Convenience stores could soon be legally obliged to operate a defined age verification policy such as Challenge 21 to prevent sales of alcohol to youngsters.

The government has made the condition part of its proposed mandatory code of practice for alcohol retailers. The details still have to be approved by Parliament but, assuming they are rubber-stamped by MPs, the requirement will come into effect from October 1 this year.

Local councils were last month given greater powers to tackle so-called problem premises, including the ability to review, restrict or even remove licences from outlets without having received a single complaint from the public or the police.

The Association of Convenience Stores assured responsible local retailers that they had nothing to fear from the code. "Retailers know they have to develop a robust sales prevention policy and a comprehensive approach to staff training," said chief executive James Lowman. "They accept that if they fail in their responsibilities they face tough sanctions, but we expect this to be matched by a commitment from politicians, police and communities to support shops in their difficult frontline role."