More alcohol sold to children in York – ‘because of face masks’
Face coverings are making it difficult for shop staff to identify underage customers who are trying to buy alcohol, tobacco and fireworks – according to council public protection teams.
Secret shoppers aged 16 volunteer to help the council find out which businesses are selling age-restricted products to underage customers – and the number caught selling alcohol increased significantly this year.
Matt Boxall, head of public protection for York, said this is likely to be because customers are wearing face coverings.
He said: “If the [volunteer shopper testing the shop for the council] is asked how old they are they must give their true age and if they’re asked for ID they must say they don’t have any.
“Obviously this year was slightly different in that the purchaser was wearing a face covering.
“Retailers are allowed to ask a customer to take off their face covering to establish proof of age, so in part it was a test of whether that was actually happening.
“You can see from the results where we undertook 11 visits, there were six sales. The failure rate was far higher than it usually is.”
Surprised by the figures
He said the council carried out follow up visits and all but one shop asked for ID the second time, adding: “It was a chain store and it was unfortunately the same seller that sold to the underage volunteer last time, so that that is a little disappointing to say the least.
“But we will be going through the process of interviewing the various parties to find out what happened there before deciding what further action is appropriate.”
Cllr Rachel Melly said she was surprised by the figures as she felt many retailers were more likely to ask customers for ID because face coverings make it difficult to guess someone’s age.
Cllr Mark Warters said he had concerns about the sale of fireworks.
He said: “I think there needs to be regular follow-ups with this, just to put it firmly in the minds of retailers.”
The council had complaints about fireworks being set off anti socially last October, according to a report.
It said: “In late October 2020, we began receiving complaints about the antisocial use of fireworks, particularly in the east of the city.”