Emerging from Lockdown into the New Normal -11/06/20
While chatting with our clients and auditors throughout the past few months, we’ve been relieved to hear that only a few experienced Coronavirus personally and all have made a full recovery.
I would like to say a big thank you on behalf of the team to all our clients and friends who have supported Serve Legal through the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Your messages of support and help have been warmly received and had a positive impact, enabling us to start re-emerging on a solid footing.
During the past couple of weeks we have amplified the re-engagement programme with our auditor community and with over fifty percent of clients resuming their age verification programmes in June and July, we are now able to offer our auditors regular work. Staying connected with our auditor community during lockdown was achieved by our bright and inventive Area Managers. They helped foster the Serve Legal Community spirit through various virtual activities such as Easter egg hunts, regular quiz-nights and Bingo. We have discovered numerous hidden talents exist amid our auditor community of 18 and 19-year olds, be they musicians with passions for a wide genre of music, jugglers, expert cake makers or artists living across the UK and Ireland; I can’t promise that we have the next MOBO, Mercury or British Bake off winner among us, but they have kept us and each other entertained. Some of the short surveys we have undertaken have provided an interesting window into the world of our loyal auditor community and the fantastic work and dedication of our Area Managers has allowed us to get back on our feet relatively quickly, though there is still a way to go.
Although time appeared to stand still for a while way back at the end of March and early April, birthdays have continued to be celebrated and some of our auditors turned twenty. With that, we are now busily recruiting throughout the UK and Ireland to allow us to return to the service levels we were delivering pre-Covid.
Of course, we acknowledge not everyone is back up and running and we very much hope circumstances improve dramatically for all of our hospitality, gaming and leisure clients. We look forward to all sectors re-establishing themselves and for their businesses to once again be thriving rather than surviving.
Like so many of you, we’ve not stood still during the enforced fallow period and instead took the opportunity to accelerate our investment in the new system and our technology, and we look forward to our clients benefiting from the improvements throughout the coming months.
In summary, we are back, and open to helping clients old and new to be as compliant as possible while also focussed on adapting our services to meet your ever changing needs and in doing so keeping the Serve Legal auditor community and your staff safe. The ‘new normal’ is here to stay for the foreseeable future; please be assured that the Serve Legal team and our vibrant community are up to the challenge.
To find out more about how Serve Legal can help and support your retail business, contact: Nadia Martins, Business Development Director, on 07483 031707, e: firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about becoming a Serve Legal auditor, email: email@example.com.
On moving to university, I wanted to combine study with paid work. Serve Legal needed experienced local auditors so I got in touch, picking up work straightaway, working flexibly around my timetable. By the end of my first year (2015), I was Highly Commended in the Auditor of the Year award.
Towards the end of my first year at uni, with 500+ audits completed, Serve Legal invited me to apply for an Assistant Coordinator role. This involved briefing new auditors, assigning and approving audits and providing holiday cover for an Area Manager, plus my audit work. Proud to have my potential recognised, I travelled to London for an interview with the management team. Going ‘behind the scenes’ at HQ was fascinating and they couldn’t have been friendlier. I was successful, starting my new role at an exciting time as the company celebrated its 10th anniversary.
After 12 months, my role evolved to Weekend Supervisor, managing the entire business’s weekend audit team and auditing quality control. It was fast-paced, and I enjoyed working with other young people who were balancing university life with work too. In just 18 months, I’d gained valuable work experience and been ‘thrown in at the deep end’, providing holiday cover for Area Managers, which was challenging but hugely beneficial for my confidence, understanding of the business and teamworking skills.
In summer 2018, three years after starting as a Serve Legal auditor, I graduated from university. After applying for several graduate schemes and reaching final interviews, I realised that my ideal job was already on offer with Serve Legal, so I formally applied for a full-time role as a combined Area Manager and Client & Sales Assistant. The role came naturally after working in Operations and I enjoyed supporting new auditors, drawing on personal experience. The client-facing part of the role, however, was new territory. Talking to clients on the phone was exciting, if daunting at first, but I quickly learned that Serve Legal’s reputation as a trusted service provider meant that conversations were friendly.
As a recent graduate, I was hugely grateful for the opportunity given to gain so much knowledge and experience. After nine months, I progressed to a Client & Sales Executive role, nurturing client relationships and supporting new business efforts. It’s been five non-stop years for me with Serve Legal and I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I’m still only 23, ambitious and looking forward to my next step. What a great place to start my career!
To find out more about becoming a Serve Legal auditor, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serve Legal’s reputation relies on the rigour and consistency of our auditors’ work and we have high expectations. Many join us with little or no work experience, but they move quickly into a world of compliance, trading standards and the law. The level of responsibility required goes beyond the expectations of other jobs typically taken at this age and they rise to the challenge. Technology is key for these digital natives and training, guidance and support are delivered via social media, video-sharing platforms and instant messaging. However, we haven’t forgotten the importance of human engagement and every auditor regularly speaks directly with their dedicated area manager, many of whom started out as fresh-faced 18 year old auditors themselves.
Operating remotely and flexibly from home, college or university, auditors take on audit work to suit their schedule and fit around commitments. To counter any sense of isolation or distance from our brand values, our employee engagement programme ensures that auditors feel motivated and part of a team doing important work. Excellent work is showcased through #ImpressEd, a Twitter-based initiative, and achievements are recognised with financial incentives. There is kudos in winning Auditor of the Month, Auditor of the Year, community and environmentally conscientious awards, in addition to a place in the Hall of Fame for exceptional performance.
We take the duty of care to our young colleagues seriously and have a network of regional area managers who mentor, motivate and support auditors at a local level. Despite having no physical premises aside from an administrative base in London, we have a strong sense of professionalism, camaraderie and corporate pride.
I find it hugely rewarding to see the transformation our auditors make from inexperienced teenagers at a crossroads in their education or early working life into confident, work-ready professionals. While the part-time and relatively short-term nature of contracts at Serve Legal means that we’re unable to offer apprenticeships, we nonetheless take our commitment to auditors’ career development and employability seriously.
Some of our auditors work for two years, others for months (average tenure is just under one year), but at the age of 20, most ‘retire’ because their apparent youth is vital to the credibility of our age-related audit services. On ‘retirement’, some transition into other audit services within the business such as sports media compliance and customer experience allergen auditing, and others progress into management positions. Some extend their education or go on to pursue successful careers elsewhere - we have lawyers, accountants and management consultants amongst our alumni. Auditors keep in touch, provide career updates and often seek opportunities to re-join the Serve Legal team.
The positive relationship we have with our auditors is mutually beneficial. They do an enjoyable, interesting job that fits around lifestyle, education or work commitments, and through which they develop confidence, independence and transferable skills to support future employability. We, the older, permanent members of staff, enjoy and benefit from the energy, tenacity and fresh thinking our auditors bring, not to mention the forcing of our hand to adopt ever advancing technologies.
During our 14 year history, 17,000+ teenagers have not only helped build a successful business but have contributed to a rise in compliance with the law by retailers all over the UK and Ireland. Without the audit programmes we deliver, I’m certain that harmful products would be more widely available to children. To Serve Legal auditors past, present and future, a heartfelt thank you.
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: email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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,