A new report suggests proxy purchasing has almost trebled in the past 12 years and retailers have demanded help from the police and the government.
OLN surveyed 300 drinks retailers across the UK and the majority said they were worried about proxy purchasing but felt helpless in the face of public ignorance.
Ninety per cent said they felt the public was unaware that retailers can be fined up to £5,000 and lose their licences.
“A public awareness campaign is required and the law should be changed so that retailers should not be personally responsible,” said one retailer.
Another added: “A public awareness campaign would help them think about how they would feel if it was their livelihood.”
One retailer said: “Buying for kids is a real problem. There needs to be more public education, more consequences and the fines should be advertised.”
Our findings are backed up by a new survey of 4,000 shoppers from the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. It found that while 81% knew it was illegal to purchase alcohol on behalf of a minor, just 26% were aware retailers could be fined over it.
The number of adults buying alcohol for children has shot up from 9% to 26% in the past 12 years, according to the Department of Health, with parents or friends the most likely sources.
WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: “Tackling under-age sales of alcohol is a key priority for the industry and good progress is being made thanks to Challenge 25.
“However, as alcohol has become increasingly difficult for young people to buy directly, there has been a worrying increase in proxy purchasing.
“More needs to be done in partnership with government, schools and others to tackle this growing problem as it is an issue that retailers are unable to tackle on their own.”
Ninety-four per cent of those we surveyed said it was unfair to blame retailers for the problem. Many called for a change in law to shift the onus to parents.
“Retailers are the easy target. We have minimal control – the purchasers are the culprits,” said one.
Another said: “It is very difficult to prevent a crime you don’t know is being committed.”
Sixty-two per cent of the retailers we polled said the onus of responsibility should lie with parents, while 22% said older friends and siblings, 5% said retailers and 11% said the police.
Elaine Hindal, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: “It is illegal for parents to purchase alcohol on behalf of someone under 18. Worse still, it normalises a culture of excessive drinking among young people.
“We want to reassure parents that not all young people drink alcohol, and that it is important to support children to celebrate without it, whether they are going on holiday for the first time with their friends or attending a school prom party.”
One retailer said: “The irresponsible adults who are making the purchases should be blamed.”
Another said: “There is a real difficulty when parents buy it. How do you know what they are going to do with it when they leave the store?”
One respondent said: “We have had high fines for retailers in the past. If retailers sell to over 18s they should not be punished for that stock being passed on to juveniles. Fine the purchasers, not retailers.”
Others felt there should be more work between retailers, the authorities, parents and schools to tackle the problem in a joined-up fashion.
Three-quarters of retailers said they would like to see the police do more to clamp down on proxy purchasing, but many agreed it would be difficult due to a lack of manpower.
“I would like more patrols in town centres, stop and search and confiscate alcohol on those who can’t prove their age. Make the retailer aware a proxy sale has been made and tell them to be more vigilant,” said one.
Another said the authorities should invest in “strong marketing to get the message across” and “make an example in each area and tell the local press as this would be a good deterrent”.