Serve Legal's Contribution: Alcohol Licensing Open Consultation

The government is consulting on potential amendments to the Licensing Act 2003 to reconsider age verification for alcohol sales in England and Wales. Currently, physical identification is required to prove age, but with the rise of digital identities and technology, there is a gap between existing legislation and modern practices. The consultation explores the use of digital identities and age assurance technology for age verification, as well as considerations for transactions that do not occur face-to-face, such as online sales and delivery. The government seeks to enable the secure use of new technologies while ensuring compliance with data protection and equalities legislation.

In the consultation, six proposals were offered as potential solutions to the issues at hand. As market leaders in age verification testing and wider compliance services, Serve Legal were proud to provide the open consultation with their insights and data. Read a summary of our contributions below or download the full PDF.

Digital ID and Age Estimation:

At Serve Legal, we support Option 3 for amending the Licensing Act 2003 to allow age verification for alcohol sales through digital identities and age assurance technology. In a recent survey among 16-25-year-olds, we found overwhelming support for digital ID usage, with 94% of respondents in favour. However, barriers to adoption include acceptance issues and potential bias in digital ID technology. We want to emphasise the need for equal access and non-discriminatory testing to address these concerns.

Regarding age assurance technology, it is necessary to stress the importance of robust standards to prevent under-age sales. We propose regular auditing against industry-agreed standards to ensure accuracy and fairness across demographics. Additionally, we advocate for measures to combat spoofing and ensure retailer empowerment in challenging technology decisions.

At Serve Legal, we support human intervention in age verification decisions, especially in cases of potential misidentification. We believe that whilst technology can assist age verification challenges, a human presence is necessary to address outliers and ensure fairness.

Regarding training, we support mandatory training for staff and licensing officers on digital identities and age assurance technology. We stress the need for staff to validate digital IDs effectively and understand the limitations of technology. We also emphasise the importance of licensing officers understanding the technology's functioning and any associated risks that may arise.

Remote Sales:

At Serve Legal, we advocate for Option 5 to amend the Licensing Act 2003 for age verification in remote alcohol sales. We believe this option ensures comprehensive checks at both the point of sale/appropriation to a contract and at the point of delivery/service, addressing the evolving landscape of alcohol retailing.

In response to the consultation questions provided:

  • We disagree that the current Act adequately covers age verification in remote sales and ask for amendments to the Act rather than industry-produced guidance.
  • Serve Legal supports the certification of digital identity services against government standards, emphasising the need for robust standards and regular testing.
  • We believe age assurance technology should apply to all delivery models, with rigorous testing to ensure accuracy and compliance.
  • It is crucial to specify in the Act that serving alcohol to an intoxicated individual is an offence, and we support the provision of Primary Authority for changes to relevant Act sections.
  • Serve Legal emphasises the importance of training for staff and licensing officers in digital identities and age assurance technology to ensure effective implementation.

Regarding remote sales, our data indicates a higher risk of underage access to alcohol in online purchases and through home deliveries. With a compliance pass rate of 49% in home delivery audits (28% lower than in-store pass rates), we advocate for aligning legislative frameworks to manage contemporary risk landscapes. We recommend amendments to the Licensing Act 2003, Section 182 guidance, and industry-produced guidance to ensure consistency in age verification across all remote sales channels.