I have been following this new UK law carefully. It initially looked like it would threaten the very existence of TOG Knives and many other small British knife and tool makers. Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s original 2017 idea was to ban home deliveries of knives bought online. TOG would have had to have stopped trading or, at the very least, fundamentally change its business model.
I voiced my concerns to my local MP Liam Fox, who forwarded my letter to Amber Rudd. Whilst we did receive a reply from the Home Secretary, it merely said there would be a consultation and that they would press on with the proposal as planned. However, there was a petition to remove article 15 (the outright ban) from the bill and this received 24,000 signatures. In the end, those who contributed to the consultation were listened to (to some extent) and the outright ban was fortunately rejected.
Knife crime has certainly seen a steep rise, the number of cases in England and Wales doubling between 2013 and 2019.
Part of the Government’s response (the Serious Violence Strategy 2018) was to introduce the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA). This created new offences such as possession of a corrosive substance in a public place, threatening with a blade, offensive weapon or corrosive substance in a private place and possession of certain prohibited knives in a private place. More importantly for TOG and similar companies, it introduced a range of requirements relating to the sale and delivery of blades.
In 1998 The Criminal Justice Act prohibited the sale of knives (with blades over 3”) to under 18’s. The OWA now specifies requirements around “remote sales” of knives and bladed products, which includes telephone orders and online orders.
The following is taken directly from the OWA:
The defence requires proof that the seller took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence of selling to an under 18. To rely on the defence, as a minimum, all the following conditions below must be met:
- the seller has a system in place to verify the age of the purchaser and that they are not under 18, and that the system is likely to prevent purchases by under 18s;
- the package when dispatched by the seller is clearly marked that it both contains a bladed article and that it can only be delivered and handed over to a person aged 18 or over (whether the purchaser or someone representing them);
- the seller has taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to ensure that when the package is delivered, it is handed over to a person aged 18 or over. This applies whether the seller delivers the package themselves or through a third party e.g. by staff at a collection point; and
- the seller does not deliver the package, or arrange for it to be delivered, to a locker.
At TOG we have been using Age Verification on Delivery for a number of years. This service is provided by DPD and UPS, both of which we use to ship orders for us. The couriers should not deliver the goods unless proof of age is shown upon delivery. They should not therefore ever leave a parcel in a ‘safe place’ either. We have had a number of reports from customers that ID was not requested or required at point of delivery. However, there is little we can do about this other than use Age Verification services on all deliveries and report to the courier when we know it has not been carried out.
We have also been marking all packages “Bladed Product – Adult Signature Required on Delivery” as per the legislation for some years.
In April 2022, a number of changes to the 2019 Act came into force, including the requirement for Age Verification at point of purchase. We have partnered with VerifyMyAge which offers quite a sophisticated solution.
“VerifyMyAge works with a comprehensive range of technology partners to create an age assurance ecosystem of data, deep tech and artificial intelligence partners, resulting in the most comprehensive and effective age verification and estimation solution available.”
92% of customers will not even realise their age is being checked. The customer’s name and address is checked against databases including the electoral register, Experian and open banking data and if they can be verified as being 18 or over, the order is shipped as normal.
The 8% of customers that cannot be checked with this method are verified after order completion using facial biometrics, credit card information, utility data, passport or driving licence.
Personally, I am sceptical about whether the Offensive Weapons Act can reduce knife crime – there are already over 400,000,000 knives in kitchen drawers all over the UK that are readily available for such horrific crimes. The crime figures have come down 16% between 2020 and 2021, which is great, but I suspect this is due to lockdown and fewer people on the streets.