The law on buying alcohol in the UK and proving your age.
If you want to buy alcohol in the UK, it’s important to know the legal restrictions that cover the places and times it is allowed to be sold, as well as who is allowed to buy it.
The most obvious restriction is that it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy alcohol, anywhere. But what are the other restrictions, and what could happen if you break the law? Find out here.
Because of the impact it can have on the wider community and the links its misuse has with crime and antisocial behaviour, the sale of alcohol in the UK is restricted.1,2,3 Only certain venues that have obtained a license are allowed to sell it – these can be places like pubs, clubs, restaurants, and some shops.
Breaking the law can result in prosecution for both the person selling alcohol and the person buying it – they can each be prosecuted and fined. Licensed premises can also be fined, or even shut down.
It is against the law:
Retailers can refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they’re accompanied by a child and the shop worker thinks the alcohol is being bought for the child. And the police have the power to confiscate any alcohol they believe will be drunk by someone under-18 in a public place.
There are some limited exceptions that allow under-18s to drink alcohol at home, and for over-16s to consume (but not buy) alcohol with a meal in some licensed premises.
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.4
It is also against the law to:
Worried about your drinking? Recognising you may be drinking too much, or wanting to cut down, can be a hugely positive step for your health. We have advice and tools that can help.
From the point of view of premises selling alcohol, there are also restrictions that apply to pricing, home delivery and to prevent the irresponsible promotion of alcohol. These restrictions vary in the different nations of the UK – find out more on the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group website.
Licenses are granted and monitored by a local authority (usually the council), and almost all premises (a few community organisations are exempt) must have a qualified, designated person in place who can be held responsible for any problems.
Each licensed premises has to abide by an agreement that sets out the times when they are allowed to sell alcohol, and the checks they need to carry out to make sure their customers are allowed to buy it (for example, that they’re over 18).
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.
If you’re a licensee or involved in selling alcohol to the public, visit the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG) website for more information about Challenge 25.
 Scot.gov website. Alcohol licensing (Accessed 14 September 2022). Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/alcohol-licensing-guidance/pages/licensing-legislation/#:~:text=The%20main%20piece%20of%20legislation,associated%20with%20misuse%20of%20alcohol
Last Reviewed: 17th November 2022
Next Review due: 17th November 2025