Children in pubs: Licensing law

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

The presence of children in pubs is strictly regulated - make sure you stay on the right side of the law
The presence of children in pubs is strictly regulated - make sure you stay on the right side of the law

Related tags: Alcohol, Alcoholic beverage

It is important to remember the legal responsibilities under licensing law concerning the presence of children in your premises. Pub Licensing specialists Poppleston Allen lay down the law.

6 key legal points:

Each premises licence is individual to the premises, so check your own licence carefully for any conditions which restrict the admittance of children. However, the key points to remember are:

  1. It is an offence to allow an unaccompanied child under 16 on to licensed premises that are used exclusively or primarily for the sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises (this includes temporary event notices and club premises certificates). It is easy to see that this will apply if your premises are used exclusively for the sale of alcohol, but not so simple when trying to establish whether your premises are “primarily” used for such sales.
  2. Even if the child under 16 is only buying and consuming soft drinks you are still committing an offence if that child is unaccompanied and your premises are used exclusively or primarily for the sale of alcohol — they are simply not permitted to be on the premises.
  3. If you are a restaurant operator the above will clearly not apply as your primary use is the provision of food. However, when it comes to other mixed businesses, for example if you run a public house that serves food, it may be more difficult to classify whether your premises — or indeed which part of your premises — are being used “primarily for the sale of alcohol”. If this is the case then it may be advisable to discuss with enforcement agencies the interpretation of the activities that are taking place on your premises so that you are clear on whether this restriction applies to you.
  4. It is also an offence to allow an unaccompanied child under 16 on licensed premises between the hours of midnight and 5am when the premises are open for the purposes of being used for the supply of alcohol for consumption there, regardless of any other non-alcohol related activity. In other words, even food-led premises cannot admit unaccompanied under-16s after midnight. 
  5. “Child” is generally defined as “under 16” in the legislation, but not always — for example, the mandatory condition restricting the showing of films in accordance with age-related classifications defines children as being under 18. If you have specific conditions restricting the admission of children on your licence, make sure you and the authorities understand what “child” means in these circumstances.
  6. To be “accompanied” the child must be with someone aged over 18.

This is only the briefest of outlines and it is imperative to check your premises licence, which may have additional restrictions either due to a previous difficult history or simply as a carry-over from the old pre-2005 licensing regime.

Employing under 18s in pubs 

Q:​ I am the owner of a pub with a large restaurant attached. We are particularly busy on Fridays and Saturdays and I am therefore recruiting new members of staff. A few of the people I am due to interview are 16 years old. Although I am aware that there aren’t any by-laws in my area restricting the employment of 16 year olds, I was wondering whether there are any restrictions under the Licensing Act 2003.

A:​ Under section 153 of the Licensing Act 2003, under 18 year olds are allowed to sell alcohol, as long as each sale has been approved by a responsible person such as a premises licence holder, the designated premises supervisor or any individual over the age of 18 who has been authorised by the premises licence holder or the supervisor. However, no authorisation is required if the alcohol is sold or supplied to your customers if they are consuming a table meal, in a restaurant area. However, if that customer then moves into a bar area a specific authorisation for each sale of alcohol will then be required.

Under 18s and consumption of Alcohol with meal

Q:​ I run a family pub in a busy town centre. As such we have had several families coming in for a meal and asking to buy alcohol for their children. This has caused a couple of issues between my staff and disgruntled parents as to whether the children are permitted to drink alcohol with their meal. The training I have given the staff is a blanket refusal on anybody drinking alcohol who is under 18. Is this the correct approach?

A:​ The Licensing Act 2003 states that a 16 or 17 year old may consume beer, wine or cider with a table meal as long as the alcohol is purchased by someone over the age of 18. This causes lots of anxiety among many operators who are wary of breaking the law in relation to underage sales.  As long as the alcohol is purchased by an adult, the operator is acting within the law however, it can be difficult to monitor and manage. Your policy on whether to allow consumption in such circumstances is within your discretion as a licensee.

How to avoid selling underage alcohol and breaking the law

All of us want to eliminate the risk of sales of alcohol to children, and to avoid selling under 18’s alcohol illegally. It is not of course the mere fact of children having access to alcohol, but that as a result of consuming alcohol they can become vulnerable and prone to more serious crimes. Here are a few reminders:

  • It is a mandatory condition that you have an Age Verification Policy and that the Policy is enforced with your staff by the Designated Premises Supervisor. Many licensees use Challenge 21 or Challenge 25.
Challenge 25 Poster
Many licensees adopt a Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 age verification policy
  • This Policy must require that any form of identification accepted by a member of staff must show the bearer’s photograph, date of birth and a holographic or ultra violet mark.
  • Check the hologram, making sure it is in the standard format and flush with the plastic of the card – not stuck on it.
  • Check the photograph with the person who is carrying it and again that it is not stuck on top of the card.
  • Check the date of birth. A date of birth reminder or till prompt will remind staff of the date they need to look for to ensure someone is over 18. Update it daily.
  • If you are unsure about the validity of any documents presented to you then you should refuse service.
  • Train your staff and do not let any new staff member carry out alcohol sales until you are certain that they understand their obligations – a mistake here could conceivably cost you your licence.
  • Review the culture and dynamics of your business – are there busy nights when in reality your staff are so swamped at the bar they do not have time to give more than a cursory check of ID? Is the lighting sufficient for such checks?
  • If you employ door staff, do not rely solely on them for ID checks – they are only the first line of defence.
  • Maintain a Refusals Log with the date, time, incident and description of potential buyer. Such logs should be regularly checked by the DPS.
  • Proxy Sales – adults buying alcohol for children to consume on licensed premises can be difficult to police, particularly if you have large external areas away from the bar. Make sure you carry out regular patrols.
  • CCTV is an excellent deterrent.
  • Display signs showing your Policy, be that Challenge 21 or 25. They act as a deterrent and also as a reminder to staff. 

Strictly speaking all four of the Licensing Objectives are to be given equal importance.  However, I have yet to find a Licensing Authority or Police Force that does not consider the sale of alcohol to children as particularly serious.  Complacency can be your worst enemy and can cost you far more than a fixed penalty.

Related topics: Training

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