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Diet pills, also known as Appetite Suppressants or Fat Binders, are regulated by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority and, as such, are adult-only products unless directed otherwise by a GP or healthcare professional. Most carry minimum age recommendations on the product packaging. While it is not illegal to sell diet pills to young people, many retailers have voluntary codes in place to prevent underage sales. This means that they commit to asking young people to show photo evidence that they are 18 or older when trying to buy diet pills. Some operate a Challenge 21 or 25 policy in which anyone that looks under 21 or 25 trying to buy diet pills should be asked for proof that they are at least 18. 
 
At Serve Legal, we work with retail clients all over the UK and Ireland to support their commitment to responsible retailing, helping them keep age-restricted products like alcohol, knives, tobacco and e-cigarettes out of the hands of children. We also help retailers independently audit their compliance with voluntary codes, such as that in place for sales of energy drinks to young people. 
 
We viewed the Watchdog programme with concern and, six months on decided to carry out our own mystery shopper tests to see where we might be able to help retailers. Our 18-19 year old auditors were deployed to high streets in 10 towns and cities to buy diet pills from household name supermarkets, pharmacy chains and health stores, including those featured in the Watchdog investigation. Their experience showed that there is still room for improvement. 
 
In 50% of audits, auditors bought diet pills unchallenged with no proof of age requested. 
In 58% of audits, age restriction POS (e.g. Challenge 25) were not visible on or around the products. 
 
Auditors found that point of sale materials, labelling and packaging were inconsistently applied across retailers, with some stores within the same organisation applying different standards. On occasion, staff wore Challenge 25 badges on their uniform and Challenge 25 stickers were displayed at check-outs, yet there was an absence of age restriction signs around the diet supplements on shelves. 
 
In others, diet pills had additional packaging, security tags and labels stating that under 18s should only use the product under the supervision of a healthcare professional, but our auditors were able to buy them without being challenged for age ID. A number of pharmacies did advise the young auditors that before being permitted to purchase diet supplements, they would first need to have a consultation. 
 
After the Watchdog exposé, the high street retailers in question told the BBC that they would improve operational practices, staff training, customer communication and signage, with one introducing a Challenge 25 policy. Six months down the line, our audit finds that while some retailers are actively taking steps to improve performance through internal initiatives, they may benefit and make swifter progress with the help of external support to check compliance. 
 
With body confidence widely cited (Mental Health Foundation, Heads Together, Children’s Society et al) as a contributing factor in mental health problems amongst young people, some may be attracted to buying diet supplements. 
 
Our audit findings are a reminder to retailers selling diet supplements to be vigilant, consistent and tough on age verification and staff training if they are to improve compliance with their voluntary codes. Independent auditing of their own performance is a great place to start. 
 
 
To find out more about how Serve Legal can help and support your retail business, contact: Nadia Martins, Business Development Director, Serve Legal on 07483 031707, e: nadiamartins@servelegal.co.uk 
 
The Gambling Commission licenses and regulates the people and businesses that provide gambling in Great Britain. It mandates that operators put policies in place to prevent underage gambling. Checking the age of customers at the point of entry and at the counter is a key responsibility and there are harsh consequences for those that facilitate underage gambling. The vast majority of bookmakers have adopted Think 21 or Think 25 policies under which staff must ask customers that look to be under 21 or 25 for proof that they are over 18. 
 
To test the industry’s performance on age verification, Serve Legal runs independent audit programmes for the Gambling Commission, the ABB and individual bookmakers. With a community of 2,500 18-19 year-old auditors working in every part of the UK and Ireland, Serve Legal operates at scale, conducting over 150,000 audits a year. Auditors are deployed to bookmakers’ sites where they enter stores, place bets at the counter and/or use gaming machines. They record key information about the transaction, including whether photo ID was requested and if so when during the transaction; a description of the server; a betting receipt and other key facts, at times expanding to assess the quality of customer service and physical and emotional signs that a customer may be displaying distress related to gambling issues, the latter being an area that all bookmakers at the forum confirmed was high on their agenda. Sites where ID is requested in accordance with the organisation’s policies, pass the audit. Those that don’t, fail. 
 
Within 24 hours of audits being completed, clients receive an accurate, reliable report. Our Account managers provide supportive, strategic recommendations based on audit results and Serve Legal delivers bespoke staff, management and operational training packages where requested. Many Serve Legal clients build its data into their shop floor training and in-store operational systems to improve performance and ensure they’re not breaking the law. Training may take the form of onsite, interactive presentations for varying numbers of staff from multiple sites who wish to improve their knowledge, awareness and compliance. 
 
Meeting the Serve Legal team helps operators appreciate that its purpose is not to ‘catch anyone out’, but rather to support them in delivering against the promises they make to customers, the communities in which they operate, and the Gambling Commission, to prevent underage gambling. 
 
Fortunately for bookmakers and shop staff that fail independent audits, Serve Legal’s mystery shoppers aren’t underage and no laws are broken. However, the implications of taking a lax approach to age verification represent a significant threat to the gambling industry’s stance on responsible retailing. Operators found by Trading Standards or the police to be sanctioning underage gambling face the risk of prosecution, fines for both operators and individual staff members, and possible business closure for a repeat offence. 
 
Working with Serve Legal, bookmakers have improved their age verification audit pass rate every year for the last ten years, passing 89% of age check audits in 2019 - the highest average pass rate of any gambling retailer. Bookmakers are working extremely hard to prevent underage gambling and we’re here to support that effort across the entire gambling industry. 
 
Serve Legal carries out independent auditing of betting shops, racetracks, adult gaming centres, bingo halls and AWPs on licensed premises.  
 
To find out more about how Serve Legal can help and support your gambling business, get in touch at www.servelegal.co.uk or contact nadiamartins@servelegal.co.uk or 07483 031707. 
 
 
Developed in collaboration with food safety consultancy NT Assure, the Customer Experience Allergen Audit assesses how customers with allergies and dietary conditions are made to feel when eating out and how safe they believe they are when being guided by a brand’s information and staff. The audit helps food businesses evaluate and, where necessary, improve staff training, allergen labelling, communication and operational performance. It is designed to reduce risk, keep customers safe and improve their dining experience. 
 
Posing as allergy sufferers, or in some instances actual sufferers, Serve Legal’s community of 2,750 18-25 year old auditors will present without notice as customers at restaurants and cafes, bars and pubs, supermarkets and food-to-go counters across the UK and Ireland. They will: 
 
Ask staff questions about food preparation, ingredients and cross-contamination. 
Order and eat a meal or food-to-go item. 
Observe hygiene ratings, the display of allergen information and table and seating cleaning practices. 
Submit a report on the customer experience throughout which will be shared with the client within 48 hours. 
 
Audits and trials are already underway with high street operators and retailers including Dunelm, Scotmid Co-operative and others. 
 
Adam Rees, 27, has a severe allergy to nuts and peanuts with anaphylaxis. We spoke to him about his experience of eating out. 
 
“Recent tragic cases have highlighted the challenges that people like me face. When eating out, I always ensure that the person taking my order is aware of my allergies. I have experienced some amazing restaurants and procedures, but the vast majority have a long way to go to fully embrace and embed a proper allergy procedure. Many establishments feel that a printed grid stating which allergens are in which foods is satisfactory. However, they are often out of date and list only what the meal is meant to contain rather than ancillary ingredients used in the preparation or cooking of the food.” 
 
“ 
My best food-service allergy experiences are where a staff member has made me feel at ease from the get-go. Serve Legal and NT Assure’s audit is a huge step in the right direction. If it helps move the food industry - whether small establishments or major players - forward, it will be worth every penny of investment to reduce the risk of other deaths. 
 
” 
 
To find out more about the Customer Experience Allergen Audit, contact: Nadia Martins, Business Development Director, Serve Legal on 07483 031707,  
 
 
 
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