Local authority regulator Lacors and the Home Office are on a collision course over potential changes to the test purchasing code of practice.
Lacors is reviewing the code, which sets guidelines for Trading Standards when using kids to buy alcohol and age-restricted goods to test whether retailers are breaking the law.
The Home Office last month riled retail trade bodies and unions when it called for operations to reflect real life situations better by changing the rules for test purchasing and permitting children to
lie about their age when challenged by a shop assistant.
However, Lacors executive director Derek Allen told The Grocer this week: “The current code recommends that children should tell the truth when asked by staff and we do not imagine this changing. Any new Lacors code will need to be endorsed by our board of directors and we do not anticipate that they would be willing to endorse any code that permits children to lie about their age.”
Lacors admitted that it could face tough negotiations with the Home Office, which will be involved in the consultation.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our view is that test purchasing operations ought to be carried out in a way that reflects the way that a young person would purchase alcohol.
“If a test purchaser is asked for an age and then gets served, the shop assistant has still committed an offence.
“Our final policy is being worked on and we will submit our opinion soon.”
Lacors has asked all local authorities in England and Wales to recommend changes to the code and a draft guide should go to the Lacors board on February 24. It will then go out for consultation and the new code of practice could be in force by the end of the spring.
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw plans to launch a campaign against any changes to test purchasing, including allowing children to lie about their age, that it believes would lead to entrapment of its members.
And The Grocer magazine has demanded that Home Office minister Hazel Blears defend the government’s position on test purchasing. We want to hear about your experiences of test purchasing. Have they been fair or do you feel underhand tactics have been used?
Fiona McLelland