Retailers can apply for government trials of digital age verification designed to help reduce antisocial behaviour and human error associated with traditional forms of ID.

The Home Office launched the application for stores in England and Wales last month, and successful retailers will be able to use new technology to check ID for alcohol and other age-restricted sales. Although digital verification tools exist for other age-restricted products, no resources have been available for alcohol.

Applicants will have to suggest verification methods to trial within their store, alongside details of how it will work and how they will test it. The Home Office suggested potential methods for testing may include verification using a mobile phone for in-store purchases, click & collect and home delivery.

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Stores must also ensure local bodies such as licensing authorities, police and trading standards have agreed to the trials in their area. Submissions close on 31 May, with trials running from this summer up to April 2022.

Age Check Certification Scheme chief executive Tony Allen is the chair of the Expert Panel on Age Restrictions. The panel has worked with the Home Office on designing the scheme. He told betterRetailing digital ID can help reduce the risk of antisocial behaviour when a store assistant examines a customer during the age-check process.

“ID [such as passports and driving licences] have been around for years, but there are a number of problems. It creates tension and friction, and a lot of younger customers might not carry these forms of ID around with them. However, they do carry and use a smartphone for much of their everyday tasks. A computer is much more likely to spot a fake ID than a human being is as well. That’s not to say someone can’t create a fake digital ID to fool a computer, but it’s much more difficult to trick a computer.”

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John Abbott, chief business officer at age verification firm Yoti, also stressed the importance the costs, installation time and training for retailers implementing digital ID systems are minimal. He told betterRetailing: “The more staff training and integration costs you have, the less likely a retailer will do it. Equally, it should be free for the customer, otherwise they won’t participate. The main importance of digital ID is it helps to reduce violence towards shop staff.”

Potential methods outlined by Abbott included a code on the customer’s phone which the retailer can scan for instant proof of age. He also confirmed a number of supermarkets already using Yoti’s technology have drafted applications for the Home Office’s trial.

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