Preventing underage knife sales - your 7-point action plan 

In the year ending March 2022, there were around 45,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales. The statistics show a 9% jump from the previous year and a 34% increase compared to 2010/11 figures. Of the 19,555 cautions and convictions made for possessing a knife or offensive weapon, 18% were juveniles aged between 10 and 17.  

On 1 April 2023, the Sentencing Council took action by introducing strict new guidelines. Retailers found guilty of selling knives to underage customers could be forced to pay unlimited fines, and individuals could face a possible prison sentence of up to six months. The rules apply in-store and online and also cover the sale of bladed kitchen utensils and butter knives.

Whether you manage a builders merchant or other retail outlet, it’s essential to understand and follow the new rules – and ensure your team take the correct action to prevent unlawful knife sales. 

What does the law say? 

Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence to sell or let on hire to a person under 18 years:

  • any knife, knife blade or razor blade
  • any axe
  • any sword
  • any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person

This section does not apply to:

  • any weapon to which section 141 of Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies
  • any article described in section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959
  • a folding pocket-knife if the cutting edge of its blade does not exceed 7.62 cm (3 inches)
  • razor blades permanently enclosed in a cartridge or housing where less than 2 mm of any blade is exposed beyond the plane which intersects the highest point of the surfaces preceding and following such blades

The offence of selling knives to children is prosecuted by the Trading Standards departments of local authorities. It’s used to prosecute retailers who do not implement necessary safeguards preventing juveniles from purchasing knives.

How to enforce responsible knife sales 

Awareness, training and consistency are key to protecting your business from prosecution. Builders merchants and other retailers can take control with simple strategies to protect themselves and their communities. 

  • Adopt the Challenge 21 policy – Insist on a valid form of ID from anyone who looks under the age of 21. Although Challenge 21 is voluntary, age verification provides critical protective measures on both sides of the till. Train your team on the importance of adhering to the policy – and the consequences of non-compliance.

  • Send a clear message with in-store signage – Display signs throughout your retail space outlining your commitment to responsible knife sales. Use Challenge 21 stickers and signage at till points to alert customers to your age verification policy.
  • Securely store and display knives – Position age-restricted products within plain sight of your counter staff or move dangerous goods behind the till. For extra security, think about displaying sharp objects in lockable cabinets or use dummy packaging to ensure customers interact with your sales team before buying.

  • Record refused purchases – Prove your commitment to safety – and the effectiveness of your policies – by keeping an ongoing log of refused purchases. Track essential details, including date, time, product and a description of the buyer. 
  • Train your team to be age-aware – Conduct regular training sessions for employees to educate them on age-restricted sales, knife laws and the importance of compliance. Consider a blend of training techniques, including team huddles, role plays and online training like Opus Compliance Cloud’s underage sales e-learning.

  • Outline a refusal procedure – Ensure staff are clear on how to handle encounters with underage customers. Consider a protocol that includes politely declining the sale, explaining a clearly displayed policy and escalating to a manager if needed.

  • Establish consequences for non-compliance – Communicate what happens if staff act in violation of your age restriction policy. These consequences could include disciplinary action or even termination for repeat offences.

Protect your business with expert safety support 

The Opus team are here to help with every aspect of health and safety. If you have questions about the sale of age-restricted products, talk to an Opus specialist. 

We’ll advise on easy-to-implement processes and signpost effective e-learning options for your entire team. Get in touch on or 0330 043 4015.