The call came in the aftermath of Alcohol Awareness Week (October 18-24), which saw a proliferation of different, and in many cases conflicting, local campaigns to clamp down on underaged drinking and sales.
In Gateshead, for example, a scheme called 'Think Before They Drink' was launched. Retailers were asked to sign up to a new code of practice and adopt a Challenge 21 policy. In Kent, meanwhile, traders were subjected to stings by trading standards officers testing their Challenge 25 policies, while those in Portsmouth, Hampshire, faced close scrutiny of their written policies on underaged sales.
Independent retailer Jonathan James, who owns six stores and forecourts in the East of England, said the issue was not only confusing to retailers, but to shoppers, too. "It's a postcode lottery. In one town retailers will be getting hammered by trading standards officers on a points- scoring mission, while in another partnership working will be key. It's no way to tackle this extremely sensitive issue."
Charlie Mowat, managing director of test purchase specialist Serve Legal, said that the differences were putting retailers in an "impossible situation".
"Because of this, retailers are unable to formulate and implement national, company-wide policies to tackle underage sales, and train sales staff more effectively to meet higher expectations," he said.
Serve Legal is calling for the introduction of clearer legislation and a uniform approach to ensure consistency across the board.
"Unless these steps are taken, the issue of underage sales will remain a problem for society," Mowat added.