Alcohol – the law

Alcohol and the law

Photo: Mike Kniec 

It's easy to be confused about the law on children and alcohol, mainly because pubs have quite a lot of discretion – but the basic points are:

It is illegal to give alcohol to children under five. 

It is illegal for young people under the age of 18 to:

  • buy or try to buy alcohol
  • have someone older buy alcohol on their behalf
  • drink alcohol in licensed premises.

It’s also illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is under 18. 

Young people under the age of 18 can be stopped and even fined or arrested by the police for drinking in public.

Young people between the ages of 16 and 18 can drink (but not buy) wine, beer or cider with a meal, IF they are accompanied by an adult. 

Children under the age of 16 may be able to go into a pub in the company of an adult, but this is not always the case and will depend on specifics of the premises and licensing. 

Northern Ireland: the laws on young people and alcohol are slightly different. People under the age of 18 are allowed to go into pubs that serve food, but are not allowed to drink alcohol even if it’s been purchased by an adult.

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