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Legal rights: what can you do at 16?

Do you know what your child's legal rights are at 16? Here's an at-a-glance look at the shiny new rights they come into at this age, according to British law.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 10, 2021

Teenager on Laptop

There are a few milestone rites of passage that teenagers come into at this age. At 16, teenagers can do the following:

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The law

  • Change their name by deed poll
  • 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. If it is a 'serious crime' (murder or serious assault) a young person can be detained for longer periods.

Medical

  • Give consent to medical, dental and surgical treatment
  • Choose your own doctor
  • Pay prescription charges – unless pregnant, on income support, or in full-time education (the law differs in Wales, where you don't have to pay prescriptions until 25)
Teen Waitress

Education, 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 your 16th birthday)
  • Join the army with parental consent
  • Earn the minimum wage. At the time of writing, the UK national minimum wage for a 16-year-old is £4.35. This differs for apprentices.
  • Claim child tax credit if responsible for at least one child
  • Invest in a cash ISA
  • Join a trade union
  • If a 16-year-old is employed by her parent and holds a licence, she can work as a street trader
  • In Wales, you can leave school and work full-time. In England, you have to stay in education/training until 18 years of age

Leisure

  • Drink a beer, cider or a glass of wine with a meal in a restaurant
  • Buy a National Lottery ticket
  • Buy premium bonds
  • Fly a glider
  • Order their own passport

Driving

  • 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

Can you leave home at 16?

Yes, a 16-year-old can leave home without her parents' or carers' permission. You can also ask her to leave.

For children under 17, however, social services may apply for a 'care order'.

At 16, your child can apply to the local authority for her own home. She can also technically buy one at this age, although that's a complicated business.

Keys

If your child is 16 and homeless, the Children's Services at the local council should normally provide her with accommodation.

What is the age of consent in the UK?

The legal age of consent for sex in the UK is 16, while in Northern Ireland it's 17.

Even though the age of consent is 16, it's not legal for someone in a position of trust or power (a teacher, for example) to have sex with someone under the age of 18. The child is their responsibility, so this is illegal.

Can a 16-year-old get married?

Yes, a 16-year-old can get married (this includes same-sex marriage in England and Wales), but she would need her parents' permission. In Scotland, you do not need parental consent.

Teen Relationship

Can you get a tattoo at 16?

No. You can't legally get a tattoo until you are 18 years of age.

In regards to piercings, there are no age restrictions in England and Wales. In Scotland, you need parental consent to get your ears pierced (or any skin piercing) up to the age of 16. So at 16, you can have it done without their consent.

What is the legal age to babysit?

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.

Child benefit

You can claim child benefit until your child is 20 years old, provided that they're still in full-time education or on certain approved training courses.

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Can 16-year-olds vote?

Not in England and Wales. They can register to vote in UK elections and referendums but they must be 18 to actually vote. In Scotland, the age has been lowered to 16 for voting in elections to the Scottish Parliament as well as local elections.

Head to our Talk board to chat to other parents with teenagers.