What can you legally do at 16?

My biggest boy turned 16 last week. It’s a pretty big milestone. Although still legally a child, there’s a lot of pretty adult stuff you are actually allowed to do at 16 (including unfortunately pay adult entrance fees into most places). Some of this stuff can only be done with parental consent and some of it without. As a parent, I’m not sure if I’m happy or ready for my son to do some of these things. I’m pretty sure he isn’t happy or ready either.

So I thought I’d look into exactly what a 16 year old is legally allowed to do in the UK. There’s quite a lot of things, some of which I knew and some I didn’t. So here goes…

At 16 in the UK, you are legally allowed to:

  • Get married or register a civil partnership with consent
  • Drive a moped or invalid cart
  • Consent to sex with others aged 16 or over
  • Leave school, but stay in full or part-time education elsewhere or start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • Get a National Insurance number
  • Join a trade union
  • Earn the minimum wage for 16 and 17 year olds
  • Drink wine or beer with a meal if accompanied by an over 18
  • Join the Armed Forces with a parent’s consent
  • Change your name by deed poll
  • Leave home with or without consent
  • Choose a GP
  • Consent to your own medical treatment
  • Pilot a glider
  • Buy a lottery ticket
  • Apply for a passport with parental consent
  • Register as a blood donor, although you won’t give blood until you’re 17

What do you think? Are you the parent of a 16 year old or nearly-16 year old and would you be happy for him or her to be doing some of this stuff?

16, Sixteen, 16th birthday, What can you do legally at 16?



Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Hmmm I think there are a few things on that list that a parent might never feel ready for, never mind the thought of them being able to do them at just 16! My son did actually register as a blood donor as he turned 16 as it happens. He first gave blood days after turning 17 and has been going back something like three times a year ever since. I’m quite sure he has ticked some more of these things on your list too but I’m definitely most proud of the blood donor thing! Ha!

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    • That’s really good! I would be very proud of him too.
      But I’m definitely not as happy about some of the things on the list!

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  2. Sarah,

    Do you remember “House of Fun” by Madness? Totally unrelated to reality, of course…

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    • Well I’ll tell you what I’m not going to do and that is share this blog post with my soon-to-be 16 year old because she would leave school (and probably home) immediately if she thought she could!

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      • Well she’d have to go into some other form of education or training, it’s not like the old days!
        Funnily enough, I’m not sharing it with my son either!

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    • Aaagh! Don’t remind me…

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  3. Happy birthday to your 16 year old!
    There’s quite a lot in this list that I didn’t know, including the drinking alcohol with food. Consent to sex… Leave home…. I can’t imagine!

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    • Thanks very much! I didn’t know that about the alcohol with food either. Hopefully he’s not going to be rushing into much of this stuff!

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  4. Eek! In just over a year and a bit my girl is 16 and I dread to think of her doing some of these things even with my consent.

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    • That’s exactly how I feel about most of them! It all seems very grown up to me.

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  5. Wow, lots of freedom! And I remember waiting to be old enough to buy a lottery ticket as it started a couple of years before I turned 16! Pretty sure I bought one for the first draw after my 16th birthday and convinced myself I was going to win. I haven’t bought many since!

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    • It is an awful lot of freedom! I was well past 16 when the lottery started and I still buy a ticket every week. I’ve pretty much stopped thinking I’m going to win, but it’s a habit I can’t quite break.

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  6. What an interesting read especially the leaving home with or without consent, though no idea where a 16 year old would go (have they seen the price of houses !!!). I didn’t know about having a drink with a meal at 16, I just thought it was not until 18 full stop. Not going to tell my nearly 15 year old this one. He costs us a fortune when eating out as it is x

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  7. And of course that’s different to when we were 16 – at least they can’t smoke now for example. Can’t they also put their name down on the electoral register – although they can’t vote yet.

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