Delivering a problem? Online sales and deliveries of alcohol

English | Cymraeg

30 March 2022

Executive summary

In recent times, UK consumers have been buying alcohol online in record numbers, from an ever-growing variety of retailers, increasingly promising delivery to the doorstep within minutes.

However, as the market continues to expand, Alcohol Change UK’s commissioned research questions how robust current systems are in protecting children and vulnerable adults from alcohol harm. In particular:

  • Research from Wrexham Glyndŵr University, commissioned by Alcohol Change UK, examined online age verification controls on retailers’ websites. The research identified major weaknesses, concluding that current methods of online age verification are “largely ineffectual”
  • A test purchases operation, commissioned by Alcohol Change UK, tested a range of online retailers selling alcohol. It found that in 72% of cases where alcohol was ordered for delivery within two hours, this was subsequently handed over to the 18- and 19-year-old test purchasers without seeking proof of age. This is in direct contravention of retailers’ own policies on delivering age-restricted items to those who may be underage
  • Qualitative research, undertaken by Cogent Research on behalf of Alcohol Change UK, revealed confusion amongst delivery drivers about retailers’ policies on age verification, and a lack of effective age verification training. Similar concerns were identified in relation to deliveries to intoxicated customers

The findings suggest that retailers selling alcohol online are failing in their responsibilities to ensure that alcohol is not being delivered to minors, or intoxicated adults, on the doorstep and immediate improvement is needed. We recommend taking a multi-component approach to this issue, including:

  • A robust training and support system being set up by retailers, to enable their delivery drivers to effectively and routinely refuse to hand over alcohol to anyone
    underage or showing visible signs of intoxication
  • Police and trading standards teams across England and Wales routinely undertaking test purchase operations using participants under 18 years of age, to test retailers’ adherence to the law and their own policies in not selling or delivering alcohol to minors; with consideration also given to how best to test whether alcohol is being delivered to people who are intoxicated
  • Further research examining the extent to which minors may be acquiring alcohol via online sales and home deliveries
  • Revisiting the licensing legislation in England and Wales, and the associated guidance, to ensure it provides the necessary clarity for all concerned about their roles and responsibilities when selling alcohol online and delivering it to people’s homes.