Selling alcohol from licensed premises

Licence holders and Designated Premises Supervisors (DPS) must ensure staff comply with laws designed to restrict the availability of alcohol to youngsters

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. Please note that some of the advice we provide to businesses is chargeable.

The Licensing Act 2003 strengthens the prohibition on selling alcohol to under 18s. Underage drinking is increasing and there is now a duty on the Trading Standards Service to enforce the controls on alcohol sales.

It is an offence to sell alcohol to youngsters under 18 years of age.

A fine of up to £5000 can be imposed, and your premise licence may be revoked.

It is a defence to prove: 

  • a) that you believed that the person was not under 18; and
  • b) either that you had taken all reasonable steps to establish the person's age or that nobody could reasonably have suspected from his/her appearance that the person was under 18

'All reasonable steps' means you and your staff are required to ask for evidence of the person's age ie an appropriate and valid proof of age document, such as: 

When you see the PASS hologram logo you can be confident that it is a valid photo-ID.

If a licensed premise sells alcohol to a person under 18 on two occasions in a three month period, a closure notice can be issued by Trading Standards or the police, in lieu of prosecution. Alternatively, a premise licence holder can be fined a maximum of £20,000.

There is no due diligence defence available for this offence. It is also likely that the premise licence will be reviewed, with the possibility of the premise licence being suspended for a period not exceeding three months or even revoked.

The legislation is changing fast in the alcohol licensing area and the Home Office introduced amendments to the Licensing Act in 2012.

You must be careful to ensure that whatever evidence of proof of age is used, that it is genuine and reliable. It will not be a defence if no reasonable person would have been convinced by it. The best advice is always to ask for proof of age unless you are convinced the person looks at least 21. In this way you will always err on the safe side of the law. Genuine persons of the correct age will not mind being challenged in this way if approached sensibly. The message is clear – No ID, No Sale.

It is also a criminal offence for a DPS or manager to knowingly allow the sale of alcohol to a person under 18 and for an adult to buy alcohol on behalf of a person under 18.