Legal rights at 16


Teenage girl holding glass of wine behind backIf you've got a teenager who's turning 16, here's an at-a-glance list of their legal rights. Useful facts for chucking into arguments about why you forbid whatever it is you're forbidding.

16 year olds and the law

At 16, teenagers can:

  • Apply for legal aid
  • Receive a community sentence called a Youth Rehabilitation Order
  • Be detained in custody (but not in an adult jail) under a Detention and Training Order - the maximum term is two years but some of this will be served under supervision in the community

A young person found guilty of a serious crime, such as murder or serious assault, can be detained for longer periods.

16 year olds and relationships

  • Have sex, gay or straight, as long as their partner is also 16+ (or 17+ in NI)
  • Move out of the family home (but if under 17, social services may apply for a care order)
  • Rent accomodation (but an adult guarantor is required)
  • Get married (with parental consent)

Medical treatment 

  • Give consent to medical, dental and surgical treatment
  • Choose their own doctor
  • Pay prescription charges - unless pregnant, on income support or in full-time education (law differs in Wales)

Study, work, benefits and money 

  • Get free full-time education (at school, sixth form college and city technology college)
  • Access school records
  • Claim benefits and get a National Insurance number (this should be sent automatically a few weeks before their 16th birthday)
  • Join the armed forces (with consent of parents or carers)
  • Work as a street trader and/or sell scrap metal
  • Earn the minimum wage
  • Claim child tax credit if responsible for at least one child
  • Invest in a cash ISA

NB: The law was recently changed regarding compulsory education - from September 2013, young people must stay in education until they are 17. In 2015, it will rise again to age 18.


  • Drink beer or cider with a meal in a pub or hotel (but can't be the person buying it)
  • Do the football pools and play the National Lottery
  • Buy Premium Bonds
  • Fly a glider 
  • Order their own passport


  • Ride a moped with a maximum engine power of 50cc (and a provisional licence), drive an invalid vehicle (with a licence) and a mowing machine or small tractor.
  • Drive a car if receiving mobility allowance

Parents, babysitting and the law

There's no minimum age in law for when a young person is allowed to babysit another child. But parents have legal responsibility until the minor becomes 18 – so if difficulties arise while the younger child is looked after, the parents can be found to be neglectful by using poor judgement. RoSPA and the NSPCC recommend that no-one under 16 is left to care for an infant.

At 16, child benefit ceases unless your child is still in full-time education up to A-level or equivalent, or on certain approved training courses. Child benefit can be claimed in these circumstances until the young person is 20 years old.


Last updated: 14-Jul-2014 at 5:04 PM