Retailer advice - checking age

What does a 21 year old look like?

It is very difficult these days to judge a person’s age correctly.

A proof of age scheme such as Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 is a subjective test. Whether or not someone appears to be 21 or 25 years old will depend on the person making the decision. 

Different things will affect the decision. Ask the question “What makes you ask for ID?”

Is it sufficient for a business to simply instruct staff to ask for ID if they consider the person appears under 21/25 if they do not provide them with ideas of what to look for?

Examples which may help staff decide to ask for ID

Both genders

  • lack of confidence of the person in front of them
  • over confidence - “All right mate”/shifty. “It’s her 18th Birthday today, say Happy Birthday”
  • loud
  • failing to look at member of staff/evasive
  • staff member unable to fully see their face
  • lots of change
  • strange choice/ mix of alcohol including cases of beer
  • small bottles of spirit with small bottles of soft drinks
  • number of small bottles of spirits
  • packs of 10 cigarettes, multiple pack of 10 cigarettes
  • watches - often children are bought a nice watch for their 18th or 21st birthday


  • baseball caps, hoodies, very low slung jeans showing their underwear
  • facial hair, strong hair growth
  • depth of voice
  • do they have an Adam’s apple?
  • don’t just rely on height and build


  • heavy make-up
  • inappropriate clothing  
  • older clothing  
  • jewellery and accessories tend to be age appropriate. So look for Claire’s Accessories type jewellery and hair accessories
  • unlike lads, girls are trying to make themselves look older than they actually are
  • small bags/ handbags/ purses. Counterfeit type bags

It is important that employees appreciate why age restricted products must not be sold to underage children. As well as the potential health and social consequences of selling such products as discussed in this pack, there is the risk to the seller of several courses of action which can be taken against them personally. Such penalties for a member of staff selling age restricted products (depending on the product) can range from an £90 PND, up to £20,000 fine, a custodial sentence or the risk of losing their job as a very minimum. Such a sale by an individual employee will obviously have a knock on effect on the business itself which may include a restricted premises order, fines or a risk to the premise licence for an underage alcohol sale. 

If alcohol has been sold to someone under 18 years old, it is worth while explaining about the Licence Review procedures and the likely consequences, which may include, additional conditions, a suspension or a revocation which can have a serious effect on the financial viability of the business, that can in turn affect jobs. 

Test purchase operations do take place regarding age restricted products to ascertain whether they are being sold and underage volunteers are used. This Service is not out to trick anyone, the reasons why we target premises, are usually a result of specific intelligence, general intelligence or anti social related youth disorder in the vicinity.