Turning 16 means you attain some new rights against your parents and that you now get to have a say in some decisions that directly affect you. Given your age, the courts will also typically take into account your wishes and feelings when it comes to certain issues, such as child contact arrangements.
You are, however, still regarded as a minor until you are 18. This means your parents, guardians and anyone with parental responsibility for you are still legally responsible for your welfare until you reach this age.
In this guide, we explain what rights you have at 16 and what happens if you disagree with your parents on matters affecting you.
What can you do at 16?
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. There are also 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. Generally, however, due to your age, a court is typically unlikely to force you to return against your wishes.
At 16 you may be 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.
Your rights at 16 mean you are able to consent to sexual intercourse with anyone else over the age of 16.
Having sex with someone while you or they are under 16 is illegal, and classified as sexual assault, even if you both consented. You must be at least 16 years old to legally consent to have sex.
Anyone in a position of trust who has sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 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 relating to medical treatment and decisions. 16-year-olds can usually:
- Choose their GP
- Get 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 medical treatment which your parent or guardian thinks is in your best interest, 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. However, the law requires you to remain in some form of education or training until you are 18, which includes either:
- Studying full time
- Undertaking an apprenticeship
- Working or volunteering 20 hours a week with part-time education or training
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, vaping equipment, e-cigarettes or liquids until you are 18.
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
17 is the legal age when you can learn to drive and take your driving test. However, you can apply for a provisional driving licence from the age of 15 years and 9 months.
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 if you qualify under the PIP scheme.
You can change your name by deed poll and apply for a passport without parental consent once you reach the age of 16.
Your rights when you turn 18
Once you are 18 years old, in the eyes of the law, you are an adult and parental responsibility no longer applies, except in limited circumstances. You are free to make all of your decisions without needing parental consent.
For instance, once you reach 18, you will be able to vote, get married, buy certain prohibited items and leave education without parental consent.
The legal age of marriage in England and Wales is now 18. 16 and 17 year olds can no longer get married in the UK, even with parental consent. It is also illegal in any circumstances to force a minor under the age of 18 to get married.
Buying prohibited products
Once you turn 18, you can buy certain prohibited products such as vaping equipment, cigarettes and alcohol. You can also enter licensed premises and buy alcohol there for yourself or anyone else over the age of 18.
18 is the legal age when you can get a tattoo.
18 year olds are allowed to take out financial products, such as a mortgage, applying for credit cards or signing a rental agreement. As with anyone looking to make financial and legal commitments, you should always do your research and take advice to ensure you understand the obligations are agreeing to.
Once you reach the age of 18, you are able to legally gamble and place bets. It’s important to know that gambling can be addictive which can become detrimental to your mental health, finance and relationships.
My parents and I don’t agree: what are my rights as a 16 year old?
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.
16 year old rights FAQs
What legal right do you have at 16?
At 16, you can legally consent to sexual intercourse with anyone else over the age of 16, you can leave home and you make certain decisions relating to your education or medical treatment. However, those with parental responsibility for you will continue to have this until you are 18.
Can a 16 year old leave home?
You can leave home at 16 without parental consent. If you are reported as missing, you can inform the police that you are safe and do not wish your whereabouts to be disclosed.
Can a 16 year old refuse to see a parent UK?
There is no arbitrary age in UK law that stipuates when a child can refuse to see a parent. These circumstances should be dealt with under child arrangement proceedings, when the child's wishes will be taken into consideration in light of their age, maturity and best interests.
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.