The government has agreed to launch a national campaign to encourage retailers to ask for ID from anyone who looks under 21 and is attempting to buy alcohol.

The decision follows meetings between the Home Office, led by Home Secretary Charles Clarke, and representatives from supermarket chains and c-stores, in which it was agreed that the licensed retail trade would aim to eliminate all sales of alcohol to the underaged by the end of 2006.

During discussions, representatives from the retail trade called on the government to do more to highlight that anyone under 18 buying alcohol is committing an offence which would lead to an £80 fixed- penalty notice. The government has recognised that, to give retailers a realistic chance of reaching its target of eliminating test purchasing failures, a national campaign needs to be in place.

The campaign will include posters and till point signage to raise awareness. The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), which has always called on its members to maintain a strict No ID No Sale policy, believes there will soon be no excuse for retailers who fail test purchases. ACS public affairs manager James Lowman said: “Make absolutely no mistake, the government is deadly serious about tackling underage sales. Retailers who do not keep to a strict policy of asking for ID face the risk of failing a test purchase and this will have serious consequences. A national campaign backed by the government that is available to all retailers will help make sure the targets that have been set can be achieved.”

Penalties for those caught selling alcohol to children include a £80 fixed-penalty notice for the staff member found making a sale, a £5,000 fine for licensees on conviction, and licences being suspended, altered or revoked. More than 5,500 test purchasing ‘sting’ operations will take place at retail outlets in the run up to Christmas. As part of the biggest-ever national crackdown on rogue licensees and drunken anti-social behaviour, underage volunteers, under Trading Standards supervision, will attempt to buy alcohol from licensed premises across the UK.

Home Office minister Paul Coggins, who announced the new blitz on alcohol-fuelled disorder, said: “Some 40% of supermarkets, c-stores, pubs and clubs sold booze to kids during last summer’s 909 sting operations that took place in 25 towns. These failure rates are unacceptable and too high. My message to retailers and licensees is clear - get your house in order and stop selling alcohol to kids under 18.”