A series of Freedom of Information Act requests sent to councils and police forces across the UK found they attempted 37,782 test purchases in the four-and-a-half years to 2012 – equating to one every 65 minutes.
The majority of the test purchases are conducted in the off-trade, and 5,842 people were caught out – one every seven hours.
“Retailers are pushing for more consistency,” said Matt Eastwood, commercial manager at independent test purchase ser- vice Serve Legal, which was hired to carry out 33,400 off-trade and 6,000 on-trade site visits in 2011.
“Sometimes retailers find out if they have had a test purchase and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they only find out if they have failed.
“There are also different approaches in different regions, and retailers want to see more regional consistency and transparency.”
Views are now being sought on a consul- tation paper called Age Restricted Products and Services: a Code of Practice for
Regulatory Delivery, developed by the Better Regulation Delivery Office.
James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “We have long argued for a code of practice in this area. This consultation is an impor- tant step.
“The objective must be to deliver consis- tency for retailers in what they can expect from trading standards and the police.
“We encourage retailers to get involved in the consultation.”
Meanwhile, a group of retailers in Glasgow has branded test purchases “futile” and open to corruption.
A team of social scientists at Glasgow University polled and interviewed 167 retailers in the city and published a paper on “shop servers’ experience of alcohol-related issues”. Retailers claimed test purchases are the “weakest” area of alcohol policy enforcement.
One said: “If a strange kid comes in and asks for drink and they just say OK and leave the shop when they’re asked for proof of age, it’s a test purchase.
“It they make a fuss, it’s not a test purchase, and the shop could get away with selling them alcohol if they wanted to.
“So test purchases only catch the innocent.”
Customer intelligence company Market Force claims young customers will be put off returning to an off-licence if they are asked for ID too forcefully, based on a survey of 1,506 youngsters it conducted.
Chief executive Tim Ogle said: “Fifty per cent of young customers feel the way they are asked for ID directly affects their experi- ence and if an establishment leaves them with a negative impression, one in three will not return.
“The amount of custom that is potentially lost through an intimidating ID process should serve as a wake-up call.”
Market Force has launched a scheme called Check-It, where 18 to 21-year-olds will go into a store, try to buy alcohol and offer feedback on the age verification experience.