Very soon, government-supported trials of new technology to check the age of customers buying alcohol, whether that is from a physical location such as a shop or a bar, or when delivered to the home, will begin around England and Wales. The first two will be found in Manchester and Nottingham with others following across the country.
The law in England and Wales is quite restrictive in terms of how age is checked, and particularly the forms of ID that can be used according to the Mandatory Licensing Conditions, which include passports, driving licences, military ID, and cards issued by the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). But we also know from testing that this currently delivers a relatively poor level of accuracy – as low as 65-85% of test purchases by young people just over 18 are correctly checked.
Technology offers the opportunity to significantly increase the level of compliance by, for example, spotting fakes, alterations or borrowed or stolen credentials, and estimating age far more effectively than the human eye is able to. We are expecting to achieve accuracy levels well above 95% – some solutions claim >99%.
The purpose of these “sandbox” trials is to allow these novel technologies to be rigorously evaluated, comparing the compliance levels they achieve with a baseline ascertained before each study begins. The Home Office has made it clear to participants that there is no derogation from the existing law, so they will be required to continue to prevent underage sales or risk enforcement action. That said, local police and licensing authorities are required to approve each trial.
You can read further about the trial here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/age-verification-technology-in-alcohol-sales-regulatory-sandbox/. We have volunteered as the relevant trade body, to engage with key stakeholders on behalf of the participating age verification providers, and we are already facilitating monthly coordination meetings with them, the retailers and other licensed premises hosting the trials.
Of course, if you wish to contact the Home Office directly, you are welcome to do so – they have a dedicated email account for such queries: email@example.com
We have our own webpage dedicated to this initiative where details of local trials will be posted as each begins. https://avpassociation.com/home-office-age-verification-sandbox/
We hope this ‘heads up’ is helpful, and the trials will not now come as any surprise. Evaluations for each will be published so there will be a strong evidence base to inform any decision to amend the detail of the relevant legislation. We are confident this process will show a marked improvement in compliance, and better prevent alcohol falling into the hands of children illegally, but we recognise this hypothesis needs to be tested rigorously, and the sandbox enables that in a tightly controlled environment.