Under 18s and the law

We asked Marija Batistich from Kensington Swan to clarify the legal ins and outs of teen drinking under the Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act that came into effect on 18 December 2013.

Is it legal?

Under the Sale & Supply of Alcohol Act the minimum legal age for the purchase of alcohol in New Zealand is 18 years. New Zealand has no minimum legal drinking age.

In other words, although those under 18 are unable to legally purchase alcohol themselves, they are legally permitted to consume alcohol.

The law is based on the belief that parents should control how and when their children are introduced to alcohol, so it makes it illegal for anyone to supply alcohol to someone under the age of 18 years without the consent of their parent or guardian.

In this section, we explain the circumstances in which parents can allow their children to consume alcoholic beverages, and what it means to give consent to someone else to give their child alcohol.

Teens should know that there are laws restricting the age at which they can buy and drink alcohol because it is a mind-altering drug, and whether they are allowed to drink is a decision their parents make.

Q&A

Photograph of Marija Batistich

Marija Batistich

Senior Associate,
Kensington Swan

When is my child allowed to drink?

There is no minimum age at which a person can consume alcoholic beverages in New Zealand. There are, however, restrictions on the sale and purchase of alcoholic beverages, and the drinking of alcoholic beverages on licensed premises. It is illegal both to supply alcohol to someone under the age of 18 years and to purchase alcohol if you are under 18 years.

Can I give my child alcohol?

It is up to parents to decide whether or not to allow their children to consume alcoholic beverages, provided that, if they do, they supply any alcoholic beverages "in a responsible manner".

When the Police and Courts are deciding if alcohol was supplied responsibly they will take into account:

  • the age of the minor
  • the strength and volume of the alcohol supplied
  • whether a choice of low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages was offered
  • the supervision of the consumption of alcohol
  • whether food was provided with the alcohol
  • the nature of the occasion
  • whether safe transport was available
  • the period over which the alcohol was supplied

What about when we are out at dinner, or in a bar together?

Whether your child can drink an alcoholic beverage when you are out for dinner or in a bar together depends on whether the restaurant or bar area is a restricted area, a supervised area, or undesignated.

In a restricted area your child may not drink an alcoholic beverage even if you are present. However, in a supervised area, your child may drink an alcoholic beverage, provided you purchase the beverage and you supply the alcohol responsibly.

Do we need to supervise our children when they’re drinking alcohol?

Parents are only able to supply alcoholic beverages to young people if they do so “in a responsible manner”.

Like we said earlier, the Police and the Courts will take supervision into account when they are deciding if someone supplied alcohol to a minor responsibly or not. So, to be safe, you should always supervise.

Can I supply an alcoholic beverage to a young person who is not my own child?

You can supply an alcoholic beverage to a minor who is not your child only if you believe, on reasonable grounds, that you have the consent of the parent or guardian of the minor, and you supply the alcoholic beverage in a responsible manner.

Do I need parental permission to allow minors to consume alcohol, where I have not supplied that alcohol?

Minors may drink alcohol in your presence, without parental permission, where you have not supplied that alcohol. However, if you supply alcohol to other minors at the same time, this alcohol must still be supplied in a responsible manner and with parental permission.