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Alcohol, Young People and UK Law

By: Leigh Sexton - Updated: 12 Nov 2019 | comments*Discuss
Alcohol Age Law Illegal Underage

Many people are unaware of the strict laws that control alcohol consumption by children in the UK, but few are ignorant of the effects of underage drinking, which is cited as the cause of many problems with young people.

At What Age Can Your Child Drink?

  • Under Five - If you give any form of alcoholic drink to a child under five, you are breaking the law, unless the drink is given under medical supervision and in an emergency.
  • Under Sixteen - Children under 16 are allowed to enter pubs and other licensed premises that do not have age restricted entertainment (either over 18s only or over 21s only are the usual restrictions) as long as they are being supervised by an adult – however they are not allowed to have any alcohol.
  • Sixteen or Seventeen - Those aged 16 or 17 are allowed into licensed premises and can consume beer, wine or cider with a meal as long as two conditions are met: they must be accompanied by an adult and the alcohol must be purchased by an adult. However it is illegal for them to drink any form of spirits in pubs or nightclubs, even if they are eating a meal.
  • Under Eighteen - Anybody under 18 is breaking the law if they buy or attempt to buy alcohol in a pub, off-licence or shop. It is also illegal for anyone to buy alcohol for someone else who is under 18 except when they purchase wine, beer or cider for consumption with a meal. This law extends to people under 18 drinking wine, beer or cider in a public place.

Regional Variations And By-laws

16 and 17 year olds in Scotland are permitted to buy their own beer, wine or cider to drink with a meal as long as they drink their alcohol in an area of licensed premises set aside purely for consuming meals.

Many towns and cities now have local by-laws banning drinking alcohol in public – the area of such restriction is shown by posters and street signs indicating that it is a restricted drinking area or an alcohol free zone, and it is illegal for anybody, of any age, to be caught with open alcohol of any kind in such a zone.

The Truth About Underage Alcohol Consumption

A 2008 study revealed that 48% of fifteen year old girls had been drunk in the previous month, compared to 36% of boys the same age. 35% of 11-15 year olds who drank alcohol said their main reason was to get drunk, not to look grown up or to impress friends. Over half of the 15-16 year-olds surveyed said they had ‘drunk heavily’ in the previous month, while 30% of them had ‘drunk heavily’ three or more times in the month. There is an increasing tendency to obtain alcohol at home for consumption with friends – around half the 11-15 year olds who’d drunk in the previous week said they’d actually been given the alcohol by their parents, while 42% said they’d taken the alcohol without their parents’ consent.

To deal with the findings about drinking underage, there has been a new offence created, which allows an underage person to be fined, bound over or given an ASBO and alcohol education, if they are found persistently to be in possession of alcohol.

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[Add a Comment]
Hi my son is turning 21 and I want to do a party and I have looking at hiring a snooker hall that has a room also a bar I but I was told that anyone under twenty five needs ID does that mean anyone over 18 up to 24 can't buy alcohol.
Peaches - 12-Nov-19 @ 5:58 PM
Blue keys hotel and restaurant Recently had a reception here! They left a full mini bar in a 12 yo mini bar and other minors rooms! There were other issues also, however because one of our guests broke 2 items they’ve taken it upon them selves to threaten us wit legal action I’m not impressed and many of our guests are not either! They broke fire and safety issues! I was not going to pursue this however they’ve been less than reasonable
Mac - 4-Nov-19 @ 7:42 PM
I’m 15 and my parents let me drink, is it illegal for them to let me drink in a hotel room?
Harrrrry - 9-Apr-19 @ 10:28 PM
I'm having my 17th birthday at a town hall. Is it legal to have alcohol available to guests? (They will be aged 16/17/18)
Abby - 26-Mar-19 @ 3:01 PM
I am shocked that a 4yrs old was in our pub at 9.30pm is this not illegal
Mitch - 24-Feb-19 @ 12:00 AM
Is it illegal for a person under 18 to attend a friend s 18th birthday party in a hotel or function suite and if it's legal to go is it illegal to drink alcohol if the hosts parents are supervising the party?
Clare - 8-Dec-18 @ 5:38 AM
hi my wife lets her daughter drink at the age of 13 is this legal
inferno - 13-Oct-18 @ 7:43 AM
Hi so my younger sister had a trial night at a restaurant in Cumbria. So as the law states she is not allowed to buy alcohol as she is only 16! However when she was on the trial noght she had to serve and pour alcohol for customers. Baring in mind she is only 16 surely this is illegal
chel96 - 4-Oct-18 @ 9:59 PM
What does UK law say about under 18’s purchasing 0% Beer? Are shops allowed to sell it to them?
Nic - 4-May-18 @ 6:44 PM
Can you clarify the law about buying alcohol for the under 16s please. I know that my 15 year old son is legally allowed to drink it at home but do I commit an offence if I buy it for him from an off-licence?
Norman - 26-Apr-18 @ 6:57 PM
What are the usual consequences if a child were to attempt to sneak alcoholic produces into secondary school?
Abby - 15-Apr-18 @ 9:37 PM
Hiya we have a liscened horseboxbar our daughter is almost 15.. is it legal for her to prepare alcoholic drinks and serve them under the authorised supervision of a licsenced holder and 18 yrs and above
bubs1 - 31-Mar-18 @ 5:42 PM
Jo - Your Question:
My ex partner which is my 12 year old daughters dad as given are child 3 bottles of of smirnoff ice to drink and im just wondering what I can do to stop this as he aint supervising her why she is drinking

Our Response:
Talk to your ex about the dangers of alcohol in young people. If you're concerned this is more than a one off incident and that he will do the same in the future, it might be worth seeking advice from social services or the police.
AlcoholIssues - 1-Nov-17 @ 12:05 PM
My ex partner which is my 12 year old daughters dad as given are child 3 bottles of of smirnoff ice to drink and im just wondering what i can do to stop this as he aint supervising her why she is drinking
Jo - 30-Oct-17 @ 9:06 AM
If you're already 18 but you don't have any off-licence, can you bring your passport with in local shops to buy cider, beer etc??
Jun - 24-Aug-17 @ 2:54 PM
Can a 16 year old play darts in a pub after 9 as he is in the darts team what's the Lawson this ?
Minildc - 10-Jul-17 @ 9:51 PM
I am renting out a venue for hire, the venue will not be providing alcohol, however I was wondering if its okay to bring our own alcohol (no-one will be under 16)
Mia - 14-Jun-17 @ 11:12 PM
Hi, where I used to work when I was 18 years old, the owners of the place had a 15 year old daughter. She often served at the bar, and also most without manager/owners consent. Is this legal. Should I/how would I report this?
bryony - 20-Apr-17 @ 12:33 PM
Emelia - Your Question:
Would the shop sell me WKD if iam 12 years old ?

Our Response:
No! Retailers should not sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 18.
AlcoholIssues - 11-Apr-17 @ 11:34 AM
Would the shop sell me WKD if iam 12 years old ?
Emelia - 9-Apr-17 @ 10:26 PM
I am a 15 year old and I was wondering if it is legal for me to drink alcohol at my mates party accomponied by his parents.
Alf - 28-Mar-17 @ 9:37 PM
Can I take my 17 year old friend to the pub at night if she doesn't drink Im 18 so will I be classed as the adult
Jay - 27-Mar-17 @ 11:44 PM
Selly- Your Question:
Can a 16 year old serve alcohol in a pub when she is behind the bar??

Our Response:
A 16year old can serve alcohol in a restaurant if it's drunk with a meal. A 16 year old can also serve alcohol in a bar, but the licence holder or bar manager needs to approve every sale.
AlcoholIssues - 14-Mar-17 @ 11:11 AM
Can a 16 year old serve alcohol in a pub when she is behind the bar??
Selly - 11-Mar-17 @ 1:12 PM
If you want to give alcohol to your children, then why not legal highs? How about cocaine etc? You would not.Why encourage children to drink when it is not good for them?
Addict - 8-Mar-17 @ 7:43 PM
Can anyone tell me what the law is regarding giving under 18's alcohol free wine. I am a cater and wanted to do buck fizz for the teenagers I have? Don't want to break any laws though.
Avoo - 18-Dec-16 @ 6:12 PM
I want to take my 12 year old son to a pub and watch a football game is it against the law to order a non alchoholic lager or shandy for him
dragoneye - 25-Nov-16 @ 2:49 PM
If I am eighteen can I buy a friend who is only seventeen a glass of wine with dinner. I am uncertain if eighteen is classified as an adult who can buy alcohol for a sixteen or seventeen year old. Thanks
Maddie - 26-Sep-16 @ 8:54 PM
I live in Scotland and at a family party, a 14 yearold sipped a bottle of alocopop, which was quickly removed from him, by bar staff. A father also allowed his child of 7 to taste his alcohol. he was told off. should the group have been ejected from party? what does the licence suggest?
stevo - 26-Aug-16 @ 9:23 AM
Hi i live in cheshire and play darts for a local pub league what time does a 14 year old have to leave the pub by law thanks for any info P.s he will not be drinking anything alcoholic
Thecrispman - 12-Aug-16 @ 7:03 PM
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