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Knife sales legislation will cause challenges

The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA) is due to be enforced from next month (April 2022), affecting suppliers and retailers of knives. However, the OWA has already made significant impact on the housewares industry, and will cause challenges in the future, highlights Will Jones, chief operating officer of BHETA, the trade association for UK suppliers of housewares and small electricals.

Above: BHETA’s Will Jones.
Above: BHETA’s Will Jones.

Talking exclusively to, Will acknowledges that the OWA legislation “is undoubtedly restricting sales of new kitchen knives where retailers have taken them off sale.” Some retailers have been put off by extra costs for the installation of in-store storage systems, staff training needs, and (particularly for those selling online), the cost of bespoke age-verified sales systems and age-verified delivery services. While retailers can compensate for lost knives sales by expanding their stock of different housewares categories, Will notes that some specialist suppliers will feel the impact of fewer orders more adversely.

Importantly, highlighting the positive influence that the OWA is having, Will reports: “Undoubtedly retailers have improved their knife retailing practices which will minimise theft and reduce the number of underage sales. Both these outcomes are good for the retailers and society in general.”

However, Will recognises that the extent to which the OWA will prevent knife crime remains uncertain, as the legislation cannot change the societal reasons for knife crime and the fact the millions of knives can easily be picked up in kitchens.

“The limited data BHETA has seen suggests that the majority of knife crime involving kitchen knives is undertaken using items sourced from the 400+ million knives estimated to be in kitchen drawers,” states Will. “Knife crime is relatively rarely undertaken using items purchased or stolen from retailers with that intent. BHETA does acknowledge that there are cases where recently purchased knives are used in crime, but they are few and far between.”

Looking ahead, the enforcement of the OWA presents several challenges for online sales of knives in the UK, including the likelihood of price escalation to cover the cost of age verification systems. On the plus side, Will reflects: “With more people cooking from scratch, knife sales are currently holding up reasonably well, and many online retailers have had systems in place for some time.”

Above: Parcelforce is among those offering an age-verified delivery service for bladed products.
Above: Parcelforce is among those offering an age-verified delivery service for bladed products.

Will points out that with the enforcement of the OWA, it is a legal requirement for all online sales of knives to display a label on the exterior package stating: “contains a bladed product.” This could be problematic as it “advertises to criminals in the postal and courier industries which parcels to steal.”

Competitively priced knives dispatched to UK consumers from other countries present a further challenge. “To stop online sales from overseas suppliers will require significant effort and intelligence from the UK Border Force and it is questionable whether the resources are available,” notes Will.

Since 2019, BHETA has been working with leading retailers and suppliers in its Responsible Knife Retailing Group, as well as the crime prevention unit of The Metropolitan Police.

  •, BHETA, and the housewares industry are united in recognising the tragic and life-changing impact of knife crime and extend sympathies to all those affected by it.
  • Key points for the sale of knives include the need for in-store 18+ age verification (with many retailers now using Challenge 25 signage) and online systems, appropriate staff training, clearly marked packaging, and no deliveries to lockers, collection points or ‘safe’ places.
  • Recent coverage of Cutlery in the OWA, can be found HERE understands that steak knives (often sharp and pointed) should be differentiated from rounded and blunt ‘cutlery’ or ‘table’ knives – more HERE.

* For the government’s statutory guidance on the OWA, see Part 3 on the sale and delivery of knives HERE.

* For more information about BHETA and its Responsible Knife Retailing Group, contact Zara Miah at BHETA member services on 0121 237 1130, email, or visit the BHETA website


Top: There are an estimated 400+million knives in kitchens in the UK. Image by Anabella Castro.

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