- 10 minute read
- Last updated: 12th August 2019
Your parents or carers are responsible for making sure you are safe and well usually until you reach the age of 18. This is because the law states that until you reach this age, you are still regarded as a minor and therefore your parents are still legally responsible for your welfare.
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This does not mean however that you have no say in decisions that directly affect you. In fact, reaching 16 means you obtain specific new rights against your parents. The law will also typically take into account your wishes and feelings when it comes to certain decisions your parents make that affect you.
Once you reach 16, although you cannot do everything that an adult can do, there are decisions you can make that your parents cannot object to, as well as certain things that you can only do with parental consent.
You can leave home with or without your parents’ consent as long as your welfare is not at risk. Where a parent feels that your welfare is at risk, they can take action to bring you home.
Your parents also have the right to apply to court if they want you to return home for another reason; however, due to your age, a court is unlikely to force you to return against your wishes.
At 16 you can enter into a housing contract (and are also therefore liable if you breach it) and are entitled to local authority help with housing if you are unintentionally homeless.
If you are in care, you will be entitled to a Pathway Plan from the local council once you reach 16 to prepare you for your eventual transition out of care; however, any care orders will be in place until you are 18.
You are legally able to marry or form a civil partnership when you reach the age of 16. However your rights at 16 do not override parental rights in this regard, and you must obtain consent to marry from your parents or legal guardians.
Your rights at 16 years old mean you are able to consent to intercourse with anyone else over the age of 16.
Anyone in a position of trust who has sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 however, will be committing an offence. Therefore your parents can intervene in these circumstances due to their responsibility to keep you safe.
Once you are 16, you have various rights in regards to medical treatment and decisions.
16-year-olds can usually:
- Choose their GP
- Females can buy over the counter emergency contraception
- Consent to medical treatment
- Receive medical treatment on their own
- Register to donate blood
Your parent or guardian cannot usually refuse for you to do any of these things, except in certain circumstances such as questions around your ability to understand the consequences of your actions.
If you refuse treatment which your parent or guardian thinks is in your best interest to receive, they can apply to the court to order you to have the treatment. This doesn’t happen often, and only in extreme circumstances.
You must also pay for prescriptions and eye tests unless you are in full-time education, pregnant, on a low income or in certain other circumstances.
You are eligible to leave school if you reach the age of 16 before the beginning of the next school year. You must then remain in some form of training until you are 18.
You must either:
- Study full time
- Start an apprenticeship
- Work or volunteer 20 hours a week with part-time education or training
Age Restricted Items
- At 16 you are able to go into a bar or pub unsupervised, but can only drink non-alcoholic drinks.
- If you are with an adult and eating a meal, you are legally allowed to drink wine, beer or cider if bought by an adult.
- You cannot buy cigarettes or other tobacco products until you are 18
- You cannot buy e-cigarettes or liquids until you are 18
- Other items
- You can buy aerosol paint, lottery tickets and scratch cards
- You cannot buy fireworks until you are 18
Money & work
Your legal rights at 16 mean you can work full-time (up to 40 hours per week) at National Minimum Wage once you have reached this age. You will not be able to work between 10 pm and 6 am, or in certain environments until you are 18.
You are able to join the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines at 16 years old with parental consent.
You will not normally be entitled to claim benefits until you reach 18, except in limited circumstances such as:
- Those estranged and living away from parents whose mental or physical welfare may suffer otherwise
- Orphans and those leaving care
If you would like to know whether you are able to claim benefits, you should seek professional legal advice based on your circumstances.
At 16 you have the right to drive a moped, and if you have a disability, you may also be able to drive a car.
You can change your name by deed poll and apply for a passport without parental consent once you reach the age of 16.
Usually, once you are 18 years old, in the eyes of the law, you are an adult and parental responsibility no longer applies. Therefore you are free to make all of your decisions without getting parental consent.
For instance, once you reach 18 you will be able to:
- Buy and drink alcohol
- Drive a car
- Marry without consent
- Claim benefits
- Leave education
It is important to note that in some situations you will remain under the care of your parent or guardian after the age of 18, therefore if you are unsure of your position you should contact a legal family specialist who can advise you.
The need for the law to balance your rights and those of your parents is a delicate matter for the courts, and you may not always feel as though decisions are fair. Your status in law remains as a minor at the least until you reach the age of 18 therefore although you may have more rights now that you have reached the age of 16, you still do not have the same rights as an adult.
Seeking professional advice from a solicitor experienced in family law is key to fully understanding your rights at 16, and may help to avoid any discord between you and your parents.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.