Drinks Shop boss calls for tighter measures for online alcohol retailing

The boss of Britain’s biggest online drinks retailer says proposals to force retailers to have policies on under-age sales won’t prevent rogue traders from supplying alcohol to minors.

Tim Francis, managing director of The Drink Shop, said it would still be too easy for under-18s to get hold of alcohol through websites that didn’t have proper age checks in place.

He was speaking in a week which the mandatory code on alcohol retailing approved by the Lords, and the first successful prosecution of an unlicensed drinks retailer recruiting children through the Facebook social networking site came to court.

The code includes a requirement for shops to have a policy on preventing under-age sales. There was speculation that the measure would heap tough new restrictions on online sales but these have not materialised.

Francis said: “Nowadays, you can pick up an off-the-shelf internet package for less than £1,500. It’s accessible for a lot of small businesses who believe they can make money online.

“Some drinks websites have no kind of age check at all and I don’t think the existing legislation goes far enough.”

He added the authorities did not have “enough teeth” when it came to punishing retailers who weren’t vigilant about checking the age of online shoppers.

The Drinks Shop won the independent of the year category at last year’s Responsible Drinks Retailing Awards for its own work on age verification checks.

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association said legitmate online retailers shouldn’t be affected by the new rules on under-age sales policies.

Spokesman Gavin Partington said: “Online retail organisations use a range of different processes, all of them valid as the Home Office has acknowledged.

“We’ve made strenuous efforts to ensure these regulations on verification don’t adversely impact distance sellers and retailers operating effective Challenge 21 and 25 policies.

“We welcome assurances from ministers and officials that clear guidance will be given to licensing officers on this so the regulations are not misinterpreted.”

In the Lord’s debate, Labour’s Lord Brett said: “There is a responsibility on the person who is selling the wine to verify that those who are seeking to buy it are over 18. That is normally done because they want you to pay by credit card.

“But there is no requirement at the present time on the person who delivers the wine.

“When it is delivered to your house, if your 14 year-old daughter or son signs for it, it will in no way be an issue.”