Age-restricted sales

The key rule is that if you are in doubt regarding a persons age, do not sell the age-restricted product.
The key rule is that if you are in doubt regarding a persons age, do not sell the age-restricted product.

A guide for employers and employees by MATHESON ORMSBY PRENTICE



11 June 2009

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The key rule is that if you are in doubt regarding a persons age, do not sell the age-restricted product.

In Ireland it is illegal to sell certain products to people under a specified age. In certain circumstances, if you do, you could be personally liable and prosecuted and if found guilty fined or even imprisoned. In addition, your employer could face prosecution and in some instances, your employer could even lose a licence to sell a particular product. An offence is committed where an age-restricted product is sold to an under-age person. The key rule to abide by is that if you are in doubt regarding a persons age, do not sell the age-restricted product.

Below is a list of categories of the more common age-restricted products.

PRODUCT                                            AGE (YEARS)   
Alcohol                                                     18
Tobacco and tobacco products                18
Certain DVDs, computer/video games    PG, 12, 15, 18
Chocolate Liqueurs                                  16

Solvents, adhesives                                It is an offence to sell to
                                                                persons under 18 where
                                                                there is a reasonable cause
                                                                to suspect solvent abuse

National Lottery and Scratch Cards         18    

Guidance for management

Generally managers are responsible for making sure that all of the business systems are in place and properly maintained. Therefore a manager should ensure that all staff have been trained properly, fully comprehend the law and the procedures and policies with regard to the sale of age-restricted products. Staff should be aware that if in doubt, they should not sell the product and approach a manager if unsure over a sale. Management should ensure that all signage is displayed in the appropriate positions and make sure that records of training are kept safely and separately with staff’s personnel files for ease of reference.

Managers should also monitor and audit staff on a regular basis and maintain a record of all incidents that occur. They should ensure that till operators are over the age of 18 years as there are rules that relate not only to the age of the purchaser but also to the age of the seller of certain products such as alcohol.

Managers should always remember to:

  • Communicate with staff regularly with regard to age-restricted products
  • Record all training for future reference
  • Be aware that you can be held personally liable in certain circumstances even where you did not make the sale and could face conviction, fine or even temporary closure in the case of the sale of alcohol

Guidance for staff

If staff have any doubts concerning the business procedures, age of a prospective customer or the age-restricted products being sold then they should relay their queries to their manager. It is important for staff to follow your employer’s age-restricted policy and procedure and if in doubt ask the manager.  

As we all know, judging a person by their age is hard and therefore if you have a reasonable belief based on your own experiences that to serve a particular person would lead to a substantial risk of criminal behaviour or disorderly conduct then you should refuse service to that particular individual. If you have any doubt about whether the customer is old enough, ask for ID. If they have no ID, then refuse the sale. If you still have doubts then refuse the sale and call your manager. Even during busy periods, the procedure for age-restricted sales should be adhered to.

Always remember that if you break the law, then you the staff, as well as the employer could be liable for prosecution.

Judging the age of the purchaser

As mentioned previously, judging a customer’s age can be a difficult process. A good procedure to use when trying to judge the age of the customer is to think about members of your family, friends or work colleagues and use them as a yardstick.

There are essential characteristics that can assist when trying to identify if a customer is underage and should be asked for ID which include:

  • The customer’s behaviour and appearance, including the way they are dressed
  • Who is accompanying them; are they under 18 years?
  • Does the quality and mix of the products look suspicious?
  • Are they nervous and avoiding eye-contact when purchasing?
  • The way the customer intends to pay for example by cash or laser card

If you are unsure as to the customer’s age, ask for ID. If the customer cannot prove they are of the correct age, refuse the sale or call the manager. Always be conscious that purchases may be handed over to someone under 18 years and look out for this. If you see alcohol being handed over to a minor inform the local Gardaí immediately.Make sure that you record any such incidents in the incident book.

Asking for proof of age

A current Garda national age card, passport, driver’s licence or European Union national identity card should be requested. Take your time to examine the card carefully, especially during busy periods, and compare the photograph to the customer. It is important to note that if you are unhappy with the age card, refuse the sale and call for your manager. Do not take a chance. It is better to decline a sale than to mistakenly sell to someone under 18, which may result in a conviction, fine and temporary closure order against the premises if it involves alcohol.

Remember, just because a customer gives you ID it does not mean they are of age. Always check the date of birth and the ID card carefully as it may be fake. In situations where no ID is produced, decline the sale politely and request the customer to return with acceptable proof of age.

If you encounter resistance from a customer, stay calm and explain that under the law you are obliged to ask for proof of age where a person is attempting to purchase an age-restricted product. Do not argue with a customer and apologise for the inconvenience. In any event, it is always best practice to call the manager for assistance.

Due Diligence

With the exception of alcohol, where an age-restricted product has been sold to an under-age person, you or your employer may avoid being prosecuted or at least reduce the penalty if you can demonstrate that you or your employer used all due diligence and took all reasonable steps to avoid committing the offence.

If however you are convicted of selling alcohol to under-age persons, a court has no discretion but to impose a mandatory temporary closure order on the premises as well as a fine. During the closure order period, the premises will be closed in it’s entirety and no business can be carried out. Therefore it is better to decline a sale than to mistakenly sell to someone under 18, which may result in a conviction, fine and temporary closure order against the premises. Employees who sell alcohol to under-age drinkers can themselves be prosecuted for aiding and abetting and Gardaí are now prosecuting employees who have been involved in underage sales as well as the licence holder themselves. It is a defence for the defendant to prove that the person in respect of whom the charge is brought produced to him or her a national age card relating to that person.
While ultimately a court will decide in individual cases whether due diligence has been observed, there are a number of simple steps that retailers should take to put themselves in the best possible position.

1 Training on age-restricted sales

It is imperative that staff are trained regarding the products that are age-restricted including their respective age restrictions, how to use the cash register and the business’ procedures and practices. For example, be clear what ID is required when selling age-restricted products. It is important to make sure that all of your staff are aware of the law regarding the penalties for non-compliance and how to respond to under-age persons who try to purchase age-restricted products.

Once training is complete, make sure that all staff members sign a training record to show that they have been properly trained. It is also good practice to get staff to complete a test at the end of their training to display that they understand the law and their obligations regarding the sale of age-restricted products.

2 Signage in relation to age-restricted sales

Display signs stating that age-restricted products will not be sold to under-age persons. These signs should be displayed at cash registers in order to remind staff to check a persons age who is seeking to purchase an age-restricted product.

3 Age-restricted sales policy

This is usually a document that forms part of the training materials and it should state what your position is in relation to sales of age-restricted products.

4 Till prompt

A till prompt is an effective tool as it provides a last line of defence to remind staff before they sell an age-restricted product. Ensure that staff comprehend how to use the system and if a till prompt is used, that it is working.

5 Log refusals made

It is good practice to maintain a refusals log or incident book.  Ensure entries are recorded and periodically checked by the licence holder.  It is important that records are kept of what you are doing in your premises recording the sale of age-restricted products, as you may need to rely on this information in the future.

6 Monitoring and auditing

It is imperative to monitor and audit your system to ensure it is working properly and also to ensure compliance with age-restricted sales legislation. What form this takes will of course depend on the size of your business and can include practices such as, monitoring your staff transactions, carrying out staff spot checks and checking that training is being complied with.



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