Here’s your guide to what you can legally do at what age in the UK, whether you’re hoping to get served, get a mortgage or simply get a life. What can you do at 16, for example, apart from have sex and join the army? Read on to find out the legal age in the UK for just about anything you can think of.
What can you do at 14?
Desperate to start earning some money? At 14 you can legally start. Here are the other things you can do and how the law will now treat you.
- 14 is the legal age when you can start working in the UK. You can get a part time job, for a maximum of two hours on a school day, working sometime between 7.00am and 8.00am and 5.00pm and 7.00pm.
- You can work on Sundays between 7.00am and 7.00pm, but again for no more than two hours.
- You can work up to five hours on a Saturday between 7.00am and 7.00pm.
- During school holidays you can work five hours a day from Monday to Saturday. But you can only work two hours a day on Sundays.
- It’s worth checking with your Local Authority before taking on unusual work (i.e. anything that doesn’t involve shoving papers through letterboxes) to be sure it doesn’t contravene local regulations and bylaws.
- You can go into a bar and order soft drinks.
- If convicted of a serious criminal offence (in a Youth Court), You can be held in secure accommodation for no more than 24 months. You could also get a fine for a maximum of £1,000.
- Wearing a seatbelt is considered your own personal responsibility, so buckle up.
Find out more about the minimum age to work in the UK and jobs for under 18s here.
What can you do at 15?
Ready to start watching all those racy 15-rated movies?
- Working restrictions are the same as 14-year-olds, except you can work up to eight hours on a Saturday between 7.00am and 7.00pm (if you’re 15 or over but under school-leaving age).
- You can view, rent or buy a 15 rated film.
- If you are awaiting trial for a criminal offence, you may be held in a remand centre.
- If convicted, you can be sent to a young offenders institute for up to two years.
What can you do at 16?
This is a biggie, you get quite a lot more rights at 16 and you can legally have sex, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you HAVE TO do it. Read our article ‘when do I know I’m ready for sex’ here.
Here are all the other things you can do at 16.
- You have the right to give consent to medical, dental and surgical treatment. This includes contraceptive advice and treatment.
- You can leave school on the last Friday in June, as long as you turn 16 by the end of the summer holidays (but you have to stay in full time education, start an apprenticeship or spend 20+ hours a week working or volunteering whilst in part time education until you’re 18). Find out more about what age you can leave school here.
- You are entitled to free full-time further education (at school, sixth form college and city technology college).
- You can have sex, gay or straight, so long as your partner is also 16+.
- If you’re 17 and under, it is an offence for someone in a position of trust who is 18 or over to engage in any kind of sexual activity with you.
- You can claim benefits and obtain a National Insurance number.
- You can apply for legal aid.
- You can drink a beer, wine, or cider with a meal in a pub or restaurant if you are with an adult.
- You can ride a moped with a max engine power of 50cc (and a provisional licence). You can also drive an invalid vehicle (with a licence) and a mowing machine.
- You can work as a street trader and/or sell scrap metal.
- You can choose your own doctor.
- You can join the armed forces (so long as that’s OK with your parent/s or carer).
- You can move out of the family home with your parents’ permission (if you’re under 17 then Social Services may apply for a Care Order).
- You can rent accommodation at 16, but a guarantor is required until you’re 18. A guarantor is an adult who can be responsible for you, learn more about rent guarantors here.
- You must pay for prescription charges (unless you’re pregnant, on income support or in full-time education). Laws in Wales differ though.
- You can order your own passport.
- If convicted of a criminal offence, but not given a custodial sentence, you can receive a youth rehabilitation order.
- You can play the National Lottery.
- You can buy premium bonds.
- You can fly a glider.
- Another thing you can do at 16 is buy liqueur chocolates. At last!
Quite a lot, right! So that’s what you can do at 16 in the UK, but there are still a few more things the law wants you to wait for.
What can you do at 17?
Driving is the big one, although it can be pretty expensive! But that’s not all, fancy becoming a pilot? Here are the other things you can do at 17.
- 17 is the legal age to learn to drive in the UK (with a provisional driving licence and a 21+ adult in the passenger seat who is qualified to drive).
- If you pass your driving test, and you’re properly insured, you can get behind the wheel and take to the road on your own.
- You can apply for a private pilot’s licence for a plane, helicopter, gyroplane, hot air balloon and airship.
- You can be interviewed by the police without an adult present, given a reprimand or a warning. Should you be charged with an offence (without being granted bail) then you could be sent to a remand centre or prison. Learn more about UK arrest rights here.
- You can become a blood donor.
- 17 is also the legal age in the UK that you can allow your body to be donated to medical science (upon death!).
- You can get married in Scotland and Northern Ireland (with parental consent).
What can you do at 18?
Ready to get served? This is it, at 18 you’re entitled to (almost) everything. Things you can do at 18 include:
- Being able to vote in local and general elections.
- You can also stand for election as a Member of Parliament, local councillor or Mayor.
- You can serve on a jury, or be tried in a magistrates court and go to jail if you’re found guilty of a criminal offence.
- If you were adopted you can see your original birth certificate (and have your name added to the Adoption Contact Register).
- You can make a will.
- You can get married without parental permission.
- You can view, rent or buy an 18 rated film.
- You can view, rent, or buy pornographic material that does not contravene UK obscenity laws.
- You can buy fireworks.
- You can place a bet in a betting shop/casino.
- You can buy cigarettes, rolling tobacco and cigarette papers.
- You can open your own bank account.
- You can buy an alcoholic drink in a pub or a bar.
- You can pawn stuff in a pawn shop.
- You can have a tattoo.
- You can drive lorries weighing up to 7.5 tonnes, with a trailer attached.
- You can get married in England and Wales.
What can you do at 19?
Not much changes at 19, other than you are no longer entitled to free full time education at school.
What can you do at 21?
This is it, you can finally do pretty much everything other than start claiming your pension.
- You can apply to adopt a child.
- You can supervise a learner driver (so long as you’ve held a driving licence for the same type of vehicle for three years).
- You can apply for a range of licences that would allow you to fly commercial transport aeroplanes, helicopters, gyroplanes and airships.
- You can drive lorries over 7.5 tonnes with a trailer (with the appropriate licence), as well as buses and road rollers.