Understand which products are age restricted and what you can do to protect your business
This guidance is for England
Legislation prohibits the sale, supply, offer to supply, or hire of specified products to persons under the minimum legal age. There are age restrictions (under the age of 18) applicable to tobacco products, offensive weapons (knives and similar), crossbows, adult fireworks, solvents, airguns, lighter refills containing butane, and alcohol. There are age restrictions (under the age of 16) applicable to low-hazard low-noise fireworks (party poppers and similar products), lottery tickets, aerosol paint, and liqueur confectionery (this restriction is removed on 26 May 2015). The age restriction for Christmas crackers is 12. There are different age restrictions on videos, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (collectively referred to here as 'video recordings' - 12 and over, 15 and over, and 18 and over) and video games (12 and over, 16 and over, and 18 and over).
Legislation also provides requirements for certain warnings and notices to be displayed when selling particular products.
Traders should always ask young people to produce proof of their age, such as the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) card, a photocard driving licence or a passport. Any refusals of restricted products to underage children should be logged on a refusal sales sheet or in a refusal book.
In the guide
- Table of penalties
- Offensive weapons
- Video recordings and games
- Intoxicating substances
- Lottery tickets
- Aerosol spray paint
- Keeping within the law
- Online sales
The following table, showing penalties for selling, supplying, offering to supply and hiring (as appropriate to the legislation) products to persons under certain ages, is designed to guide you through the requirements of the law and assist in compliance.
|Product||Age restriction||Maximum penalty|
|Adult fireworks and sparklers (category 2 [outdoor use - confined areas] and category 3 [outdoor use - large open areas] fireworks)||18 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Aerosol paint||16 and over||£2,500|
|Alcohol||18 and over||Unlimited fine and forfeit of licence|
|Christmas crackers||12 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Crossbows||18 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Knives / axes / blades||18 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Lighter refills containing butane||18 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Lottery tickets / 'instant win' cards||16 and over||Unlimited fine and up to two years' imprisonment|
|Liqueur confectionery||16 and over||£500|
|Party poppers and similar low-hazard low-noise fireworks (category 1) (except Christmas crackers)||16 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Petrol||16 and over||Unlimited fine and up to 12 months' imprisonment|
|Tobacco products||18 and over||£2,500|
|Video recordings: U (universal)||Unrestricted||N/A|
|Video recordings: PG (Parental Guidance)||Unrestricted||N/A|
|Video recordings: classification 12||12 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video recordings: classification 15||15 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video recordings: classification 18||18 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video recordings: classification R18||18 years and over in a licensed sex shop||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video games: PEGI rating 3||Unrestricted||N/A|
|Video games: PEGI rating 7||Unrestricted||N/A|
|Video games: PEGI rating 12||12 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video games: PEGI rating 16||16 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video games: PEGI rating 18||18 and over||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Volatile substances / solvents (offence to supply / offer to supply to under 18s occurs ONLY if the person knows or believes it is to be used for intoxification)||
18 and over (but see left)
||Unlimited fine and up to six months' imprisonment|
This area is covered by the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, and the Protection from Tobacco (Sales from Vending Machines) (England) Regulations 2010.
Under this legislation, it is an offence for any person to sell cigarettes, tobacco products or cigarette papers to anyone under 18 years of age, even if they look older. This is the case whether or not the cigarettes are for the young person's own use. It is also an offence to sell cigarettes unless they are in quantities of ten or more and in their original packaging. This means that packets of cigarettes cannot be split to sell lesser quantities.
The following warning notice must be exhibited in a prominent position, which is clearly visible to anyone purchasing cigarettes, at every retail premises at which tobacco is sold. It must not be less than 297mm x 420mm (A3), with no character being less than 36mm in height:
|IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL TOBACCO PRODUCTS TO ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18|
Again, under this legislation it is an offence to sell tobacco from an automatic machine to anyone. Should a sale take place the person who controls or is concerned with the management of the premises where the automatic machine is located commits the offence.
See 'Display & sale of tobacco products' for more information.
Under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (as amended by the Offensive Weapons Act 1996) and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, it is an offence for a person to sell to a person under the age of 18:
- any knife, knife blade or razor blade
- any axe
- any other article that has a blade or is sharply pointed, and is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person
Whether a particular article is a knife is a question of fact, but using a wider definition, this legislation prohibits sales of, for example, sheath knives, kitchen knives, craft knives and carpet knives to persons under the age of 18.
This legislation does not apply to folding pocket knives if the cutting edge of the blade is less than three inches or 7.62cm. Nor does it apply to replacement cartridges for safety razors, where less than 2mm of the blade is exposed.
See also 'Knives & other bladed items'.
The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2010 prohibit the supply of adult (category 2 and 3) fireworks or sparklers to any person under the age of 18. The minimum age for supply of party poppers and similar low-hazard low-noise fireworks (category 1 fireworks) is 16. Christmas crackers are an exception and the minimum age for supply is 12. Caps for toy guns are not fireworks but are controlled by the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011.
Where adult fireworks are supplied or exposed for supply in any premises, it is a requirement of the Fireworks Regulations 2004 that a notice is displayed in a prominent position in those premises, no less than 420mm by 297mm (A3), with letters no less than 16mm high, giving the following information:
|IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL ADULT FIREWORKS OR SPARKLERS TO ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18|
The following notice must also be displayed:
|IT IS ILLEGAL FOR ANYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18 TO POSSESS ADULT FIREWORKS IN A PUBLIC PLACE|
Please see also 'Retail sale of fireworks'.
Under the Video Recordings Acts of 1984 and 2010 it is an offence to supply, or offer to supply, a video recording (disc, tape or any other device capable of storing data electronically) to any person who has not attained the age specified on the recording. This legislation applies to both video recordings and video games.
It is a defence to show that you neither knew, nor had reasonable grounds to believe, that either:
- the classification certificate contained the statement in relation to the specified age
- the person concerned had not attained the specified age
It is also a defence if you had reasonable grounds to believe that the supply was, or would have been, an exempted supply, as defined by legislation (if you sell video recordings by retail, you will not be dealing with exempted supplies).
The classifications are as follows:
|Abbreviation||Classification||Only to be sold to|
|PG||Parental guidance - general viewing but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children||Unrestricted|
|12||Suitable only for persons 12 years and over||12 years and over|
|15||Suitable only for persons 15 years and over||15 years and over|
|18||Suitable only for persons 18 years and over||18 years and over|
|R18||Suitable only for persons 18 years and over||18 years and over in a licensed sex shop|
The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system applies to video games in the UK. It is illegal for a retailer to sell a video game with a PEGI rating of 12, 16 or 18 to someone below that age.
See 'Video recordings & games for sale & hire' for more information.
An offence is committed under the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 if intoxicating substances or solvent-based products are supplied or offered for supply, and it is believed that they are for a person under the age of 18, and that they are likely to be inhaled for the purposes of becoming intoxicated. This offence applies even when it is known that another person is buying the product for the person under the age of 18.
Special attention should be paid to young persons:
- buying intoxicating substances and nothing else
- buying plastic bags at the same time as intoxicating substances
- displaying signs similar to drunkenness
- with spots and sores around the mouth and nose
However, solvents may be sold to persons under 18 for their normal intended use.
It is an offence under the Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999 to supply cigarette lighter refill canisters containing butane or a substance including butane to anyone under 18.
See 'Cigarette lighter refills & solvents' for more information.
The National Lottery etc Act 1993 / National Lottery Regulations 1994 make it an offence to sell National Lottery (LOTTO) tickets and instant win cards (scratch cards) to any person under 16. The Regulations also require anyone selling such products to be 16 or over.
The Licensing Act 2003 is jointly enforced by the police and trading standards. It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18, or for a person under 18 to sell alcohol. It is also illegal to sell liqueur confectionery to anyone under 16 (although this will no longer be the case after 26 May 2015).
See 'Underage sales of alcohol' for further information.
Under the Petroleum (Consolidation) Regulations 2014 no person is to supply, or allow the supply, of petrol to a person under the age of 16. The Regulations also prohibit a person under the age of 16 from operating a dispenser on dispensing premises.
It is an offence under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 to sell aerosol spray paint to persons aged under 16.
See 'Aerosol spray paints' for more information.
In order to keep within the law and therefore satisfy legal defences you should introduce an age verification policy (mandatory condition for alcohol) and have effective systems to prevent sales of age-restricted products to persons under the minimum legal age. These systems should be regularly monitored and updated as necessary to identify and put right any problems or weaknesses, and to keep pace with any advances in technology.
Key best practice features of an effective system include:
AGE VERIFICATION CHECKS
Always ask young people to produce proof of their age. The Trading Standards Institute, the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers support the UK's national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), which includes a number of card issuers. You can be confident that a card issued under the scheme and bearing the PASS hologram is an acceptable proof of age. A passport or UK photocard driving licence is also acceptable but make sure the card matches the person using it and that the date of birth shows they are over the minimum legal age to buy the age-restricted product. If the person cannot prove they are over the minimum legal age then the sale should be refused.
OPERATE A 'CHALLENGE 21' OR 'CHALLENGE 25' POLICY
This means that if the person appears to be under the age of 21 or 25, they will be asked to verify their age by showing valid proof of age.
Make sure your staff are properly trained. They should know which products are age restricted, what the age restriction is and the action they must take if they believe a person under the minimum legal age is attempting to buy. It is important that you can prove that your staff have understood what is required of them under the legislation. This can be done by keeping a record of the training and asking the member of staff to sign to say that they have understood it. These records should then be checked and signed on a regular basis by management or the owner.
MAINTAIN A REFUSALS LOG
All refusals of age-restricted products should be recorded (date, time, incident, description of potential buyer). Some tills have a refusals system built in. Maintaining a refusals log will help to demonstrate that you actively refuse sales and have an effective system n place. Logs should be checked by the manager/owner to ensure that al members of staff are using them. If using a till-based system, you should ensure that refusals can be retrieved at a later date. You should also be aware that some refusals are made before a product is scanned.
A specimen refusals log is attached below:
If you possess an EPoS system then it may be possible to use it to remind staff of age restrictions via a prompt (EPoS prompts will not assist you in preventing tobacco-display-ban offences). Alternatively, stickers can be used over certain product barcodes.
If you sell tobacco or fireworks, you must display the legally required tobacco or fireworks notices (see above). For other age-restricted products, posters showing the minimum legal ages should be displayed and contain a statement regarding the refusal of such sales. This should deter potential purchasers and act as a reminder to staff.
CLOSED CIRCUIT TELEVISION (CCTV)
A CCTV system may act as a deterrent and reduce the number of incidents of underage sales.
If you sell age-restricted products via the internet, please see 'Online sales of age-restricted products'.
- Children and Young Persons Act 1933
- Video Recordings Act 1984
- Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985
- Criminal Justice Act 1988
- Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991
- National Lottery etc Act 1993
- National Lottery Regulations 1994
- Offensive Weapons Act 1996
- Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999
- Licensing Act 2003
- Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003
- Fireworks Regulations 2004
- Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006
- Protection from Tobacco (Sales from Vending Machines) (England) Regulations 2010
- Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2010
- Video Recordings Act 2010
- Product Safety Amendment and Revocation Regulations 2012
- Petroleum (Consolidation) Regulations 2014
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text. Amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Please contact us for further information.
Last reviewed/updated: April 2015