Trading standards age restricted products and services enforcement programme 2024-25

Trading Standards enforces legislation which prohibits the supply of most age restricted goods and services. The planned enforcement programme for age restricted sales in relation to tobacco sales and spray paints is required to be considered annually.

The Community Alcohol Partnership Officer continues to focus on the supply side of alcohol, tobacco and nicotine containing products (vapes) by providing access to advice and training support and materials to businesses and conducts Challenge 25 tests. On the demand side a programme of school visits is delivered within PSHE syllabus.

The Trading Standards Service carries out test purchase exercises where intelligence is received.

In relation to other age restricted products, Trading Standards will consider enforcement action where complaints or intelligence are received.

Trading Standards will maintain strong links with all partners including Licensing and Community Safety teams, Public Health, BFFC and externally with Thames Valley Police, HMRC and the region through Trading Standards South East (TSSE)


Trading Standards enforces legislation which prohibits the supply of age restricted goods such as cigarettes, alcohol, fireworks, lottery tickets, intoxicating substances (solvents), spray paints, petrol, film recordings and computer games.

The Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 places a duty on the Council to consider at least once every twelve months, “the extent to which it is appropriate for them to carry out, in their area, a programme of enforcement action” in relation to the sale of tobacco, cigarettes and nicotine vaping products.

In respect of spray paints the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 requires the Council to consider, at least once a year, “the extent to which it is appropriate …to have a programme of enforcement action” and how it intends to carry out such a programme.

The Council, as the local weights and measures authority, is a “responsible authority” under The Licensing Act 2003. The Trading Standards service can make representations for premises’ licence applications and apply for a review of a premises’ licence in respect of the four statutory licensing objectives namely:

  • the prevention of crime and disorder
  • public safety
  • the prevention of public nuisance
  • the protection of children from harm

Involvement is mainly in relation to sales of age restricted products to those underage when linked to anti-social behaviour, although the sale of counterfeit products or other criminality may also trigger an application.

This age restricted products enforcement contributes to the Council’s priority of “prevent harm and protect the vulnerable” by reducing the availability of various controlled goods at retail level. The priority of ‘promoting health and wellbeing’ is supported by reducing the risk of anti-social behaviour by the underage sale of alcohol, vapes and fireworks for example.

Review of activity for 2023-24

1.  Provide advice to business.

The Service received 14 complaints and referrals about the sale of age restricted products from members of the public and intel was also provided by licensing reports from Thames Valley Police.

The response to these complaints was by way of visits from the CAP Officer with licensing or trading standards colleagues to assess the controls put in place by the business and to provide advice on improvements.

Monthly free online training is programmed by the CAP Officer and promoted during visits and following Challenge 25 test purchasing and is available for all retailers and members of staff.

2.  Use underage test purchasing to identify and deal with premises at risk of selling alcohol, tobacco and vapes to those under the age of 18 years

Following on from the information received as described in paragraph 1, test purchase operations were undertaken in the Borough for alcohol and vapes using underage volunteers which also incorporated the Reading Festival event.

There was one sale out of the 31 test purchases for alcohol which resulted in a warning to the business and two sales from a market stall for vapes where the market stall holder was removed from the market by the market operator.

3.  Continue to work closely with partners

The service has continued to work with close links within the council, especially the regulatory teams in licensing and public health but also with Thames Valley Police and the Community Safety Partnership. It was working closely with the Police that lead to the closure of three shops on Union Street that were prolifically selling vapes to under 18s. 

4.  Other products.

Trading Standards has received no reports about activity related to the sale of spray paints, fireworks, films, computer games, nitrous oxide or knives to underage young people.

Programme of Enforcement for 2024-25

It is proposed that the overall strategy remains the same, with the provision of advice to business via the CAP Officer and the use of test purchasing to identify and deal with problem businesses or areas of concern. Where problem businesses are identified, appropriate enforcement activity including warnings, fixed penalty notices, simple cautions, licence reviews, closure orders and prosecution will be used in accordance with the Council’s enforcement policy.

Test purchasing exercises using underage volunteers will be authorised via the Council’s RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) process which allow the test purchasers to give verbal indications that they are 18. It has become well established that retailers are now routinely seeking proof of age from young people and the scrutiny is now moving towards establishing whether the proof of age is genuine or not.

The Service needs to respond to the change in behaviour of underage young people and also the change in expectation of retailers. For several years now, the focus of the retailer training has concentrated on what to spot in fake proof of age and it is acknowledged that it is a challenge for shop staff.

However, there is a proliferation of fake IDs that underage young people are using, borne out by the 100s that are seized by the Reading Festival each year, and officers are seeing first hand shops accepting photos of IDs on mobile phones (before intercepting).

Therefore, the Service, in the next year or so will contemplate introducing in a proportionate and graduated way, using a fake proof of age for the test purchasers. Exercises undertaken by Thames Valley Police show that fake ID is being accepted by retailers on some occasions.

Tobacco, alcohol and vapes

1.  Provide advice to business

The CAP Officer will offer free online training to retailers and provide free resources, advice and guidance during visits.

2.  Demand side

The CAP Officer will deliver an educational programme in schools in the Borough and engage in train the trainer and direct delivery of IBAs.

3.  Use underage test purchasing to identify and deal with premises at risk of selling alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes to those under the age of 18 years

The Service will use intelligence and liaise with licensing and community safety colleagues and Thames Valley Police to decide on the areas where work shall be undertaken. The Service will continue to undertake more work on vapes and on effective strategies to deal with offending retailers.

4.  Continue to work closely with partners

Trading Standards will continue to work with partners including Thames Valley Police, licensing and community safety colleagues, the BID, schools, public health and the regional partnership, TSSE. All partners continue to provide useful intelligence about the availability of alcohol, vapes and tobacco to young people.

5.  Continue to identify opportunities to carry out externally funded work

The service will take up opportunities where funding is available from appropriate organisations, for work that fits in with the priorities identified in this report. HMRC have recently confirmed the continuation of Operation CeCe for the next three years 2022-25

6.  Other Products

The service will deal with other age restricted products where complaints or other intelligence is received on an ad hoc basis.

7.  New legislation and developments

  1. New legislation is expected around the sale of tobacco and vapes in particular in the next year and the Online Safety Act 2023 and these areas will be monitored during the year.
  2. The Council’s Tobacco Control Plan (part of Berkshire West) is also being devised in the forthcoming year.
Last updated on 20/05/2024