Alcohol delivery companies ‘unfairly tarnished’ by VicHealth

28 May, 2020 by Brydie Allen

This week, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) released their research into online alcohol delivery services in the state.

The research, which asked “over 1600 Victorians” about their use of on-demand alcohol delivery services, resulted in four main findings which claimed the services were regularly linked to increased frequency of risky drinking, alcohol related harm, and lack of RSA compliance. 

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VicHealth’s CEO, Dr Sandro Demaio, said he was concerned about how companies were operating, and called on the Government for reforms. 

Those profiting from on-demand delivery are fuelling alcohol harms in our homes without following any of the standards our community expects for the service of alcohol… Alcohol delivery services are allowed to operate like cowboys in Victoria – it’s causing harm and it’s time to rein them in.” Dr Demaio said.

Retail Drinks has responded to the research, clarifying that VicHealth’s survey was confused by illegal suppliers and that it “has unfairly tarnished the reputation of responsible online alcohol delivery companies with false and misleading claims.”

Julie Ryan, Retail Drinks CEO, referred to the large number of respondents who said they had received alcohol via marketplace app Airtasker, despite it being against Airtasker’s own guidelines and amounting to illegal secondary supply of alcohol. 

Ryan said: “The VicHealth survey states in section two that ‘over a quarter of respondents have sourced alcohol using Airtasker…’. Clearly, a large percentage of the problematic alcohol deliveries in the VicHealth survey were through this illegal supply, and so VicHealth have unfairly demonised responsible online alcohol delivery companies by tarnishing all operators with the same brush.”

“As a result, the survey is littered with claims that are blatantly false. For instance, the study accuses reputable companies of leaving alcohol unattended for express deliveries which their apps do not even allow. A cursory review of any of these retailers’ websites will tell you that, which means that there was no diligence done on the veracity of these survey results.

“In making such spurious claims, VicHealth have also ignored the fact that these retailers have proactively demonstrated best-practice by becoming Signatories to Retail Drinks’ Online Alcohol Sale and Delivery Code of Conduct.”

Signatories to this Code are businesses that have voluntarily adopted responsibilities in online alcohol delivery, which Retail Drinks says goes above and beyond anything required anywhere in Australia. This includes a range of safeguards embedded into the apps, procedures and systems of signatories’ businesses, to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors or intoxicated people and uphold responsible service of alcohol conditions. Further, compliance to the Code is independently audited to ensure the standards continue to be met.

In calling for reform, VicHealth has outlined a number of changes they want the government to make to the Liquor Control Reform Act. Some of these were a two hour wait period between purchase and delivery, more alignment with physical store regulations, and checking the ID of every customer every time. 

Retail Drinks dismissed these calls, describing how existing consultation between the Victorian state government and the industry in relation to alcohol regulation was informed by those with a stronger understanding of the current regulations. 

“VicHealth have called for regulation of the online liquor retail sector in line with a pub or bottle shop, yet curiously they go on to say that there should be a two hour time delay and that all customers should have to show ID for each and every delivery,” Ryan said.

“The reality is that there are no time delays in any hotel bar, club or bottle shop as customers can either buy and drink immediately at these venues or, in the case of a bottle shop, walk out and start consuming alcohol as soon as they wish to. Therefore, VicHealth are not calling for uniformity of regulation, they are actually requiring a higher standard of regulation to be applied to home delivery than bricks and mortar.”

“The survey also ignores the fact that many online alcohol retailers already know their customers and have previously verified their identity and age through their respective online delivery platforms. It is illogical to require the ID verification of an adult who has previously been verified as over 18. This would be like asking a bartender to check their customer’s ID each and every time they ordered a round of drinks in a pub.

“The legal requirement is to check identification of persons who do not appear to be of legal drinking age, not to check the identification of each and every person who is purchasing alcohol. In calling out as an issue that certain persons did not have their identification checked, they ignore the reality that they were all of legal drinking age.

Retail Drinks also noted that the survey never actually found any evidence of people under 18 sourcing alcohol online, a fact they did not mention in the research itself. 

Ryan concluded: “The reality is that any policy reforms should be based on clear and independently verifiable evidence, rather than unsubstantiated data and false claims from a misleading survey which fails to understand the basic dynamics of the online liquor retail sector.”