The Licensing Act 2003 states alcohol means beers, wine, cider, spirits or other liquor over 0.5% ABV strength.
Legal specialist Poppleston Allen believes that under-18s can buy drinks that are at and under 0.5% ABV because none of the relevant ‘underage laws’ apply.
However, while some pubs do sell these products to under-18s, policies vary between pubs and pubcos.
Difficult to distinguish
A spokesperson for JD Wetherspoon said: “We do not allow non-alcoholic beer/lager to be served to under-18s despite it being legal to do so.
“The reason for this is that it is operationally very difficult, once the product has been served, for staff supervising the floor to distinguish it in the glass from an alcoholic product that under-18s are not permitted to consume.”
In 2013, Poppleston Allen gave advice to licensees on dealing with under-18s in pubs. They said 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed in licensed premises at any time and do not have to be accompanied by someone 18 or over.
Under-16s (the Licensing Act 2003 refers to them as children) are allowed on licensed premises at any time but must be accompanied by someone who is aged over 18.
The offence of allowing an unaccompanied child on the premises when they are not legally allowed carries a fine of up to £1,000 and the risk of a review on the premises. However, defences licensees can use are that they believed the unaccompanied child was aged over 16 or that an accompanying person was over 18.
Licensees could also use the defence of taking all the reasonable steps to establish the individual's age and that no one could reasonably have suspected from their appearance that they were aged under 16 or 18.
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