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Age verification / Age related sales

What is an age-related sale?

An age-related sale is one where a retailer or business sells something that requires the purchaser to be of a certain age.

Young people can buy things face-to-face or over the internet. If they buy things face-to-face, they are able to use different payment methods, like cash, card or cheque, and also can more easily verify their age with certified identification, which cannot be easily done over the internet, on a telephone, or via mail order.

What is the position of the retailer or business?

Age restrictions are set down in law. All retailers or businesses selling age-restricted goods or services are legally responsible for checking the age of their customer. Should they sell to underage customers, they face fines or even imprisonment. They may ask you for identification to verify your age when you make a purchase from their shop.

What can a retailer or business do?

It’s a merchant’s decision on whether to sell goods or service that may be restricted by law.

There are a number of options that the merchant may consider which include:

  • Not selling age-related goods at all (both online/telephone order/mail order or in a physical shop)
  • Sell only age-related goods and services in face-to-face transactions, where certified identification is required from the consumer
  • Sell age restricted goods over the internet/telephone order/mail order, and require the signature of an adult upon delivery to an address
  • For those with physical shops, enrolling and age-verifying their online customers in-store;
  • Allow sales of age-related goods only to customers whose age can be confirmed by age-verification service providers.

What age-verification services are available to help retailers or businesses?

We are aware that there are various age-verification services available in the UK that can help verify that you are over 18, but these identification services may not be as strong for those under 18.

These services may be hampered by not having a reliable and publicly available database that they can refer to. However, selling age-related products only to customers whose age can be verified as being over 18 is a possible solution for merchants i.e. “no match – no sale”.

Whilst we are supportive of digital ID tokens initiatives, these would need to be used universally by all online purchasers (including over 18s) to be truly effective.

The UK’s Trading Standards Institute states on their website that: “Trading standards departments and the government support the national Proof of Age Standards (PASS) scheme” (Source: Trading Standards 26 October 2011)

What part can the card payments industry play?

Card companies seek to comply fully with the law, but they have no legal responsibility to check what a young person may try to buy or take a moral position on how cards are used. The onus is on retailers to ensure that their customer is of legal age.

As the UK cards industry uses a global payments infrastructure, this makes age-related sales a global problem requiring a global solution that meets the requirements of different markets. Age limits vary within different countries (e.g. alcohol – 18 in the UK but 21 in the USA), this may mean that an inflexible one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to work and that an age parameter would be required.

Any solution relating to the card industry would require modification of global schemes’ standards. However, this focuses on just one method of payment and is unlikely to be successful in preventing illegal sales since customers could pay by other methods, such as cash or cheque. Any comprehensive solution would require the agreement of all concerned in the payment transaction process.

What can’t young people buy?

Set out below are some of the age / goods restrictions that apply in the UK at the current time:

For information on the laws and up-to-date guidance check:

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