A complaint!

Right, this needs to be blogged: Sainsbury’s have a serious attitude problem when it comes to alcohol and ID. (Gosh, I feel like Nic writing this!) They’re going way beyond what the law requires, and it’s ridiculous. Here’s the sob story…

After dinner, a group of us headed to a branch of the popular supermarket chain to do a quick bit of emergency shopping. I was after some orange juice, biscuits, milk… that kind of thing. Maybe even a pizza for lunch. It wasn’t exciting. At the checkout, I stand ready to pack my reusable bag (saving the planet, see) with these mundane items when the checkout lady spots a few bottles of beer and asks if I have any ID. ID? What? No? “Oh, that’s mine!” says Oliver cheerily as he takes out his proof of age. Great, let’s get going… except no. “I still need to see your ID” the woman says to me insistently. By this point she has resumed scanning, so a pile of goods is building up by the bag which I would be packing if I wasn’t standing there in a confused state. “But I’m not buying any alcohol!” “It doesn’t matter, he is.” “But he’s not with me! He’s doing his own shopping! We’re paying separately!” It won’t wash.

Trying the ‘just ignore her’ approach, I resume trying to pack but am very behind by this point. “Need any help?” asks Owen, who’s waiting for us having sped through a separate checkout, and starts helping me back. “I need ID from you too!” she shouts, accusingly. What? What?!

It turns out that Owen is now part of our ‘group’, and every single person in the group must now produce ID in order for Oliver to buy his own beer with his own ID. Abi and Joe are quickly recruited too, by dint of standing too close or conversing. Trying to negotiate, we offer our Cambridge student cards. Bearing our date of birth and photo, it’s pretty clear we’re all old enough to hypothetically buy the alcohol which we weren’t even trying to buy. But no, that’s not good enough. No, Oliver’s beer must be left behind.

How on earth did they come up with that? Does that mean that a mother or father can’t buy alcohol if their children happen to be with them? Why are we arbitrarily deemed to be a ‘group’ when we’re clearly all making separate purchases and just happen to be together? If we had just gone to separate checkouts, surely we would have defeated this system? What purpose does it serve anyway? Why doesn’t Sainsbury’s understand the most basic concepts of legal liability? How warped an attitude to alcohol are we going to have in this country? Why was I allowed to buy alcohol in the Willesden branch of Sainsbury’s without even being checked for ID myself?


Anyway, so that’s that. In-between being checked for ID for the right to talk to my friends in a supermarket queue, I actually spent my day being rather productive, writing my essay on twentieth century crime rates and watching The Apprentice alongside Abi. (You need to watch that in a group, really. It’s a programme designed for bitchy comments.)

Oh, and for next week’s Themes and Sources class the ‘surprise assignment’ turned out to be the fairly obvious one. Design your own utopia. In a group. Which is really silly, because utopias – indeed any social engineering from scratch project – is entirely pointless, but utopian planning by committee is taking it to another level. If only I was a Communist, this would be a hell of a lot easier…

One thing, however, is for sure. There will be no Sainsbury’s in my utopia.

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10 Comments on :
A complaint!

  1. Nathan Wong says:

    Ok, there are a combination of factors at play here. The law and Sainsbury’s policy both forbid under 18s purchasing alcohol, and those over 18 purchasing alcohol for others. The implication of you being together (even though you weren’t making a single transaction, you still appeared to the cashier to be in a group) was that one of you might be purchasing alcohol for others who were under 18. Yes, the cashier may very well have been over-zealous in her pursuing of the matter, but supermarket policy (a policy that’s exactly the same at both Asda and Tesco!) will fully back up her position.
    DOTS make regular licensing checks and sting operations on stores which lead to fines for the individual cashiers, the store, the store manager and the possibility of a license revocation. Perhaps the store had particular reason to believe that the DOTS would be visiting that week? Perhaps Sainsburys have just launched a large campaign in store to prevent this proxy purchasing. Perhaps the cashier had just been found to be selling alcohol to under 18s the previous week and was being extra vigilant, sore over the £80 fine that she’d previously received and wanting to still keep her job?

    Yes, incidents like this where an honest consumer does not get served to their satisfaction are obviously regrettable and pretty stupid, but they’re equally backed up by both law and the practicalities: minors often get access to alcohol exactly like this (even if, as you pointed out, Oliver could have circumvented it by going to a different checkout), and the cashier is VERY liable if this is the case.

    Sure, you might not have gotten IDed in London previously, but it was a different person serving you. Think 21 is as subjective as hell, and there’ll be plenty of people who I wouldn’t ID that another cashier would; and it’s no different in Tesco.

  2. Andy says:


  3. Red Dalek says:

    But Nathan – surely if Oliver had bought alcohol (using ID) and then given it to under 18s it would be him who had broken the law, not Sainsbury’s? They’re not expected to have any control over what happens to the alcohol once they’ve legally sold it to an adult?

    If they genuinely would get in trouble for that, then the law is unworkable and should be changed…

    (And I don’t blame the cashier – it was store policy!)

  4. Red Dalek says:

    Woah woah woah…

    "for a licensee knowingly to allow another person to *sell* alcohol to a person under 18"

    Surely that doesn’t cover the situation you then describe? That only seems to disallow the licensee from knowingly allowing the *sale* of alcohol to an under 18 year-old in their premises.

    According to the link you gave, there are 4 new provisions:

    – selling or knowingly allowing the sale of alcohol to a person under 18;

    – knowingly allowing the consumption of alcohol by a person under 18 in a bar; and

    – knowingly delivering or allowing the delivery to a person under 18 of alcohol sold in licensed premises for off-premise consumption.

    – create a new offence of purchasing alcohol on behalf of a person under 18.

    As you say, it’s an offence to attempt to *purchase* alcohol on behalf of an under 18 year old, but I can’t find anywhere which states that this is an offence on behalf of the retailer?

    Thanks for your legal expertise here though

    Edit – Indeed, the differing titles of 169A and B to C seem to bear this out?

  5. Nathan Wong says:

    Section 169(1) of the Licensing Act 1964 ("the 1964 Act" ) makes it an offence for a licensee or his "servant" (ie. his employee) to […] knowingly allow another person to sell alcohol to a person under 18. (i.e. someone buying alcohol on the behalf of a minor) – http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/en/ukpgaen_20000030_en_1

    Essentially a retailer is legally bound to refuse sale if they believe that the alcohol is being bought on behalf of a minor. It is also an offence on behalf of the proxy purchaser (£80 on the spot / £5000 court appearance fine).
    The law isn’t entirely unworkable though. Whereas there are doubtless countless cases of people getting around it, many times it can be suprisingly obvious when someone is buying alcohol on behalf of a minor.

  6. PG says:


    As your sister will tell you this time next year, one of the drawbacks of using regulations as a measure to combat a failure of the market (to properly recognise the negative externalities caused by alcohol consumption and its status as a demerit good) is that it is hard to make sure you are targetting the regulation at the correct person.

    Therefore Sainsburys are making sure, using a broad-brush approach – or this cashier (possibly for the reasons Nathan stated above) is using a broad-brush approach – that they cannot be accused of selling alcohol that might be consumed by a minor.

    Possibly, this regulation is unworkable, but do you have any better ideas?

  7. Red Dalek says:

    Ah, but I think we’ve established that the offending action is not actually mandated by regulation, and indeed Sainsbury’s have laid this out in an e-mail which talks vaguely of ‘social responsibility’. It’s not an offence to sell alcohol which might be consumed by a minor.

    But Sainsbury’s have a legal duty to maximise shareholder value within the confines of the law, not to ‘social responsibility’. So, my better idea is to put pressure on Sainsbury’s by balancing the gains they make from their own voluntary action (positive brand associations in certain quarters, possibly reduced threat of future regulation) with some losses (slight brand damage from anyone who reads and agrees with this blog!).

    Needless to say, it won’t work. But it makes me feel better

  8. yakman says:

    you could ddos their website,
    it would make you feel better about it,

    I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a situation like this, I really hate the helplessness, theres really not a lot you can do

  9. Red Dalek says:

    I really do want to stress that DDOS attacks are not the solution to every problem!

    And if we really do enter a phase of always carrying age-identification, then I guess the problem will go away. But a change in social attitudes to alcohol would be more helpful. Too few seem to remember that under-18s are *not* prohibited from drinking…

  10. Sanna says:

    In Sweden, you can’t buy any alcohol except very ‘light’ (?) beer in supermarkets. Everything else is sold in state-owned shops, and *everyone* has to show ID when buying, even if you’re clearly wrinkly. Makes it harder for under-age people to buy stronger drink themselves, but in my experience it doesn’t stop proxy buying.
    I don’t know how relevant that is, but it’s what came to mind. Good post Dom! xxx

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