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8th December 2020 by Ian Martin

Selling age-restricted products to under 18's is illegal - how to comply as an online retailer?

Companies will be aware that selling certain products such as alcohol, tobacco and fireworks to anyone under 18 years of age is illegal. However, companies may not be so aware of the positive steps they are required to take under UK Government guidelines to check the age of customers buying these products.

Proof of age can easily be done in a shop by judging whether the customer looks old enough, or asking for photo id if the shopkeeper is unsure. It is much more tricky for online retailers to be certain a customer is over 18, yet the same responsibility applies to a website owner as it does to a shop owner.

In this article we explain what an online retailer's responsibilities are and how to comply with Trading Standards guidelines.

Duty of online retailers

It is the responsibility of online retailers not to sell age-restricted products to customers under the minimum legal age.

That is no surprise, but importantly it is also the duty of online retailers to use effective systems capable of verifying the age of potential purchasers to ensure they are old enough to buy a product.

The list of age-restricted products in the UK includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco and vaping products
  • Fireworks
  • Spray paints and hazardous chemicals
  • Cooking and camping knives
  • Certificate 18 films and games
  • Pharmaceuticals and medicines

What age checks are not likely to be viewed as taking 'due diligence' ?

What we mean by 'due diligence' here is all reasonable checks made by an online retailer to verify the customers age before selling them age-restricted products.

According to the Business Companion website (who describe themselves as "Trading Standards law explained") the following checks are unlikely to satisfy 'due diligence' , and thus not be a reasonable defence if an online retailer appeared in court for selling to an under age person.

Not sufficient to satisfy 'due diligence':

  • Using tick boxes to ask purchasers to confirm they are over 18.
  • Asking the purchaser to give a date of birth.
  • Relying on the purchaser confirming that they are over 18.
  • Using a general disclaimer on your website - e.g. "anyone ordering this product will be deemed to be at least 18".
  • An 'accept' tick box that the purchaser has read the website terms and conditions where it states they must be over 18.
  • Only taking credit card payment. Credit cards are not available to under 18s but some debit cards and pre-paid cards are.

Age verification methods that are likely to show compliance

Age verification checks are much more likely to display an online retailer's compliance with 'due diligence' and their responsibilities when selling age-restricted products. Examples of these age verification methods are:

  • Age Verification of a purchaser by matching name and address details against a frequently updated dataset comprised of the Electoral Role and other UK data sources. See more details on T2A's pay-as-you-go Age Verification method.
  • Obtaining proof of age at the door when delivering the product. However, third party delivery companies may not want to take responsibility for this on your behalf.
  • Follow up checks after the product has been ordered, for example if proof of age could not be done at the time of purchase. This can create time consuming admin for website owners and can be a problem if purchases slip through the net and forget to be checked.
  • If a website has stores as well, click and collect can be offered and age checks can be done face-to-face when the customer comes in to collect the product. This option is not likely to be viable for the majority of websites, just big brands with stores nationwide.


Considering the options above, the first option of verifying a purchaser's age against third party data, seems to be the best for the vast majority of websites that sell age-restricted products. The reasons are:

  • First and foremost the online retailer is doing the most they can by checking age at the point of purchase. This represents a good level of 'due diligence' should the retailer be accused of selling age-restricted products to someone under age.
  • Matching against data sources like the Electoral Role before the purchase is confirmed make it a reliable way to verify the purchaser's age without the admin that results from making manual age checks.
  • The online retailer does not have to rely on courier companies making an age check for them on delivery. A driver may forget to ask if they are busy with many deliveries, or the purchaser may not be at home which creates logistical issues when the product cannot be left at the door.

For more information on T2A's Age Verification method for online retailers, please click here.

This is also available as an Age Verification plugin for websites built using Wordpress and WooCommerce.


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