Digital Age Assurance and how the UK is preparing for its introduction.
Change is coming. New legislation concerning Age Verification means that retailers must be sure they are on the front foot in meeting this new and welcome challenge. But how can the latest, innovative technology help? David Nicholls, CTO Retail and Hospitality for Fujitsu in the UK, interviewed Iain Corby (Executive Director) from the Age Verification Providers Association (AVPA) to understand the work being undertaken by UK Government and what the sector and what you need to do – as a retailer – to be prepared for the introduction of Digital Age Assurance.
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What exactly is Digital Age Assurance and how will it improve upon current age controls?
Digital Age Assurance has two strands - firstly age estimation where new technologies can anonymously estimate a customer’s age at the point of sale - but also age verification that allows registered customers to use their mobile phone to verify their age and interact with members of staff or self-service devices. Currently, retailers need a member of staff to verify a purchaser’s age which is costly and time-consuming. Also, staff are not always great at estimating age and can be easily duped by fake or borrowed ID. Now we can put some rigour into ensuring that retailers are confident they are selling age-appropriate products to the right customer.
Until now, what barriers have prevented the use of Digital Age Assurance solutions by businesses?
Strict interpretation of the UK licensing laws requires a customer to produce a recognized photo ID containing their date of birth, if challenged. The customer ID should contain either a hologram or ultraviolet mark, neither of which can be reproduced digitally. PASS audits and approves “Issuers” of cards which carry its logo.
Can you explain the role of the UK Government concerning the introduction of Digital Age Assurance?
The UK Home Office wanted to understand the efficacy of digital age assurance technologies and whether they introduced improved age controls preventing children from coming to harm.
The Home Office initiated a Sandbox trial and invited technology companies and retailers (“Acceptors”) to trial their technology in a live customer environment for 5 months with the active support of local Trading Standards, Licensing Authorities and Policing.
Independent research produced from these trials demonstrated that digital age assurance technology introduced more effective controls and improved regulatory compliance when enforcing age checks and retailers and customers welcomed the speed, convenience and simplicity of the technology.
Put simply, it proved that the technology is more effective than current manual age checks.
What action is the UK Government taking in preparing for the adoption of Digital Age Assurance?
The UK Government invited PASS - the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme - to expand its remit to develop a new standard for digital proof of age through a consultative process.
Technology partners were also challenged with putting in place the systems and infrastructure to create an interoperable scheme for Acceptors, Issuers and technology providers that would enable a customer to digitally verify their age using their mobile phone.
Fujitsu has been appointed by PASS as the partner to develop the scheme and enable digital age controls to be introduced into self-service and assisted sales channels.
The Home Office is consulting on amendments to current legislation. If positive, the next step would be the approval of a minor change to the law by Parliament. In my opinion, this could be all set for implementation by the end of 2023.
What will Digital Age Assurance enable retailers and customers to do that they can’t do today?
It’s a game changer for customers, to no longer be left waiting for a member of staff to come and check their age. This will enable retailers to allocate their workforce to more precious areas. Think about self-service tills, scan and pay, click and collect, vending and home delivery; all these areas of service will benefit in customer convenience and experience, improved colleague productivity and safety, as well as cost savings.
Another important improvement is that it can drastically reduce conflict and potential violence and abuse towards colleagues in store. Technology removes the need for members of staff to make assumptions around people’s age.
Also, if retailers want to engage with young people, digital is the way to go. Young people these days don't tend to leave home with multiple items - keys, wallet and phone. They want to be able to do everything using their phone, whether that's payment or proving their age. And so, this is a solution which will allow them to do that.
What can businesses do now to prepare for Digital Age Assurance?
My best advice is to get involved in the process now, have an active role in the scheme and technology development. This way retailers can guarantee it matches perfectly with their operating model.
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This article was also published in The Retailer, our quarterly online magazine providing thought-leading insights from BRC experts and Associate Members.