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Retailers ‘face fines up to £1m’ for selling knives online or in-store to underage shoppers

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Large UK retailers could be faced with up to £1m in fines if they sell knives to underage customers online or in-store, a lawyer is warning.

New guidelines published this month mean that retailers must take care not to sell knives to under-18s – or risk large fines, says Ashley Borthwick, of international law firm Womble Bond Dickinson.

Borthwick says: “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 £1m, in the most serious circumstances where appropriate measures were not in place to prevent underage sales from happening.”

The guidelines, says Borthwick, 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.”

Individuals could also be prosecuted says Borthwick, with potential penalties including a community order or a fine of up to 700% of their relevant weekly income. As well as knives, bladed items from axes to razor blades also fall within the scope of the legislation. 

Borthwick recommends that retailers check the latest guidance on age restricted sales, particularly online, while also reviewing whether their underage sales policies and procedures are adequate in relation to both stores and online. They should ensure staff are trained and carry out regular routine checks to be sure that they are following the policies and procedures. 

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