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Your rights

Everyone has rights. Rights help us stay safe, get fair treatment and live the life we want to. Some rights are given to you at certain ages - like being allowed to leave home or drive a car.

What are rights?

Your RightsEveryone has rights. What rights you have can depend on your age. For example, adults are allowed to do things that children are not such as buy alcohol, have a credit card or take out a loan.

Having rights or age-restrictions in place are important as they: 

  • help to keep us safe
  • help us understand the law
  • help us to make decisions
  • give us freedom and permission to do things like drive, smoke, have sex, drink alcohol or leave home  

It's important to remember that the law is there to protect young people, not to punish them.

  • Alcohol

    The law can be complicated about alcohol so it is worth knowing what you can and can't do. The general laws are:

    Age 5 and up
    You may drink alcohol at home with adult supervision.

    Age 14
    You can go to a pub which has a children's certificate, but you can't buy or drink alcohol.

    Age 16
    You can drink wine, beer or cider with a meal in a restaurant.

    Age 18
    You can buy alcohol but remember it is against the law to buy alcohol for anyone under the age of 18.

  • Crime and the law

    Age 10
    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you are criminally responsible at 10 years old. That means that you are legally responsible for your actions. Any criminal behaviour will be dealt with by the courts.

    Age 12
    If you live in Scotland, you are criminally responsible at 12 years old. This means that you are legally responsible for your actions. Any criminal behaviour will be dealt with by the courts.

    Age 18
    You can be called for jury service.
    You can change your name (16 years old in Scotland).
    You can act as an executor of a person's will.

    At any age
    You can make a complaint if you think you're being discriminated against because of race, colour, ethnic origin, sexuality. You can also make an official complaint against the police.

  • Gambling

    Age 16
    You can buy a National Lottery ticket.

    Age 18
    You can place a bet.

  • Leaving home

    Until you turn 16, your parents, carers or guardians are responsible for you.

    But if living at home is becoming too difficult, or you are in danger (maybe because of problems like physical or sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, or domestic violence) talk to someone as soon as possible. This could be a teacher, another relative or the leader of a youth group. You can always contact ChildLine at any time for free and confidential help and support.

    If you feel you have to leave home, try to be prepared - contact your local council to ask about emergency help from social services.

    At age 16

    You can leave home without your parents' or carers' consent (you don't need their permission). If you become homeless and you're 16 or 17 years old, you may be entitled to help with money, housing, education, training and support from social services.

    You can get practical advice on your rights and what you can do to find a place to live by calling Shelter. Your local council will be able to give you more information on the help you're entitled to.

    Although you can't usually rent a home or claim benefits before the age of 18, there are exceptions. Help is available if you are 16 or 17 years old and can't live at home. Your local council or a housing advisor will be able to tell you about housing support for under 18s.

    From the age of 18

    After you turn 18, you can rent your own place and get a mortgage if you have enough money. Get advice on finding your own place to live for the first time.

  • Leaving school

    In England, you must stay in some type of education or training until the end of the academic year when you turn 17. This doesn’t only have to be school, it can also be:
    - full-time education at college
    - an apprenticeship
    - part-time education or training (as well as being employed, self-employed or volunteering for 20 hours or more a week)

    In Scotland, if you turn 16 between 1 March and 30 September you can leave school after 31 May of that year. If you turn 16 between 1 October and the end of February you can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.

    In Wales, you can leave school on the last Friday in June, as long as you’ll have turned 16 by the end of that school year’s summer holidays.

  • Money, work and benefits

    Age 11
    You can open your own current account (a type of bank account) but you will need your parents’ permission.

    Age 16
    Under certain circumstances you can claim Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, and other benefits.
    You can open your own current account without your parent’s permission.

    Age 18
    You can get a credit card or loan

    Age 13
    Is the youngest age you can get a part-time job, unless you are working in certain areas for example TV, modelling or theatre.

    Age 16
    You can get a full-time job.
    The NSPCC recommends this as a minimum age that you can work as a babysitter.

    Age 16
    You can join the Army with parental consent, but you won't be able to go on active service until you are 18.

  • Politics

    Age 18
    You can vote.
    You can become a local councillor.

  • Sex, health and marriage

    Age 12
    You are able to see your medical records, as long as your doctor believes that you will be able to understand what they mean. Medical records are details of any condition or illness you have and what treatment you may have been given.

    If you just want to have a look at your records, you can ask your doctor or nurse and they should be able to help you. If you want to be able to keep your medical records, you will have to email or write to the hospital to ask.

    Age 16
    You can legally have heterosexual sex (between a man and a woman) or homosexual or gay sex (between two members of the same sex). 

    If the person is in a position of trust (for example a teacher or youth worker) then it's illegal for them to have sex with someone aged under 18 who is their responsibility.

    You can get married (also same-sex marriage in England and Wales). You need your parents' permission if you are under 18.

    In Scotland, you don’t need your parents' permission to get married as long as you are over 16.

    Any age
    You can visit a doctor or adviser to talk about a pregnancy-related issue, such as contraception or abortion. Anything that you say should be kept private and confidential, even if you're below the age of consent (16). If you're worried, check first with the medical professional you're seeing and ask if what you say will be confidential. Find out more about seeing your doctor.  

    You can buy condoms at any age. You can also get them for free at sexual health clinics, young people’s clinics and community contraception clinics.

     Sex without consent is illegal at any age.

  • Smoking

    At 18 you can buy tobacco and cigarettes. Smoking cannabis or weed is illegal. Find our more about smoking.

  • Transport and driving

    Age 16
    You can get a license to drive a moped.

    Age 17
    You can apply for a driving licence to drive a car.

  • Travel

    At any age
    To travel abroad you will need a passport. Your appearance will change a lot so once you are over 16 you should get an adult passport.

  • Other issues

    Age 16
    Legally you can buy a pet.

    Age 18
    You can buy fireworks.

  • What are my rights? - UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

    Universal Children’s Day is celebrated on 20 November every year. This is the date that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was created in 1989.

    The Convention applies to all children and young people aged 17 years and younger. The UN Convention has 54 articles which are different parts of the Convention, that say what rights children have, and how the Government should protect those rights.

    The Convention gives children and young people a set of rights that include their right to health, an education, rest and play. It also says that governments must do everything they can do to protect and support children and young people.

    "Every child has the right to be alive and be the best person they can be."
    Find out more about the UN Convention on the rights of the child

Other sites that can help

Advice for young people. has sections on housing, the law and money issues, with real life stories and tips.

Find out what the law says about how much children are allowed to work.
Child employment (GOV.UK)

You can get housing and homelessness advice from Shelter.

Free legal advice and support from NYAS for children and young people. To get advice from a legal adviser, you can phone free on 0808 808 1001.

Free legal advice for children and young people in Scotland. You can call them free for advice on 0800 328 8970.
Scottish Child Law Centre (SCLC)

Your views on the news

Visit the world/current news board to chat to other young people about lots of things including people's rights

Go to the message boards

Did this page about your rights help you? Anything missing?


Your rights 


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