In the guide
There are laws that restrict the sale of certain products and services to underage people
This guide introduces you to these age-restricted products and services and the minimum age of the young people you can legally sell them to.
You will also find essential information on what you can do to prevent the sale of age-restricted products and services to underage people and stay on the right side of the law.
Minimum legal age
There are many laws that deal with the sale of age-restricted products and services. Some products such as alcohol and fireworks require you to obtain a licence before you can legally sell them.
To help you to work out which laws you need to comply with, first check the table below to see if there are any products or services you sell or intend to sell that are age restricted and what the age restriction is. Most products have corresponding In-depth Guides in which you can find out more information (see below).
|adult fireworks and sparklers (category F2 [outdoor use: confined areas] and category F3 [outdoor use: large open areas] fireworks)||18 and over|
|aerosol paint||16 and over|
|alcohol||18 and over|
|Christmas crackers||12 and over|
|crossbows||18 and over|
|knives / axes / blades||18 and over (in Scotland domestic knives can be sold to those aged 16 and over)|
|lighter refills containing butane||18 and over|
|liqueur confectionery (Scotland only)||16 and over|
|lottery tickets / 'instant win' cards||18 and over (online sales)
16 and over (in-store sales. 18 and over from 1 October 2021)
|nicotine inhaling products (referred to as nicotine vapour products in Scotland)||18 and over|
|party poppers and similar low-hazard low-noise fireworks (category F1) (except Christmas crackers)||16 and over|
|petrol||16 and over|
|sunbeds||18 and over|
|tobacco||18 and over|
|video recordings: U (universal)||unrestricted|
|video recordings: PG (parental guidance)||unrestricted|
|video recordings: classification 12||12 and over|
|video recordings: classification 15||15 and over|
|video recordings: classification 18||18 and over|
|video recordings: classification R18||18 years and over in a licensed sex shop|
|video games: PEGI rating 3||unrestricted|
|video games: PEGI rating 7||unrestricted|
|video games: PEGI rating 12||12 and over|
|video games: PEGI rating 16||16 and over|
|video games: PEGI rating 18||18 and over|
Taking steps to prevent underage sales
If you sell age-restricted products to a person under the minimum legal age, you may commit an offence under the relevant law. The penalties can include a fine or even imprisonment. There are laws that give you a legal defence, which is often referred to as the 'due diligence' defence.
Basically you must prove that you took 'all reasonable precautions / all reasonable steps' and exercised 'all due diligence' to avoid committing an offence.
This means that you are responsible for making sure that you and your staff do not sell age-restricted products to people under the minimum legal age. You can do this by setting up effective systems within your business.
These systems should be regularly monitored and updated as necessary to identify and put right any problems or weaknesses, or to keep pace with any advances in technology.
Key best-practice features of an effective system include:
- age verification checks. Verify the age of potential buyers by asking to see an identity card that bears the PASS hologram (the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) is the UK's national proof-of-age accreditation scheme supported by the Home Office, the Scottish Government, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Police Scotland and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). The Scottish Government also endorses the Young Scot card
- Challenge 21 / Challenge 25. In England and Wales you can participate - or must participate as a licensing condition if you sell alcohol - in a scheme to carry out age verification checks on anyone who looks younger than 21 or 25. When selling alcohol, tobacco or nicotine vapour products in Scotland it is a legal requirement to check the age of any customer who appears to be under 25
- staff training. Make sure your staff receive adequate training on underage sales. Keep a training record and make sure the training is regularly updated
- use of till prompts. You can use prompts that appear on the till when an age-restricted product is scanned to remind staff to carry out age verification checks
- store layout, signage and CCTV. Keep your age-restricted products where they can be monitored by staff. For example, fireworks stored on the shop floor must by law be kept in a secure cabinet. Ensure you have adequate signs to inform consumers of the minimum legal age to purchase. You are legally required to display notices for tobacco and fireworks
- keep and maintain a refusals register. This means keeping a record (date, time, incident, description of potential buyer) where sales of age-restricted products have been refused. This helps to demonstrate that you actively refuse sales and have an effective system in place
You will find more information on effective 'due diligence' systems in the In-depth Guides on age-restricted products.
For more detailed information please see the In-depth Guides below. Once you've finished, make sure you look at the full range of Quick Guides to see whether there are any other areas of law that affect your business.
Make sure you choose your location using the drop-down list at the top of the page. The In-depth Guides provide country-specific information as some laws are different in England, Scotland and Wales, and some are enforced differently
In-depth guidanceThis is a general guide and you may well need to know more; take a look below where we've listed our In-depth Guides on specific topics related to underage sales
The law requires that tobacco and nicotine inhaling products are not sold to under-18s; it also prohibits the in-store display of tobacco products
Selling certain goods to young people is illegal; understand your obligations as an online retailer
What the law says about the sale of spray paints to people under 16
A guide to ensuring that underage sales of alcohol do not take place, and the implications if a sale is made
If you sell cigarette lighter refill canisters containing butane, you must be sure your customers are not underage
Crossbows, air weapons and imitation firearms must not be sold to underage customers
A guide to the sale of fireworks, including licensing, categories of fireworks and age restriction
Certain bladed products are covered by the legislation that restricts purchase by under-18s
Sunbed businesses must adhere to the legal age restrictions, which were introduced because the young are at greater risk of developing skin cancer
Understand the labelling and age of sale requirements for the supply, hire or exchange of all videos and games
A guide to the law on the packaging, tracking and tracing of tobacco products and the distribution and advertising of e-cigarettes