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Retailers are failing to improve staff performance to prevent underage alcohol sales, according to new data from Serve Legal, the UK’s leading retail age check company.

Latest findings show that one in six teenage mystery shoppers have bought alcohol unchallenged in four of the last five years. The pass rate for all retailers in 2017 was 83 per cent. Discounters improved to achieve the highest test pass rates in 2017 (85 per cent vs. 83 per cent in 2016), while petrol stations performed the poorest (81 per cent pass rate in 2017). Supermarket pass rates were 84 per cent and convenience stores were 82 per cent – both unchanged from the previous year.

Retailer commitment to alcohol sale testing fell for the third year running, with overall test numbers dropping by 13 per cent between 2014 (47,550) and 2017 (41,227). Convenience stores made the most significant cuts to their test programmes in recent years with 2017 numbers 25 per cent lower than in 2014 (17,185 in 2017 vs. 23,050 in 2014).

Supermarkets and discounters were the only retailers to increase their testing programmes in 2017 but this failed to improve pass rates.

Ed Heaver, Director of Serve Legal, said: “Despite the intentions of the well-established Challenge 21/25 schemes, our latest data shows that there is complacency amongst retailers when it comes to compliance.

“Those that believe that responsible retailing doesn’t matter to the bottom line are misinformed. Failure to invest in staff training, performance and processes around age identification checks puts any retailer at risk of selling alcohol to children and to the penalties of being caught doing so.”

One in four (26 per cent) of Serve Legal’s mystery shoppers bought knives from high street retailers unchallenged in 2017 (over 2,350 tests). This comes despite the fact that prominent retailers have signed the government’s voluntary agreement on underage knife sales.

Homeware and DIY stores were the worst high-street culprits, selling knives to four in ten (41 per cent) young mystery shoppers without requesting age identification. Supermarkets fared better but still failed one in five (21 per cent) age check tests.

In tobacco sale tests, retailers achieved an 80 per cent pass rate in 2017. Pass rates have improved year on year since 2015 and commitment to testing has increased by 25 per cent in the same period (5,124 tests in 2017 vs. 3,877 in 2015).

Supermarkets achieved the highest pass rate (84 per cent) having improved their pass rate and increased their test levels each year for the last four years.

There is less positive news amongst Serve Legal’s e-cigarette test data. Pass rates have fallen from 91 per cent in 2015 to 70 per cent in 2017 and test levels by 23 per cent in the same period (1,023 in 2015 vs. 787 in 2017), suggesting that there may still be confusion amongst retailers about e-cigarettes being an 18+ product.

Online retailers came under scrutiny too. In 1,600 online test sales of age-restricted goods – including knives – last year, 59 per cent of Serve Legal’s mystery shoppers were handed age-restricted goods on the doorstep unchallenged. The test purchase pass rate for online retailers has been falling since 2014 and their commitment to testing is extremely low.