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. This does not mean it is recommended. We strongly advise an alcohol-free childhood, as recommended by the Chief Medical Officers.
It’s illegal to give alcohol to children under 5.
For more information, please refer to gov.uk.
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.