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Know the law on serving alcohol to under-18s

By Sarah Taylor, partner, Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Festive help: Sarah Taylor (right) discusses the rules of serving alcohol to those as young as 16 (Credit: Getty/Marvin Samuel Tolentino Pineda)
Festive help: Sarah Taylor (right) discusses the rules of serving alcohol to those as young as 16 (Credit: Getty/Marvin Samuel Tolentino Pineda)

Related tags Licensing Legislation Social responsibility Health and safety Pubco + head office

Of all the articles our licensing solicitors write for The Morning Advertiser each year, there is one topic that gets more feedback and interest than any other – under-18s in pubs.

It’s not hard to see why because there seem to be many ‘myths’ around children on licensed premises, and what they can and can’t do.

On top of these myths is the fact that an overwhelming number of operators across the country are highly responsible and want to ensure that they are running their premises in accordance with the law. Or to be more specific, the Licensing Act 2003.

And when it comes to under-18s consuming alcohol, there is, of course, the fear of punishment for getting the law wrong, which ranges from a £90 fixed penalty to an unlimited fine as well as the possibility of a three-month suspension of alcohol sales or a 14-day complete closure.

A common misunderstanding

Pretty much everyone knows that selling alcohol to under-18s is illegal. So is selling alcohol to someone 18 or over, if they have the intention of then giving this to someone under the age of 18.

Some licensees and staff, however, are not aware that 16 and 17-year-olds can actually consume alcohol on licensed premises or what type of alcohol they can consume.

So, to help, here is the law around this issue, which you might well need to revert to this Christmas lunch time:

  • 16 and 17-year-olds can consume alcohol as long as it is with a substantial meal. There is much debate of what constitutes a substantial meal but it certainly isn’t a packet of crisps or bar snacks. It most definitely does include a Christmas day lunch or something similar.
  • These adolescents can only drink beer, wine or cider. However, there is no restrictions around the strength of these drinks. And though we certainly would not recommend it as being responsible drinking (in fact it would be completely irresponsible) a 16-year-old could drink pints of an 8% craft ale. And there is no limit on the amount they can imbibe either; though keep in mind it is illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is then going to give this to someone who is drunk.
  • And carrying on from the point above, although a 16 or 17-year-old can drink the alcohol, they cannot under any circumstance buy it. It must be purchased by someone over the age of 18. And this doesn’t simply mean that a young person cannot order at the bar – they cannot legally ask a waiter/waitress for a drink either. Alcohol must be ordered by someone over the age of 18.
  • A final point that has arisen is that, once a group has finished its meal, they might need to vacate the table for other customers to use but have another drink elsewhere on the premises. In this situation, the 16 or 17-year-old can finish their drink in the different location but cannot have any further alcoholic drinks purchased for them to drink.

Hopefully, the above will help you should you get asked any such questions during the busy Christmas period, or at any other time of the year for that matter. Why not print this out and pin it up for your staff to see? It might get them out of any tricky situations.

Something not covered in this article – but that also causes some confusion – are issues around under-18s serving alcohol. Our licensing solicitors recently drafted an article on this, which you can read by clicking here​.

Sarah Taylor​ is a partner at Poppleston Allen​.

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