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. 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
- Due diligence and reasonable precautions
- 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||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Aerosol paint||16 and over||£2,500|
|Alcohol||18 and over||£5,000 and forfeit of licence|
|Christmas crackers||12 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Crossbows||18 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Knives / axes / blades||18 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Lighter refills containing butane||18 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Lottery tickets / 'instant win' cards||16 and over||£5,000 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||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Petrol||16 and over||£20,000 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||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video recordings: classification 15||15 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video recordings: classification 18||18 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video recordings: classification R18||18 years and over in a licensed sex shop||£5,000 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||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video games: PEGI rating 16||16 and over||£5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment|
|Video games: PEGI rating 18||18 and over||£5,000 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)
||£5,000 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 'Tobacco & children' 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 which has a blade or which is sharply pointed, and which 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. The seller, the licensee(s) and the company may be liable for this offence. The seller may also be issued with a fixed penalty fine of £90.
See 'Underage sales of alcohol' for further information.
Under the Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928 it is a licensing condition that anyone in charge of a petrol station must be at least 18, and anyone dispensing petrol, or operating a petrol dispensing system, must be at least 16.
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.
Some of the above legislation has defences available, namely that the accused took all reasonable precautions, and exercised all due diligence, to avoid committing an offence. In relation to video recordings, as well as these defences, you will also need to show that the offence was due to the act or default of another person, other than the accused. Even where no due diligence defences are available, it is recommended that the guidelines below be followed as best practice.
Most of the above offences are of strict liability. This means that they can occur even when the owner is not in the shop. To avoid committing these offences, it is advised that the legislation is brought to the attention of all staff via regular training. 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.
Members of staff should be advised that they themselves might be personally liable if they sell to young persons in breach of the legal requirements.
Always ask young people to produce proof of their age. Trading standards services and the government support the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). You can be confident that a card issued under the scheme and bearing the PASS hologram is an acceptable proof of age. There are a number of card issuers in the scheme - visit the PASS website for more information.
Card issuers may supply material for you to display in your shop, telling young people where they can obtain a card. This way, if you have cause to refuse a sale, you can give youngsters some positive information.
Photo driving licences and passports are also acceptable as proof of age.
If there is still doubt, the sale should not be allowed to take place. As a teenager's appearance does not always correspond with their actual age, it is advised that staff challenge anyone who appears to be three years older than the permitted age, for example, under 21 if buying 18 years of age products such as alcohol. Training / testing on appropriate ID and displaying examples of these is also recommended.
All refusals should be recorded on a refusal sales sheet or a refusal book. Some tills have a refusals system built in. Maintaining a refusal log will strengthen a case for due diligence. Logs should be checked by the licensee to ensure that all members of staff are using them.
Although the law does not always specify a minimum age for being able to sell certain goods, the age of the member of staff may be considered in any claims of due diligence. Logs should be checked by the licensee to ensure that all members of staff are using them.
If you possess an EPoS system, it may be possible to use it to remind staff via a prompt. Alternatively, stickers can be used over certain product bar codes.
Posters showing minimum legal ages should be displayed and contain a statement regarding the refusal of such sales. This would then deter potential purchasers and act as a reminder to members of staff.
If you sell age-restricted products via the internet, please see 'Online sales of age-restricted products'.
- Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928
- 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
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.
Last reviewed/updated: September 2014