New sentencing guidelines relating to underage knife sales have been published and are due to come into effect on April 1, 2023. Ashley Borthwick explains the potential impact for retailers.

Under new guidelines published this month (available here), large UK retailers will now face fines of up to £1 million in respect of underage knife sales. The guideline explains that the fine "must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the law".

It is unlawful to sell knives to under 18s either in stores or online, unless you took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid doing so. Until now, the amount of any fine or penalty imposed following an underage sale had been left to the court's discretion. This resulted in concerns that the fines were too low, which did not reflect the seriousness of the offence.

The new sentencing guidelines, published for both organisations and individuals, set out a more structured approach in keeping with other regulatory offences. It seems inevitable that there will be a significant increase in the amount of fines imposed for all retailers, both large and small.

The most significant change for retailers is that the level of fine will directly relate to their gross turnover. For example, the suggested range of fine for retailers with a turnover of £50 million or more, is between £200,000 and £1 million, in the most serious circumstances where appropriate measures were not in place to prevent underage sales from happening.

Individuals may also be prosecuted and could potentially face a community order or, in the most serious cases, a fine of up to 700% of their relevant weekly income.

The focus of the guidelines is upon the underage sale of knives. The legislation does, however, cover a much broader range of bladed articles including, for example, axes and razor blades. It is therefore important that retailers understand the scope of the legislation in order to identify which items of stock are subject to age restrictions. 

In light of the new guidelines, retailers would be well advised to consider:

  • Checking the up-to-date guidance relating to age restricted sales, particularly in respect of online sales
  • Reviewing the adequacy of underage sales policies and procedures for both in stores and online
  • Refreshing staff training
  • Regularly carrying out routine checks to ensure that underage sales policies and procedures are being followed.

If you would like to learn more about the sentencing guidelines or you need advice on age restricted sales, please get in touch with our experienced team of retail lawyers, who would be happy to assist you.

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.