Partner at Cavell Leitch Law
Partner at Clark Boyce Lawyers
How to: The laws against under-age drinking
The laws against young people drinking are contained in the SALE OF LIQUOR ACT 1989.
At what age can I buy alcohol?
The legal drinking age was lowered from 20 years to 18 in 1999. It is therefore legal for people who are 18 or older to buy alcohol in a pub, bar or bottle store and even to work in a job that requires them to sell alcohol.
If you buy alcohol when you're under 18 you can be fined up to $2,000. The person who served you and the owner or manager can also be fined.
It's not illegal for a person under 18 to buy alcohol at the request of a Police officer.
"Evidence of Age" documents
If you buy alcohol you may be asked to show an official Evidence of Age document, such as a driver's licence or passport, or the "18+ Evidence of Age Document" produced by the Hospitality Association (HANZ).
At what age can I be in a pub or other licensed premises?
If you're 18 or older you're allowed to be in any licensed premises â€“ that is, pubs, bottle stores, clubs and all other places licensed to sell alcohol.
As for people under 18, it depends on the particular type of area they are in within the licensed premises:
- Restricted areas â€“ These include pubs and bottle stores. Under-18s aren't allowed to be in a restricted area, regardless of whether they are with a parent or guardian. The penalty is a maximum fine of up to $1,000.
- Supervised areas â€“ These include pub restaurants and family lounge bars. The laws are less strict than for restricted areas: people under 18 can go into supervised areas if they are with a parent or guardian, and they don't have to be having a meal. The penalty is a maximum fine of $1,000 for being in a supervised area without a parent or guardian. Under-18s can also drink alcohol there, but only if the parent or guardian gives them the alcohol to drink. In other words, the person serving the alcohol can't give it to the young person directly: they must give it to the parent or guardian.
- Undesignated areas â€“ These include all other areas of licensed premises, such as hotel rooms and TV lounges, and also supermarkets. There are no restrictions on under-18s being in undesignated areas.
It's not illegal for a person who's under 18 to be in a restricted area or to be unaccompanied in a supervised area if they're doing this at the request of a Police officer.
Note that the differences in the laws for the three types of area explained above are mainly to do with whether or not a person under 18 is allowed to be there. Just because you're allowed to be there doesn't mean you're allowed to buy alcohol there: if you're under 18, you're not allowed to buy alcohol anywhere.
Can adults buy alcohol for people who are under 18?
No, this is illegal, unless you're their parent or guardian or the alcohol will be drunk at a private gathering. The person buying the alcohol can be fined up to $2,000.
Can parents allow their under-age children to drink at home?
Yes, it's legal for parents to allow their under-age child to drink at home or any other private place.
Under-age drinkers and the Police
The Police are allowed to go into any pub or other licensed premises to inspect it. If they think you're under 18, they can require you to give them your name, address and date of birth. If you refuse, the Police can caution you, and if you still refuse, arrest you. You can be fined up to $1,000 for refusing or for giving false information.
At what age can I work in a pub or other licensed premises?
In general you must be 18 or older to work in a restricted area such as a pub or bottle store. There are exceptions for:
- preparing or serving meals
- repairs, maintenance, altering or restocking the area or any equipment in it, or removing or replacing that equipment
- checking or removing cash
Young people drinking in public places
It's an offence, punishable by a fine of up to $300, for someone under 18 to drink in a public place, or to be in a public place with alcohol that they intend to drink there, unless they are with a parent or guardian.
Where can I get advice or support for problems with alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse can easily become a problem for teenagers and it can also very often lead to criminal convictions. There are many organisations and services that parents or teenagers themselves can contact to obtain help, including:
- Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand
- Alcohol and Drug Services
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Alcohol Helplines
Check your local phonebook for the contact details for these services in your particular area.
- With the lowering of the drinking age in December 1999 the enforcement of the law has become stricter. Virtually all fines for offences relating to minors and alcohol consumption have been doubled.