Retailers could be faced with an unlimited fine for selling age-restricted products to children under a new law which came into force yesterday.
The new unrestricted fine, which has been passed by the Government on Wednesday, gives magistrates more flexibility when handing out punishments will result in an indefinite penalty to retailers caught breaking the law.
The update of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 scrapped the previous £5,000 cap.
Under Age Sales managing director Tony Allen said the new law will combat magistrates’ frustration of their inability to enforce harsher punishments on large companies, such as Tesco. He said: “Magistrates needed more freedom as they could only impose a maximum fine of £5,000 to Tesco if they committed an age-restricted criminal sale.”
But this harsher punishment could be enforced upon smaller retailers too, he warned. A £25,000 fine was enforced upon two stores in Suffolk by a magistrate in July 2014, demonstrating that convenience stores are not out of reach of a harsh penalty.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the harsher fine will be saved for offenders in England and Wales who have committed the most serious “Level Five” offences.
These highest level offences include breaching food safety regulations and exposing tobacco in under display ban regulations set to come into force on April 6. “This latest move could mean a scary cost and it’s really quite horrendous for retailers,” Allen added.