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Alcohol Law Under 18 UK

As a parent, stopping a child getting alcohol and then drinking it can be a challenge. Even so, the combination of alcohol and young people is against the law in the United Kingdom.

DRINKING AGE IN UK: It is illegal for anyone under the age of eighteen (18) to buy alcohol.

Until you reach the age of 18 it is against the rule of law:

  • To buy or to try buying alcohol yourself.
  • To drink alcohol in a licensed premises alone (e.g. a pub or a restaurant).
  • For someone to sell alcohol to you.
  • For an adult to buy or to try buying alcohol for you.

A 16 or 17-year-old, when accompanied by an adult, can drink beer, cider, or wine with their meal. But, UK alcohol laws do not allow you to ‘buy’ an alcoholic drink until you reach 18 years old.

Note: The police can stop, fine, or arrest anyone under 18 years old if they get caught drinking in a public place. It is illegal to give alcohol to any child under five (5) years old.

Under 18s in a Pub

As a general rule, youngsters age sixteen (16) or under can go to a pub when accompanied by an adult. The rule also applies to most premises that sell alcohol as their primary business.

But, there are some variances to the alcohol laws for under 18-year-olds. Some restrictions may apply according to the specific conditions for certain premises.

Under 18s Working in a Bar or Restaurant

It is not illegal for someone age 16 or 17 to serve alcohol in a restaurant providing the licence holder (or the bar manager) approves the sale.

Note: Your local authority may enforce certain other restrictions. For example, you may only sell alcohol in sealed containers (e.g. bottles or cans).

Alcohol Licensing Rules

The rules for alcohol licensing vary by area. But, you must have a licence to operate premises or organise events that include the sale or the supply of alcohol.

Note: You can check the rules for alcohol licensing in your area online through the website of your local council.

Penalties for Breaking Alcohol Laws Under 18

The police might suspect someone under 18 has alcohol in a public place. If so, the powers of the police allow them to confiscate it.

Young people who get caught with alcohol three (3) times may face a social contract, a fine, or an arrest. Getting a criminal record might:

  • Affect your job prospects for future applications.
  • Make it more difficult to travel to certain countries (e.g. United States of America).

The police can confiscate alcohol from anyone, of any age, if they believe it’s been, or will be, drunk by a person under the age of 18 in a public place.

Young Children and Underage Drinking

Talking to your children about alcohol is one of the roles of parenting and educating minors. Research shows that meaningful conversations help them develop a healthier approach to alcohol.

Commenting on Alcohol Licences

Anyone has the entitlement to have their say about licensing decisions. You can make a comment on an alcohol licence (existing) or a new application.

You would need to write to the relevant licensing authority (the council in your area). All premises need a licence to sell alcohol to the public (e.g. pubs, nightclubs, and supermarkets).

Note: There is no requirement for you to live or work near to the premises to make a comment about an alcohol licence in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Law on Alcohol and Young People in the United Kingdom