The Law on Children in Pubs

As a pub landlord or other licence holder, it is important to understand the law relating to children in pubs and other licensed premises. Breaking the law in this area can have serious consequences for you and your business.

Are children allowed in pubs?

In the UK a public house will have its own unique set of conditions under the premises licence that determine how it should operate. Generally speaking, children are allowed to enter a pub, or other licensed premises, unless there is a specific licence condition that states children are not to be permitted.

The premises licence may also include any or all of the following:

  • Restrictions on the hours when children may be present.
  • Restrictions on the parts of the premises to which children under a certain age may have access.
  • Restrictions or exclusions on the presence of children under a certain age when particular activities are taking place.

Requirements for an accompanying adult.

Additionally, you may want to operate your own policy on children. For example, where your pub or licensed premises is open all day, you may require accompanied children to leave by a certain time. As a licensee, you have an overall discretion over who is permitted entry, at what times and whether to refuse to serve someone.

The exception to the rule is that where your licensed premises are used “exclusively or primarily” for the supply and consumption of alcohol on those premises, it is illegal to permit entry to a child under the age of 16 when you are open for business, unless accompanied by an adult.

In these circumstances, unaccompanied children are simply not permitted to be in your pub during opening hours, even if the child is only buying or drinking soft drinks.

It is also an offence to allow a child under the age of 16 to be unaccompanied on licensed premises between the hours of midnight and 5am when the premises are open for the purposes of being used for the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Even if your pub is food-led, rather than “exclusively or primarily” for the supply and consumption of alcohol, you are not permitted to admit under 16’s after midnight.

As a licence holder you will be guilty of a criminal offence if you allow a child to be on your premises unless:

  • The unaccompanied child is on the premises solely for the purpose of passing to or from some other place and there is no other convenient means of access or egress.
  • You believed that the unaccompanied child was aged 16 or over or that an individual accompanying him was aged 18 or over, and you had taken all reasonable steps to establish the individual’s age; or nobody could reasonably have suspected from the individual’s appearance that s/he was aged under 16 or, as the case may be, under 18.

Can children drink alcohol in pubs?

The law is also strict in relation to the consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 18 on licensed premises. In England and Wales it is illegal:

  • To sell alcohol to someone under the age of 18 anywhere.
  • For someone under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy alcohol.
  • For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under the age of 18.
  • For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under the age of 18 for consumption on licensed premises, save except where this is the purchase of beer, wine or cider to be drank by a 16 or 17 year old with a table meal, where s/he is accompanied by an adult.
  • For someone under the age of 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, save except where s/he is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink, but not buy, beer, wine and cider with a table meal.

What are the penalties for breaking the law?

It is not uncommon for the police or trading standards to test licensees and their staff on the laws relating to children in pubs. Offences arising out of unaccompanied children and underage sales can attract tough financial penalties, as well as the risk of temporary closure or revocation of your licence.

For permitting an unaccompanied child under the age of 16 to be on your premises during opening hours where you fall within the restriction, you will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £1,000.

If you are found guilty of selling alcohol to a child under the age of 18, you will potentially be at risk from the following:

  • An unlimited fine, unless it can be shown that reasonable steps were taken to verify the customer’s age.
  • A closure order for a maximum of 14 days following persistent underage sales, defined as happening on just two or more occasions in a 3 month period.
  • A potential suspension or revocation of your licence for breach of the licensing objective relating to the protection of children from harm.

How can I avoid breaking the law?

If you are pub landlord or other licensee, you should take all necessary steps to prevent unaccompanied children from entering your premises and to avoid underage sales, or risk tough penalties.

It is in any event a mandatory requirement for all licensed premises to have an age verification policy in relation to the sale or supply of alcohol. Many licensees use Challenge 21 or Challenge 25.

These are retailing strategies whereby anyone buying alcohol who appears to be below the ages of 21 or 25, can be asked to provide an acceptable form of ID. This must be identification bearing their photograph, date of birth, and either a holographic mark or ultraviolet feature.

The following steps are just some of the other ways in which you can demonstrate your commitment to responsible licensing:

  • Provide regular staff training on the law relating to unaccompanied children on licensed premises and underage sales, and how to verify a customer’s age. This should include what are acceptable forms of ID and how to spot fake ID.
  • Only accept suitable forms of ID as proof of age, ie; photographic driving licence, a passport or a proof of age card, such as the PASS card from the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme bearing the PASS hologram.

If you are unsure about the validity of any ID, use your discretion to refuse entry or service. It is also within your discretion as a licensee to refuse a proxy sale, for example, the sale of alcohol made by an adult on behalf of a child aged 16 or 17 with a table meal.

Display posters in prominent places, for example, at the door and behind the bar, to advertise your age verification policy. This will help not only deter underage customers, but will help to back up any challenge that your staff may be required to make.

Support your staff in applying your age verification policy. Any difficult decisions made by staff not to serve a customer alcohol or to permit entry should not be undermined.

If you run a public house or other licensed premises that serve food, it may be difficult to determine whether those premises are primarily used for the supply of alcohol to which the restriction relating to unaccompanied children will apply. It is therefore advisable to discuss this issue with enforcement agencies to establish where you stand.

Legal disclaimer

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.

The Law on Children in Pubs 2
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