LM’s Guide to British…Legal Ages

I think I’ve said all I can about British transport, at least without boring everyone into a coma, if you aren’t already.  So how about a change by looking at the legal ages for doing various things on this side of the pond.

Since I write in the romance genre I am going to concentrate on things that are likely to crop up in those books, rather than things like what age it is your own personal responsibility to wear a seat belt (14 if anyone cares).

Drinking Alcohol

Unlike the US where the legal drinking age is 21, here you can buy alcohol at the age of 18.  I suspect this is the most widely known age limit difference, but the US drinking limit still manages to creep into books set in England now and again.

You can go into a bar at 14, but can only order soft drinks at that age.

At 16 you can have beer, wine or cider in a restaurant if you are having a meal with an adult present.  You can also purchase liquor chocolates.  😉

Having Sex

The age of consent is 16.  It doesn’t matter whether it is gay or straight sex.  (The age of consent is 17 in Northern Ireland.)

16 is also the age when a person is able to give medical consent in their own right and get medical advice on their own, including contraceptive advice.

Leaving School

I’m including this since I do like to focus on first loves in a lot of my stories and know that many other authors like to do the same.  The age for leaving school is actually undergoing changes at the moment.  It was the case that you could leave school at 16, though it has gone up to 17 for those who started secondary education after September 2008.

Moving Out

You can move out of your home with your parent’s permission at 16.


Providing you have parental consent you can get married at 16.

If your character plans on eloping then they’ll have to wait a couple of years until they’re 18.

Same sex marriages became legal in the UK on 28 March 2014.  Prior to that date there were civil partnerships which afforded gay couples certain legal rights previously only available to married couples.  Now, things are much more equal when it comes to UK marriage laws.

Armed Forces

Like marriage, joining the armed forces is something you can do at 16 if you have the consent of a parent or carer.


You can learn to drive at 17 in the UK. This is also the age you can learn to fly planes, helicopters and hot air balloons.  You can’t get licences to fly commercially until you’re 21 though.

But, if you’re really desperate to find a mode of transport before the age of 17 then you can always fly a glider instead, since you can do that at 16!

I hope you are enjoying my British Guides.  If you are do let me know, and feel free to add your own British tidbits in the comments.  Also let me know if there is any topic you would like to see me cover.

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