Q: I run an inner city bar and over the last few months I’ve seen a small increase in the number of people buying non-alcoholic / low-alcoholic beer. In fact we now stock a non-alcoholic cider and two bottled beers, including a low-alcohol craft beer. My local Police Officer tells me that I should still operate challenge 25 when selling these drinks. Is that correct as my staff have refused sales to younger looking customers on occasion and it’s causing a bit of an issue?
A: Legally speaking, under-18’s can purchase low and non-alcoholic beers in pubs. However, for this to be lawful the drinks you are selling must be below 0.5% ABV. This is because the Licensing Act 2003 states that alcohol means beer, wine, cider, spirits and other liquors over 0.5% ABV. Therefore, any drink below 0.5% ABV is not classed as alcohol so relevant ‘underage laws’ do not apply. However, many operators and retailers still operate the Challenge 25 scheme for both low and non-alcoholic beers due to practicality, not legality. For instance it can be confusing for your bar staff to be constantly checking the ABV of drinks they are selling to people that they suspect of being under 25.
And the packaging and designs on bottles do not always make it obvious which beers are, and are not, alcohol free. Also, you do not want your staff to get into the habit of not challenging the people they believe are under 25.
Adding to the confusion is the difference between low alcohol and non-alcoholic beers. Legally, any beer that contains no more than 1.2% ABV is classed as low-alcohol, but is still alcohol as it is above the Government’s 0.5% threshold; so you cannot serve this to under 18s.
So, even though it is not the law, I would agree with your local Police Officer and continue to run your Challenge 25 scheme. It is a criminal offence to sell alcohol to a person aged under 18 and you can receive a range of penalties which, in worst case scenarios, can include an unlimited fine and the possible suspension of alcohol sales for up to three months.
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