Advances in AI are accelerating at pace and impacting on so many sectors of the economy including hospitality. The Government has recently launched an 8-week consultation on whether to allow digital identities and technology to be used in the age verification of alcohol sales.

What are the proposals?

There are three proposed approaches for the use of digital verification in alcohol sales. These are;

  1. Do nothing and continue to only allow traditional identity documents;
  2. In addition to traditional documents, allow digital identities to be used to verify age;
  3. In addition to traditional documents, allow age estimation and other technology to be used for age verification.

The Consultation is also seeking opinions on whether to amend the law surrounding remote sales of alcohol. The proposed options are;

  1. Continue the three standard checks when remotely selling alcohol;
  2. Amend the Licensing Act 2003 so that the three standard checks take place at the point of sale but also take place at the point of delivery/service;
  3. Amend Section 182 guidance to state that the three standard checks take place at the point of sale and at the point of delivery/service.

What could this mean for operators and retailers?

If the government concludes that the age verification process should remain the same, there will be no change for operators and retailers to make. But in my view the use of AI technology will only increase and the Licensing Act 2003 will have to been amended to remain relevant and effective.

If a decision is made to move forward with the use of digital age verification for alcohol sales, operators and retailers will need to consider how this will be implemented within their current verification process. It is likely that significant staff training will be required to ensure continued compliance with the Act and ensure that no unauthorised sales take place. But with the rapid rollout of self service checkouts in shops and table service in pubs and restaurants where there is no face to face contact at point of sale surely the time has come for the Licensing Act 2003 to reflect the world we live in.

Age estimation software

If the government choose to harness AI technology to allow for age estimation as a verification tool, there will need to be a decision/guidance on the software that can be used to provide such an estimation. The software will need to be accurate to ensure that individuals under the age of 18 are not permitted to purchase alcohol as a result of an incorrect estimation. Guidance would be needed in relation to whether operators and retailers continue to have authority to refuse a sale if they believe that an individual is under the age of 18 despite the provided estimate stating otherwise. In some supermarkets this practice is already up and running.

In addition, if the Licensing Act 2003 is amended to require the standard checks to be additionally completed at delivery/service this could have a significant impact on operators and retailers who deliver alcohol e.g. as part of an online shopping order or takeaway delivery service. In the event that a consumer is unable to satisfy the standard checks, delivery would have to be refused and the sale incomplete. This is perhaps not an enforcement priority at the moment but if that changes a more proactive door step policy will be needed. Again the popularity of online sales and delivery apps was not foreseen when the Licensing Act 2003 came into force and we’re now playing catch up.

When is new legislation expected?

As with any change in legislation it is likely to be a while until any decided amendment to the Licensing Act is implemented and significant guidance will likely be required but it must surely be on the horizon.

The consultation is set to end on 30 March 2024 and can be found here.

For further information contact Lisa Gilligan

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.