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Buying alcohol

Drinking at home

House parties

Drinking in public places

Drinking on licensed premises

Additional information

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Buying alcohol

If you are under 18, it is against the law for you to buy alcohol.  It is also against the law if you are under 18 for anyone to sell you alcohol.

What if I am under 18 and I am caught buying alcohol anyway?

If you’re under 18 and you’re caught buying alcohol, you can:

•    get a warning from police; or

•    get a formal caution from police; or

•    get a fine of up to  $750 if you are taken to court and found guilty.

All of the penalties are imposed by the police and the police officer gets to decide which is most appropriate.

A warning is for a minor offence and is given “on the spot”.

A caution is a formal warning from the police. It will be in writing and will state your offence (such as buying alcohol). Both you and your parents will receive a copy of the caution, and the police will also keep one on their records. If you receive a caution you won’t be taken to court, however you can only receive one caution within a year. This means that if you commit another offence within a year of receiving a caution, you can be taken to court for a heavy fine and the possibility of a criminal conviction.

Warnings and cautions are not criminal charges. See our Warning and Formal Cautions page for more information.

Do I need to show ID?

If you’re buying alcohol, or entering part of a pub, club or bar that is restricted to adults, and look like you might be under 18, the staff will probably ask you for ID. If you don’t have ID, you can be refused entry or not allowed to buy alcohol, regardless of your actual age.

A police officer has the power to ask you to provide identification if they believe you are under 18 and committing an offence (such as buying or possessing alcohol) in a public place.

You can prove your age with a card that contains your name, photo and date of birth. For example, you can use your:

•    ACT Driver’s Licence;

•    ACT Proof of Identity card;

•    passport; or

•    driver’s licence/proof of age card from another Australian state.
School or college ID cards, transport concession cards and bank cards are not acceptable to prove your age.

All documents must be valid, so they can’t be expired, punched or clipped.

If you don’t show ID to a police officer when asked, if you use a fake ID, or if you give false information, you can be:

•    given a caution; or

•    taken to court (where you can receive a fine of  up to $750).

For more information see our Fake ID page.

Where can I drink alcohol?

Drinking at home

Private premises are places like your home or a friend’s house, but not public places like parks or shopping malls. There is no law against drinking in private premises when you are under 18.

However, you should be aware that the adult who gives you alcohol may be breaking the law. They can be taken to court for a fine of up to $3,000 if you are found guilty, unless they are:

•    your parent;

•    your guardian; or

•    another person who was given permission by your parent or guardian to give you alcohol.

House parties

If there is alcohol at a house party and people are under 18, it is best that those who are under 18 get permission from their parent or guardian to drink alcohol at the house party.  Any responsible adult at the house party who is supplying alcohol should also get your parent or guardian’s permission to do so.  It is best for permission to be in writing (eg an email or text message from the parent or guardian of the person under 18).

But even if you have permission to drink in private premises, you must be supervised responsibly. If not, your parent, guardian or supervising adult can be fined up to $3,000 if found guilty. It is up to the police officer to decide whether your parent, guardian or supervising adult should be taken to court, but it would be more likely to happen if you are:

•    very young;

•    unsupervised;

•    given strong alcohol;

•    given a large amount of alcohol; or

•    already drunk when given alcohol.

In any event, you and your parents have a responsibility to take care of those at the party and to ensure those at your party are safe and not harmed. Your parents would be expected to supervise the party and to prevent excessive drinking and other safety risks.

Drinking in public places

If you are under 18, it is against the law for you to have any alcohol in a public place.  This means that you don’t have to be drinking alcohol, you can be fined for just having alcohol, known as “possession”. If you are caught, the police can take you to the police station and request that your parents collect you.

Public places are places that are open to, or entitled to be used by the public and usually include, for example:

•    footpaths and roads;

•    parks;

•    beaches;

•    shopping centres;

•    unlicensed restaurants, cafes and dining areas (places that do not sell alcohol);

•    community centres, halls and churches;

•    theatres, libraries and galleries;

•    public transport (buses, trains, trams, aeroplanes, taxis, ferries);

•    gyms and sporting facilities; and

•    hospitals.

There are two exceptions. You will not be breaking the law if you are under 18 and you have alcohol in a public place as part of:

1    Your employment, if you work at a licensed venue (see Alcohol in a Licensed Venue below); or

2    Your training, if you are doing an official alcohol training program (like a Responsible Service of Alcohol course),

Alcohol-free zones

It is always against the law to drink alcohol in an alcohol-free zone, regardless of whether you are under or over 18. There are many alcohol-free zones across public areas of the ACT. Some of the main alcohol-free zones are within 50 metres of a:

•    bus stop;

•    bus interchange;

•    shop; or

•    licensed venue.

Some alcohol-free zones are permanent, such as around Civic and many skate parks. Otherwise, temporary alcohol-free zones can be set up at public events like the Summernats.

Alcohol-free zones (also called alcohol-prohibited zones) can be marked by signs on the street, on buildings and at the entrance to parks and other public spaces. Sometimes they may not be marked at all. If you are unsure, it is best to check the signs and ask around.

Drinking on licensed premises

“Licensed venues” are hotels, pubs, clubs, bars, bottle shops and (some) restaurants. They have a licence to sell alcohol to people 18 years and over. If you are under 18, it is against the law for you to drink or possess alcohol in a licensed venue, even if you are with your parent or guardian.

If you are caught drinking or in possession alcohol in a licensed venue, you can receive a warning, a caution or you can be taken to court. Remember that you can only receive one caution every 12 months. If you are taken to court, you can face a fine of up to $750 if found guilty. 

You are allowed to be in a licensed venue as long as you don’t have or drink alcohol. However, you cannot be in an “adults-only” area without supervision from a parent, guardian or responsible adult. Adults-only areas should be clearly marked with signs. For example, if you are under 18 and you go to a pub with your family, you can be in the dining area or function space, but probably not the gambling areas.

If you have or drink alcohol, you can be asked to leave by the staff and fined up to $750 if the police take you to court and you are found guilty. If you are given alcohol by an adult, they can also be fined up to $3,000 in court if found guilty.

Although you can never drink alcohol in a licensed venue if you are under 18, you will not be breaking the law if you are in possession of alcohol as part of:

1    your employment, if you work at a licensed venue; or

2    your training, if you are doing in an official alcohol training program (like a Responsible Service of Alcohol course).

Additional information

For more information, you may like to visit the following websites:

•    Tips for drinking responsibly

•    ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate

This page was last updated in January 2017.

NCYLC would like to express thanks to the law clerks and volunteers who assisted with the preparation of this material: Shareen Dhillon, James McGrath, Trishala Shah, Isabelle Youssef.