Serve Legal CEO and Auditor of the Year on Radio 4's You and Yours
As a company at the forefront of compliance, Serve Legal plays a pivotal role in supporting businesses adhering to age verification regulations; we are continuing to share our voice in the compliance industry. This time, our CEO, Ed Heaver, and Auditor of the Year, Joshua Woods, took to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours. In this exclusive interview, they delved into Serve Legal's crucial role in the industry, the life of an auditor, the company's inception, and shared some exclusive insights into the vaping industry.
For those who missed the live broadcast, you can catch up on the entire interview here https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001w0pq [20:20-27:43] or read the transcript below:
Radio 4: The Chartered Institute of Trading Standards estimates one in four physical shops, that sell vapes, are selling disposable vapes to underage customers; so we wanted to get an insight into what things are like on the ground. Ed Heaver is the Chief Executive of a company called Serve Legal and it sends mystery shoppers into shops to watch what they do. Alongside him is Josh Woods - he's 19 and he lives in the Wirral - and he works as one of the mystery shoppers for Serve Legal. Josh, let me go to you first, you’re 19 how did you end up becoming a mystery shopper?
Josh: I genuinely think I just heard about it on social media, I forget whether it was Instagram or TikTok, but it was just one of those adverts – ‘You’re 19 and you're looking for a job’. I thought it was too good to be true, because it's like going out and buying alcohol, buying vapes and getting paid for it, but then I signed up and lo and behold it was as good as they said it was.
Radio 4: So, how do you go in there? I’m guessing you're looking like a 19 year old, you dress up like a 19 year old and put a hoodie on and just sort of slope in?
Josh: There’s certain things like you can and can't do to change your appearance; it's very important to stay clean shaven and no wearing suits. Also, on the other end of the spectrum, no wearing school hoodies or leavers hoodies, anything that may give away the intention of age. I will just go in, in casual clothing as I say anything that just leaves ages as ambiguity, go in and buy whatever age restricted products that may be. Sometimes I'll have to show my ID and actually buy the product, or sometimes it will be buying the product along with something that's really cheap just to get a receipt, and filling out a form basically saying was I asked or wasn't I asked for ID.
Radio 4: You are 19, so everything you buy is legal. Are you looking to see if you're going to get challenged?
Josh: Yes, well it's only between 18 and 19 that the age restricted jobs are available. As I say we do try and make ourselves look as young as possible without giving it away – no leaver’s hoodies, clean shaven, no suits, just casual wear. Obviously the intention is to be asked ID, but sometimes that's obviously not going to be the case.
Radio 4: Thank you, let me ask Ed - when you started this business you did it because of something that happened to you, tell me about that.
Ed: I was working in a Pub co. back in 2005, and we lost the licence to underage drinking. We couldn't find anybody to help us demonstrate compliance and due diligence to the 18+ law, apart from a retired policeman who was charging me a lot of money. So we went to court and we were sort of allowed to reopen the pub, but with restrictions on the licence. That cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds, and also, that was partly responsible for me losing my job. What happened was, me and my business partner were sort of thinking of things to do, in terms of another idea. We couldn’t find anyone to help us, well that's Serve Legal came about in 2006 and here we are 18 years later.
Radio 4: When Josh goes in at 19 and does 50 shops in a day, how many of them fail the check system? How many of them say ‘Oh yeah here you are, love’?
Ed: Let’s clarify it, so what we are doing is auditing retailers age verification policies, which are most the time now, Think25 or Think21. Those age verification policies basically say if you look under 25 you should be asked for ID. Answering your question, I'm aware you mentioned the stats about Trading Standards talking about 75%, that is what we're finding. One in four people, one in four of our 18-19 year olds, do not go ask for ID when buying a vape.
Radio 4: Josh have you seen that? When you go in specifically to buy disposable vapes, because the different rules, what's your experience of trying to buy those and the challenges you get?
Josh: So disposable vapes, if I had to rank every age restricted item, I'd say disposable vapes came in second to easiest to purchase only to lottery tickets. That one has an excuse for it, lottery tickets used to be 16 now it's 18, whereas vapes have always been 18. Of the items that have always been over 18 to purchase and Think25, those are by far the easiest to get access to. Whether it is due to subconscious bias, because of the labelling or because of the packaging, or just because of how society has just become used to underage people using them nowadays I do find it, myself, a lot easier to buy than say alcohol cigarettes
Radio 4: Ed, what sort of businesses seem to not do enough cheques before they hand over these disposable vapes?
Ed: The disposable vape issue, I think, has been driven by a flooding to the market. What was interesting to us was that you would find these vapes in phone shops etc, where they have never sold any age-related products before, in their lives. It wasn't part of their retail culture, so they have no systems in place. It is those types of retailers. I'd say generally where retailers are used to selling age-related products, they have systems in place, they have training in place. I would say the gateway age for vaping is much stronger. It is an unusual one. Josh was talking about the marketing, and clearly that is a factor, but also these disposable vapes are being sold in places where retailers have never had age-related products before.
Radio 4: Ed and Josh from Serve Legal thank you both.
Thank you to the You and Yours team for speaking with us and making time for us to comment on this - a subject at the heart of Serve Legal and the compliance mission we are supporting. If this interview has prompted thoughts regarding the compliance of your business or industry, feel free to get in touch with a member of our team at firstname.lastname@example.org