The policy flaw affecting British drinking

Despite the pleasures of being able to purchase a few bottles of wine and other liquid party supplies along with a weekly online Sainsbury’s shop, the issues created by online availability of alcohol are also blindingly obvious. Considering the level of effort, funding and government campaign put into controlling the consumption of alcohol and its safety, the ease of buying the substance via the internet could be considered a step backwards for a sensible UK drinking culture.


Due to tensions between technological advances and slow development of new legal policy in the UK, buying alcohol online is now arguably easier than ever for underage drinkers. The days of lingering around an off-license until a ‘cool’ looking adult agrees to step in and buy you and your friends a bottle of vodka are seemingly old fashioned. Instead, the luxury of a click-and-go purchase is all too stress-free and it could be argued that the importance of customer age identification for online supermarket delivery is somewhat ‘hit and miss’.

From the brief peer-based feedback received for this article when asking whether or not supermarkets do ask for ID when delivering online purchases, the general consensus was that Tesco’s delivery service was less likely to require identification when orders contained age-restricted goods. Although fewer young people, predominantly students, appeared to order online from Sainsbury’s, those asked explained that identification had been requested from them on every order containing alcohol.

So, why the inconsistency in ID policy? It’s fairly simple, but somewhat nonsensical. Whereas supermarket and off-license staff are legally obliged to ask their younger customers for proof of age when purchasing alcohol, according to the 2010 Home Office Licensing Conditions, it is legal for a courier service to deliver alcohol to an underage person if the delivery address belongs to an adult.

Taking the current loose policy conditions into consideration the legalisation of online alcohol sales currently appear to be all too problematic. Until those policies are revised there will debatably always be a significant loophole in UK age restriction laws for purchasing alcohol.


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August 2021
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