Grocery delivery companies have come under pressure from convenience chains to do more to prevent underage sales, according to Serve Legal director Ed Heaver.

The founder of the test-purchasing company told betterRetailing rising home delivery demand had driven renewed scrutiny of service providers. “We know for a fact that some of our clients have said to the third-party deliverer that they need to regulate themselves and audit themselves,” he said.

Last month, alcohol charities including the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Alcohol Change UK called for a review of alcohol licensing laws to provide “clear guidance” on what age-verification is expected on online orders.

An upcoming Serve Legal report will show the scale of non-compliance.

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Asked about age-check pass rates, Heaver described the results as “not great”. Examples given to betterRetailing included a 10-year-old served beer at the doorstep. “What people forget is that the couriers used by firms are very busy, they are under pressure to make as many drops as possible, and they are often working for three or four companies at a time,” said Heaver.

Despite the challenges, he said firms were taking action. “Larger players have got their houses in order, but there has been a huge rise in smaller delivery platforms entering the market,” he commented.

The director urged shops to challenge their delivery partners to show that they had procedures in place to prevent underage sales, at the point of order and the doorstep.

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Asked whether legislation on alcohol and tobacco sales is equipped to regulate online sales, he responded: “There are certainly grey areas. The legislation wasn’t built for the changes retail has seen in the past six months.”

He suggested an “addendum” to the laws could clear up related issues. This could include what the tobacco display ban means for the online shops displaying tobacco products and prices to under-18s, how to implement Scotland’s alcohol merchandising laws online, and making delivery firms and platforms liable for failing to prevent underage sales.

However, far from updating existing legislation, the government has rowed back on its timeline for planned measures to regulate online sales.

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The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 banned the sale of knives online without age verification, but is still yet to be implemented.

Heaver claimed: “Covid-19 has put a bit of a stop to that. The government is concerned it could add another level of compliance and red tape to those trying to get goods and services out there. However, it is a concern that new entrants to the market can get pretty poor compliance levels.”

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