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Age verification technology in alcohol sales - trial findings published Published Date: 01/01/2023

The government is developing plans to improve access to services, safeguard privacy and combat fraud through the use of digital identities. This will allow people to establish their identity digitally, rather than relying on physical documents.

New legislation

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) leads on developing regulation around the use of digital ID and is bringing legislation in this parliamentary session. This includes a digital ID trust framework which is a set of rules and standards that digital identity providers can follow to show users that their services are trustworthy.

A potential challenge to this development is the mandatory condition set out in paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010, which requires presentation of identification bearing a holographic mark or ultraviolet feature upon request when purchasing alcohol.

Trialling digital technology

In support of the government’s plans for broader use of digital technology in everyday life, the Home Office worked with the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) to allow the trial of technologies that could help with age verification for retail alcohol sales.

This provided an opportunity for technology companies and retailers to test innovative approaches to age verification, such as digital ID and other products with age assurance attributes, in the specific context of the sale of alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003.

Key learning

Nine trials ran during 2022, testing age estimation technology and digital ID apps in a variety of retail environments. The age verification mandatory condition remained in place throughout. Key learning from the trial included:

  • Uptake of age estimation technology at self-scan checkouts suggests that there is appetite for digital age assessment.
  • The majority of trials of digital ID apps experienced very low take up.
  • The trials did not assess accuracy of the technology but did demonstrate that it is sensitive to a number of environmental factors that could impact on reliability, for example positioning of equipment relative to bright light. Licence holders will need to consider carefully if age verification technologies can work in their premises to realise the benefits consistently.
  • A number of trials aimed to explore if technology could reduce queuing time to enter licensed premises. Findings were inconclusive and suggest that speed of entry to venues will be dependent on practical factors such as good phone battery and wifi signal.

For further information, see details of each trial.

The outcome

The work was an important step to further understanding what needs to be in place to successfully embed age verification technologies into an existing robust monitoring and enforcement licensing regime.

The trials generated a number of outcomes that provide important learning points for alcohol retailers and for those responsible for monitoring and enforcement.

Next steps

The government will now carefully consider the next steps and provide further updates as soon as possible.