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Offensive Weapons Act enforced from today

The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA2019) is being enforced from today (April 6 2022). Trading Standards and the Police will ensure that age restrictions are being carried out for the purchase of kitchen knives in stores and online. Due to the way the law is written, cutlery knives could also be regarded as offensive weapons, although a Trading Standard representative has told BHETA that she does not think blunt table knives are appropriate for test cases. sums up the implications of the OWA2019 for knives retailers, with input from BHETA, which has coordinated and hosted the Responsible Knives Sales Steering Group with leading suppliers and retailers and worked with the Met Police since 2019.

Retailers of knives need to practice in-store 18+ age verification (with many retailers now using Challenge 25 signage). Online sellers need a robust age verification system at the point of online purchase and use clearly marked packaging using specific wording. The seller must ensure a delivered package is handed over to a person aged 18 or over, so no deliveries can be made to lockers. However, the seller can deliver to a collection point if in-person age verification does take place. Appropriate staff training is required for retail teams (see link at end of this story).

The situation with respect to sales of cutlery (table knives) remains challenging for the housewares industry, with a lack of universal clarity. BHETA’s marketing manager Steve Richardson sums up: “Due to the way the legislation is worded, any item that could be described as a knife – including cutlery knives – are technically included. This has been the case since 1988 but largely ignored as irrelevant as most cutlery knives are not used in youth knife crime. The new OWA2019 regulations has reminded everyone that cutlery knives are technically an ‘age restricted sale’.”

The Home Office has stated: ‘The legislation in relation to sale of bladed articles to under 18s is silent in relation to whether the blade is blunt or not. Therefore, a knife with a blunt blade or rounded end is still a knife and subject to age verification.’

Above: Cutlery knives are technically age-restricted sales.
Above: Cutlery knives are technically age-restricted sales.

The Expert Panel on Age Restrictions held a Special Meeting on the Offensive Weapons Act in March and challenged the Home Office representatives on the inclusion of cutlery knives. During that meeting The Home Office representative said: “In terms of bladed products, we [The Home Office] had in mind larger knives capable of greater harm, such as chef knives, combat knives, hunting knives. Pizza cutters were excluded from the list for this reason”.

However, due to the way the legislation is worded, “The Age Restrictions Panel agreed that cutlery knives are likely to be caught by Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 , although children’s cutlery, wooden cutlery or picnic cutlery would be unlikely to be considered offensive weapons by a court”.

Acknowledging the actions of some retail members of the BHETA Responsible Knives Steering Group, Steve states: We do not know what each retailer is planning but we are aware that some retailers and suppliers are applying age verification software to online cutlery sales and introducing age-verified deliveries for anything that could be described as a knife.”

BHETA has also highlighted the views of Trading Standards representatives regarding blunt cutlery. Trish Burls, Trading Standards manager for the London Borough of Croydon has voiced the opinion of many members of Trading Standards departments and the Police, stating: “In relation to test purchasing of knives, a test purchaser in Croydon would not be directed to attempt a purchase of a piece of cutlery (ie a ‘table knife’ which tend to form part of a knife, fork and spoon set). These are not, in my opinion, appropriate items to test and I would struggle to understand … why anyone would think otherwise”.

* Bira (British Independent Retailers Association) will be sharing guidelines with members when it has received any further advice from its consultations with Trading Standards and the Met Police. Retailers can access Bira’s hub for safe sales of knives here.

* A useful toolkit for housewares retailers, created in consultation with Bira, can be found here.


Top: Knives are an essential food preparation tool in every kitchen.

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