Leaving Children Alone at Home

Leaving children alone at home

Advice from the NSPCC

What the law says

Strange as it may seem, there’s no set age for leaving children home alone. The law simply says that you shouldn’t leave a child alone if they’ll be at risk.

There’s such a wide variation in the rate that children mature that it would be almost impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” law. Instead, the choice is left to parents. They know their children best and can use their own judgement.

That’s not to say that there are no laws on leaving children home alone. Under the Children and Young Persons (England and Wales) Act 1933, the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1968, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect. This means that they can be fined or sent to prison if they are judged to have placed a child at risk of harm by leaving them at home alone, regardless of where in the UK the child lives.

There might not be a specific legal age to leave children alone but it’s safe to say babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone, even if it’s just while you pop down the road. Even if they’re sleeping peacefully when you leave they could well wake up and get very upset when you’re not there to look after them. They would not be able to protect themselves in an emergency and may even try to leave the property to find you.

Please see our advice on baby and toddler safety for more information on keeping young children safe.

Our advice on leaving a child at home

  • Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
  • Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time
  • Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight
  • Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone
  • A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age
  • If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling
  • When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out - would they both be safe?

Read further advice on how to decide if your child is ready to be left at home alone.