Being clear on the law around alcohol is important - for both parents and children. The law isn’t simply about knowing right from wrong. It’s a reminder of the potential consequence of drinking alcohol underage.
The UK Chief Medical Officer (CMO) recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.    

See below to read the advice from each country’s medical officer.

UK chief medical officer recommendations 

England and Northern Ireland 

Children and their parents or carers are advised that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. However, if children drink alcohol underage, it should not be until at least the age of 15 years.

If young people aged 15 to 17 years consume alcohol, it should always be with the guidance of a parent or carer or in a supervised environment. 

Parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at age 15 or older, can be hazardous to health and that not drinking is the healthiest option for young people. 

If 15 to 17 year olds do consume alcohol, they should limit it to no more than one day a week. Young people aged 15 to 17 years should never exceed the recommended adult weekly alcohol limits (no more than 14 units a week) and, when they do drink, they should usually drink less than that amount. 

If you’d like more information you can read the full Guidance on the Consumption of Alcohol by Young People report.

Scotland 

The Scottish Chief Medical Officer’s advice is that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.

Wales 

Children under 15 shouldn't drink alcohol at all. There is clear evidence that alcohol can harm the developing brain, bones and hormones

Drinking at age 15 and older can be hazardous to health. Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use puts young people at risk - from injuries, fights, regretted sexual activity, and other substance misuse.

If parents use alcohol responsibly, it's more likely their children will too. Parents and carers can protect children from misusing alcohol by maintaining a close relationship with their children, setting clear rules about alcohol, and supervising their children's drinking.

For more information please read the full guidance report; You, Your Child and Alcohol.

Alcohol and underage drinking – the law 

If a person is under 18 and drinking alcohol in public, they can be stopped, fined or arrested by police.

If they’re under 18, it’s against the law:

  • For someone to sell you alcohol
  • To buy or try to buy alcohol
  • For an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
  • To drink alcohol in licensed premises (eg a pub or restaurant)

However if someone is 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult, they can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal.

If they’re 16 or under, they may be able to go to a pub (or premises primarily used to sell alcohol) if they’re accompanied by an adult. However, this isn’t always the case. It can also depend on:

  • The specific conditions for that premises
  • The licensable activities taking place there

It’s not illegal for a child aged five to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises.

It’s illegal to give alcohol to children under 5.

Consequences of breaking the law 

If the police suspect someone under 18 has alcohol in a public place, they have the power to confiscate it. If young people get caught with alcohol three times they could face a social contract, a fine or arrest. Getting a criminal record could affect future job prospects and make it more difficult to travel to countries like the USA.

The police can also confiscate alcohol from someone, no matter what their age, if they believe it has been, or will be drunk by someone under 18 in a public place.

Help to answer questions about underage drinking

Talking about alcohol with your child can be difficult. But the evidence shows that meaningful conversations help them develop a healthier approach to alcohol1.

Find out how to answer questions your child may have about underage drinking

References

(1) Newbury-Birch et al. (2008) Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Young People: A Systematic Review of Published Reviews. Department for Children Schools and Families. Research Report DCSF-RR067. Available at:

http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/11355/1/DCSF-RR067.pdf