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Official Test Purchase Service

How to ensure your team are carrying out Think 25 checks when young customers are purchasing age-restricted goods.

Managing underage sales is one of the main compliance challenges facing retailers and hospitality, and ensuring your team are doing Think 25 checks or similar is vital. Each year we carry out over 10,000 mystery shopping test purchases on behalf of leading organisations, to help them ensure their employees are carrying out age checks of young customers. Having an independent test purchasing scheme in place is something local authorities support.

Using an independent test purchase service demonstrates to the local authority that you are taking compliance seriously. A recent trading standards report cited internal test purchasing in their best practice guidelines for selling alcohol/knives. The due diligence is invaluable if you ever receive a visit from your local officer.

Recently the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) set out a range of proposals to the Department of Health to address the issue of child access to vapes, including a national test purchasing scheme similar to the one UKVIA runs for its members to ensure all operations are performing to high standards when it comes to preventing youth access to e-cigarettes.

Our age restriction test purchase service helps organisations to independently check and improve compliance for store, venue and home delivery services of age-restricted goods.

As the growth in-home delivery of groceries and dine at home apps continues to increase, it’s essential for businesses to ensure they are implementing age verification checks for doorstep deliveries. Working with Mystery Shopping experts ensures age restricted goods don’t get delivered into the wrong hands.

Store and venue-based age checking services are equally important as we see DIY retailers, convenience stores, forecourts retailers, pubs, bars and supermarkets all using mystery shopping age check services.

All age-restricted goods are included in our test purchase service including Challenge 25 tests for alcohol also age verification checks for cigarettes, knives, vapes, solvents, medicines, lottery tickets.

Centrebound mystery shopping agents carrying out age verification checks will have had their age validated by either passport, birth certificate or PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme.

Age checks can be combined with other aspects of customer experience or compliance checks to help improve outcomes. It’s found that individual company performance improves due to several factors – awareness amongst staff that they are being randomly tested, increased focus from management on underage legislation, and also specific actions suggested from our analysis.

Find out how we can help your organisation carry out age verification test purchases contact us.

Find out how we help door-step food delivery companies deliver Challenge 25 compliance

Challenge 25 Age Checking

Challenge 25 is a scheme introduced by the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG) in 2009 to help retailers to comply with the law of selling alcohol to over-18s only. It allows retailers and merchants more flexibility in challenging their customers to prove they are legally entitled to purchase alcohol.With clear signage on the premises, and the leeway of being able to challenge any young-looking person, retailers have been able to gently challenge their customers without the confrontation or aggressivity that could previously occur.Importantly, the customer only has to prove they are over 18 – not over 25  – with an acceptable ID (a card bearing the PASS hologram, a photographic driving license or a passport). The scheme has been adapted by retailers as Think 25 or Check 25, to be able to ask for ID to any younger person buying any age-restricted product, such as cigarettes, E-cigarettes, knives, solvents, DVDs and computer games, or gambling products such as lottery tickets.

What is Challenge 25 Testing?

Centrebound help companies test the implementation of the Challenge 25 scheme in retail and hospitality premises, and home-delivery services. It is vital that businesses that sell age-restricted products are complying with the law and ensuring that they do not sell to under-age customers. Compliance in ensuring under-age sales are not occurring is one of the biggest challenges in the retail and hospitality industries, and being able to prove that due diligence is being applied is invaluable. We carry out over 10,000 Challenge 25 tests every year on behalf of leading organisations, in what are known as ‘mystery shopper’ test purchases. These independent tests are carried out at the point of purchase (or on the doorstep in the case of home-delivery), and determine whether the employees are carrying out the appropriate age checks on younger looking customers.

The sale of age restricted products are not only limited to supermarkets, off-licenses or rapid home-delivery providers. The laws extend to bookmakers and adult gaming centres that have gambling age-restrictions, DIY/Hardware stores that sell knives and solvents, and petrol forecourts and convenience stores. In addition the hospitality industry of bars, pubs, night clubs and cafes has a constant need to ensure it is not selling alcohol to underage customers, and whilst that industry sometimes uses the Think 21 or Challenge 21 model instead, independent testing for compliance is adopted by leading organisations.

The use of an independent company for these checks demonstrates to the local authority that you are taking compliance seriously. A recent trading standards report cited internal test purchasing in their best practice guidelines for selling alcohol and knives. The advantage of using an independent mystery shopper approach is that it is transparent and impartial, as well as being a realistic window on the procedures taking place at point of purchase. Moreover, the results of an independent Challenge 25 Test can be used to help organisations to improve compliance for store, venue and home delivery services of age-restricted goods. The detailed analysis provided in a Centrebound Report can be used as the basis for identifying and improving training and operating procedures, thereby demonstrating that as a business you are improving your compliance.

Who Carries Out Age Check Testing?

Centrebound’s mystery shoppers that carry out age checks are young people aged 18-21. Crucially, they are all over 18 and have had their ages verified by passport, birth certificate or PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme. The Challenge 25 Test is to ascertain whether employees are using the scheme to ask for ID for purchases made by demonstrably young looking people, not to actually break the age-restriction law. Our mystery shoppers are briefed according to each of our client’s test purchasing requirements, and they report back on whether they were asked for ID. Additionally, we work with home-delivery services and have at-home young mystery shoppers that place their takeaway or grocery orders and include age restricted items in their order. They will fill in a survey regarding the delivery service, including if the driver asked for ID in accordance with company policy.  We can tailor a test purchasing service for you that meets your specific business needs and will give you the most useful data to demonstrate your compliance and improve further employee training.

What Happens if a Business Fails Age Testing?

When a business is not compliant and is found to have sold age restricted goods to under age people, the penalties vary according to the industry. For example, Tesco were fined £6,000 in 2009 for repeatedly selling alcohol to minors and their Blackpool store had their liquor license revoked for 28 days. The story received national coverage such as this article in the Daily Express: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/91579/Tesco-fined-over-under-age-sales

In the hospitality industry, If you make a mistake and are caught by the authorities selling alcohol to someone under age you can be cautioned, offered a £90 Fixed Penalty Notice or given an unlimited fine by the Magistrates. If you are a personal licence holder, your licence can be suspended or taken away. If two offences are committed within three months the police can offer a voluntary closure of between two days to two weeks as an alternative to prosecution. If prosecuted, the Magistrates’ Court can impose a suspension which can last up to three months and/or a fine of up to £20,000.

In addition to the legal and financial ramifications, the reputation of your business would under threat after any prosecution, and you can lose goodwill and custom from the patrons and/or customers in your local area, or even your wider market, which has knock-on effects to the business model. It would be far better to be pro-active in ensuring your business is compliant by contacting Centrebound for a tailored Challenge 25 test purchasing service.