Fall in knives sold by national retailers to children

The number of knives sold to children by national retailers appears to have fallen significantly, according to new test purchasing data published by National Trading Standards.

Action to combat sales of knives to children is making a difference: test purchases carried out by local authority Trading Standards teams in 2019/20 showed that 32% of knives sold to children were bought at national retailers, down from 49% in 2018/19. 

Over the last two years some national retailers, working together with trading standards officers, have implemented several preventative measures including staff training; using locked cabinets to store knives; recording instances where staff have refused to sell a knife or other age restricted products to a young person; and ceasing to sell knives in some cases altogether.

The data show a modest decline in the reduction of knife sales to children overall. Of 1614 tests in stores carried out by Trading Standards in England and Wales between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020, retailers failed to prevent the sale of a knife to a child on 210 separate occasions (13%). This marks a 2.3% year on year reduction.

However, the data show independent stores need to do more to prevent the sale of knives to children. During the tests, the proportion of knives sold to children at independent outlets (rather than national retailers) jumped from 51% in 2018/19 to 68% in 2019/20. Knives were sold to under 18s on 143 occasions at independent retail outlets compared to 67 times at national retailers.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:

“The Trading Standards community is committed to working with retailers to prevent the illegal sale of knives to children. By promoting best practice, providing advice to businesses and taking proportionate enforcement action, where necessary, our teams work hard to secure compliance.

“It is extremely encouraging that this work is making a difference in reducing the number of knives sold to under-18s by national retailers. But there is still more work to be done. Our test purchasing data shows that there are still too many opportunities for children to purchase a knife. We must redouble efforts with independent outlets and provide the guidance and support they need to restrict sales to children. I recognise the challenges facing retailers in restricting knife sales to young people, but the law is clear and will be enforced.”

The programme is funded by the Home Office and is just one part of a multi-faceted approach to reducing knife crime.

Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said:

“The programme of work with retailers forms an important part of the drive to tackle the scourge of knife crime. While it is encouraging to see progress being made, more must be done to stop knives being sold to children.

“The Government is taking action across all fronts to clamp down on serious violence, including boosting law enforcement and introducing measures to stop dangerous weapons making their way onto our streets.”

Retailers that fail to take their responsibilities seriously face a range of enforcement activity including cautions, warnings and prosecutions. Over the past 12 months 39 premises-based retailers have been prosecuted for selling knives to children. 16 online retailers have also been prosecuted, including:

  • Cromwell Tools was ordered to pay £40,000 plus council court costs of £1,943.40 and a £170 victim surcharge after the underage test purchaser bought a Stanley fixed blade utility knife from
  • Perkin Knives Limited was fined £10,000 for selling a £35.55 Damascus knife via the website to a 13-year-old buyer
  • Bright Associates Limited was fined £11,725 plus court costs of £1,250 and a victim surcharge of £170 for selling an £11.98 six-piece knife set to the teenager via The teenager was able to buy the knives and scissors set even though he entered his true date of birth as part of the online sale process
  • Heaton Catering Equipment was fined £8,000 and ordered it to pay court costs of £1,865.80 and a £170 victim surcharge after a council test purchase volunteer bought a Giesser meat cleaver from

National Trading Standards is publishing results from the test purchases, which were carried out by young people aged under 18, to encourage best practice and highlight the issue. 

Notes to Editors

About National Trading Standards

National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a “safety net” to protect food supplies by ensuring the animal feed chain is safe.