy adopted in the premises, and on the age verification process used to check customer age. Displaying signage detailing the challenge 21 or 25 policy with the right to refuse service to any customer gives customers advance warning of the policy in the venue.

Staff must also be aware of how to deal with any disputes with customers and refuse service confidently.

Proxy sales

A proxy sale involves someone of legal age purchasing alcohol on the behalf of someone who is underage. These can be harder to spot and deal with than with underage customers trying to purchase directly themselves, however the consequences are just as severe. 

Some ways of spotting proxy sales include:

  • Groups of young looking adults entering the venue but only one or two try to be served.
  • Older looking adults entering with young looking adults or children and attempting to buy multiple alcoholic drinks
  • If the venue has an outside seating area, groups or individuals attempting to have other customers purchase alcohol for them without being seen.

The adult attempting the proxy sale is committing an offence in these kinds of situations, like with underage sales it is important to ensure that your staff are well aware of the severity of the offence and are well equipped to deal with any situations that may arise.

Staff training

As part of your ongoing effort in preventing underage sales, staff training is essential. Any new starters to the business must be informed of the businesses methods of monitoring and preventing underage sales, the policy on age verification and how to deal with any issues. 

Although refresher training is not a requirement on every premises licence, it would be considered good practice to offer regular training for your staff to ensure that they are consistently checking for underage sales. If you are the premises licence holder for the venue and an underage sale is made this will reflect on you, and you could face punishment.

As one of the leading specialist licensing solicitors in the UK, we can help you prevent these kinds of problems by offering online training courses that will give your staff the skills to deal with potential underage issues.

If you are caught selling alcohol to people under 18, we can also represent you every step of the way from the initial police interview through to a final court hearing and help to minimise any potential penalties. 




A formal warning given by the police to an adult offender aged 18 years or over and who has admitted that they are guilty of an offence.

Criminal Prosecution

Proceeding undertaken in a proper Court on behalf of the public with the prupose of convicting guilty defendants and dispensing appropriate punishment.

Fixed Penalty Notice

A fixed penalty notice is a conditional offer.  If you accept guilt and pay the fine the matter will be closed; you may alternatively reject the offer in which case you will be summonsed to appear in Court.


A Person aged under 18 years of age.

Personal Licence

A licence:

  1. issued to the individual by a Licensing Board under section 76(1) of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, and
  2. authorising the individual to supervise or authorise the sale of alcohol.