The ability of children to buy age-restricted goods online creates ethical as well as legal issues

Alcohol, tobacco and knives are among the age-restricted goods finding their way into the hands of minors in the UK because of weak enforcement by online retailers and delivery companies. A new study by the independent auditor Serve Legal finds that more than half (56%) of retailers fail to undertake adequate age checks. The finding is based on the identification checks asked of young-looking ‘mystery’ shoppers. Serve Legal conducts about 100,000 such test visits every year.

By law, delivery companies should ask for ID on the doorstep when delivering age-restricted products to young-looking people. Although IMRG, a representative body for online retail in the UK, acknowledges that the problem exists, a spokesman says it’s “not top of the pack” of issues at present.

In the absence of an industry-wide strategy, the onus lies on individual companies in the e-retail and home delivery to put age-check processes in place. Large companies tend to have the more robust systems. The logistics multinational DHL, for example, requires all its delivery staff to check the ID of the recipient as a condition of delivery. As part of its service, senders can specify that a package requires proof of age as a condition of receipt.


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