Coronavirus: stay safe with our facts, information and practical advice about alcohol and your health

Buying alcohol

When you can buy alcohol and the best ways to prove your age.

It is against the law:

  • To sell alcohol to someone under 18 anywhere, and can lead to a maximum fine of £20,000 1 for bar staff/managers or premises may eventually be shut down.
  • To knowingly sell alcohol to someone is drunk.
  • To knowingly buy/get, or try to buy/get, alcohol for a drunken person on a licensed premises, e.g. a bar or club.
  • For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under 18*.
  • For someone under 18 to buy alcohol, attempt to buy alcohol or to be sold alcohol.

Retailers can reserve the right to:

  • Refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they’re accompanied by a child and think the alcohol is being bought for the child.

*It is not illegal for someone over 18 to buy a child over 16 beer, wine or cider if they are eating a table meal together in licensed premises. It is also not illegal for a child aged five to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises. 

Find out more about the law on alcohol and under 18s

The Police have the power to:

  • 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.

You can find more information on Police powers to enforce the legal drinking age on our law on alcohol and under 18s page. 

ID for alcohol: proving your age

Acceptable forms of ID to prove you are over 18 include:

It’s a criminal offence to use false or borrowed ID to gain entry to licensed premises or to buy alcohol. The maximum penalty is a £5,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. 2

Challenge 25

Challenge 25 is a scheme that encourages anyone who is over 18 but looks under 25 to carry acceptable ID when they want to buy alcohol. Challenge 25 builds on the Challenge 21 campaign introduced by the British Beer and Pub Association in 2005, who represent the beer and pub sector. It’s now run by the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, which represents alcohol retailers.
If you’re a licensee or involved in selling alcohol to the public, visit the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) website for more information about Challenge 25.

For more about the laws on alcohol visit the 'Licensing Act 2003' government page. 

Get to know UK law on drink driving


  • (1) Home Office, Persistently selling alcohol to children, 2012. Available at:

  • (2) Home office website. New Guidance to help pubs, clubs and shops spot fake ID. Available at:

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