Laws and life in the UK

Laws and life in the UK

It is important to know that some things which may be allowed in other countries are not acceptable in the UK. It is your responsibility to live within the law of the UK. It is also important to understand some things which may not be allowed in other countries may be legal in the UK.

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UK values, responsibilities, rights and freedoms

Young personSikhThe UK values cultural and religious differences and tolerance and fairness are important values. Religious or right wing extremist or racist views are not tolerated.  People must respect each other’s views, religion and dress, even if it is different from what they are used to.

You are free to practice your religion in the UK.  You can find churches, mosques, synagogues or other places of worship in towns and cities. Christianity is the official religion and festivals such as Christmas in December and Easter in March/April are widely celebrated as national holidays.

Everyone in the UK has the same basic human rights and freedoms, which are protected in law.

Everyone has a right to liberty and to a fair trial.

Everyone has freedom of thought and the right to practice their religion. It is against the law to treat someone differently because of their beliefs.

Everyone has a right to marry whomever they want, regardless of race, or religion.

It is illegal in the UK to treat people in a bad or different way because of where they come from, their gender, sexuality, religion, political views, age or disability, and this is known as a hate crime. A hate crime can include: name calling, bullying, assault, robbery, and damage to house or car, graffiti or writing and harassment.

It is also important to be careful not to commit a hate crime or treat them differently than you would others – as this would be discrimination, for example although your religion may not permit homosexuality or trans identity it is not acceptable to call someone names because of this.

If you have suffered a hate crime because of who you are we encourage you to report these to the police and they will investigate the crime and offer you support and advice. The police recognise the impact hate crimes can have on individuals and communities and take them very seriously.

You can also get support to help you report a hate crime through third party reporting centres they will provide confidential advice and support you to cope with the emotional and practical impact of hate. You can remain anonymous if you wish, and you do not need to have contact with the police if you do not want to. Further information about how to report a hate crime can be found on the government website.

Interaction with others in the UK

Overcoming culture shock and adjusting to life in a new culture is difficult and it could take years before you feel fully comfortable. The best way to adjust to living in the UK is to take part in your local community by joining in activities and meeting people. You can find details of services which could provide you with the opportunity to join activities, meet people and take up volunteering opportunities in our services directory.

Body language: Eye contact is seen as polite in the UK and many people do make eye contact. It is considered to show you are listening and giving someone respectful attention. Avoiding eye contact is taken to mean someone has something to hide or wants to avoid telling someone something. Arms folded in the UK can be seen in many ways such as not paying attention and people might think you are not listening to them and bored. This is important when going to a job interview or talking to a professional.

Handshakes are often performed if people are meeting formally such as a job interview or an important meeting. It is normal for women and men to shake hands.

Queues and appointments: If there is a queue to access a service, you should join the queue to wait your turn to be seen.  Jumping in front of someone is considered rude, as in many other countries, but in the UK its taken more seriously and you might be refused service.

Shouting:  In some cultures it is common place to shout or argue loudly, in the UK this is not normal and can appear to be threatening. In the UK, it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting language or behaviour.  If someone feels threatened they are likely to phone the police.

Greetings, touching and harassment: Public displays of affection such as holding hands or kissing are permissible in the UK, people often hug their friends as a friendly gesture. Men and women often hug each other as a friendly gesture. It is very acceptable to hug in a public area, however it is not acceptable to touch anyone if they do not want to be touched; this could be regarded as sexual harassment which is against the law. Please be aware that parents may be sensitive to strangers touching or talking to their child or baby even if you mean well.



It is illegal in the UK to treat people in a bad or different way because of where they come from, their gender, sexuality, religion, political views, age or disability, this is known as:

At home in the UK

BinTo be a good neighbour you should always try to keep noise to a minimum late at night and early morning and inform neighbours if you are planning on having a party or having a large number of guests visiting.

You should find out which day to put your bin out for rubbish collection. Then bring your bin in again once it has been emptied. In most areas there are different bins, boxes or collection bags for different types of rubbish (for example, recycling).

It is sensible to keep your doors and windows locked at all times and store items like bikes and electronic equipment in a secure place.

If you want to watch television in your home, the law says you need to be covered by a TV Licence to:

  • watch or record programmes on a TV, computer or other device as they are broadcast
  • download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand

A TV Licence costs £157.50 and covers all of the following in a single property:

  • TV sets
  • computers
  • laptops
  • tablets
  • mobile phones
  • any other device that can receive a TV signal

You do not need a TV Licence to watch:

  • non-BBC programmes on online catch-up services
  • videos or DVDs
  • clips on websites like YouTube
  • closed circuit television (CCTV)

You can find out whether you need a TV Licence on the TV Licensing website.

If you need to be covered by a TV licence and do not buy one you could face a £1,000 fine.


To be a good neighbour in the UK, you should:

(Tick all that apply)

Working in the UK

Car washAsylum Seekers are not allowed to work in the UK until granted leave to remain.  If you wait longer than 12 months for an initial decision on your claim, you can request permission to work. If you are given permission to work, you will not be allowed to become self-employed and you will only be allowed to take up a job which is included on the list of shortage occupations published by UK Visas and Immigration.

If you work when you do not have the right to, you could have your earnings or properties taken away by the government. There is also a risk that you will be detained or deported.

Be aware if anyone approaches you with offers of work, they may know you do not have the right to work and they could be looking to exploit you for criminal gain, they may try and coerce you into work using threats, force, deception, or abuse of power. For example, they may:

  • Find out personal information about you and then use threats against your family in order to manipulate and control you.
  • Use your fears about your immigration status to control you.
  • Deceive you with false promises of legitimate jobs.

In the UK this is known as Modern Slavery and if you are concerned that you or someone you know is being exploited in this way you should contact the police.

You can also report concerns about modern day slavery online at

As your asylum claim may take a long time to be decided, even though you cannot work, you can still make use of your spare time by being part of your local community, join in activities, meet people and take up volunteering opportunities.

You can find details of services which could provide you with the opportunity to join activities, meet people and take up volunteering opportunities in our service directory.


If someone in the UK tries to get you to work for them by using threats, force or deception, this is known as:


If you or someone you know is being exploited in this way, you should contact:

Driving in the UK

DVLAThe Driving and Vehicle Licence Agency (DVLA) is not allowed to give you a driving licence if you are not ‘lawfully resident’ in the UK. This applies to all people who do not have leave to remain. The DVLA can revoke (cancel) your driving licence if they think you are not in the UK with permission. The DVLA does not have to let you know if they cancel your licence. This means you may not find out you are driving illegally until you are stopped by the police.

If you have a full valid driving licence issued in your home country, you may be able to drive in this country for up to 12 months from the date you arrived in the country, however you must check with the DVLA first.  To find out more about driving in the UK with a non UK licence please visit the government website or you can also find the contact details for the DVLA. After 12 months you must obtain a British Driving Licence. It is likely that you will need to have driving lessons before you will be able to pass a driving test and obtain a British driving licence. You need to be at 17 years of age before you can drive in the UK.

Driving Licence

Having a valid driving licence is just one of the things you require before you can legally drive in the UK, you will also need:

  • an insurance certificate that covers you to drive
  • the car will need to have road tax
  • the car will need to have passed an annual road safety test known as an MOT

It is also possible that the Home Office may ask you to justify how you can afford your car and if they think you have funds it may impact on your asylum support payments.

You will need to be very careful about driving a car if it is lent to you by a friend, as it is an offence to drive any vehicle without a valid licence, insurance certificate, road tax and MOT certificate.

The police already have powers to stop drivers for any reason. This means that they have the right to stop you even if they do not think you have done something wrong.  If you are stopped by the police when driving, they can demand to see the following documents:

  • Driving licence
  • Insurance certificate
  • MOT certificate.

If you do not have these documents with you, you have to take them to a police station within 7 days. If you do not take them to a police station within 7 days then you are breaking the law and you could be taken to court. If a police officer thinks that you do not have insurance they sometimes take your car away until you can prove that you have insurance.

Child in car seatIf you do decide to drive a car you need to be aware that it is an offence to:

  • drive above the speed limits set for different roads (in the UK the speed limits are in miles per hour and not kilometers)
  • drive or be in charge of a vehicle on a public road or place if you are under the influence of alcoholic drink or drugs. We advise you not to drink any alcohol whatsoever if you are going to drive. Police officers can demand that you take a breath test to see if you have been drinking alcohol. If you refuse to take a breath test you are breaking the law and you could be taken to court.
  • use your mobile whilst driving
  • smoke in your car if you have a child with you
  • every passenger in a vehicle must have their own seat, and wear a seat belt.  Therefore do not try to overload the car by carrying more people in the car than there are seat belts.
  • park in restricted areas

The driver is responsible for all children under the age of 14 to have a seatbelt, booster seat, car seat.


Before you can legally drive a car in the UK, you need:

(Tick all that apply)

Alcohol, tobacco and drugs

No drinking signThe legal age to buy alcohol is 18 years old. It is an offence for an adult to buy any alcoholic drinks for anyone under the age of 18. Some public places are designated as an ‘alcohol free zone’. If you are caught drinking in one of these areas, you can be fined.

There are also restrictions on young people under the age of 16 purchasing energy drinks containing high doses of caffeine.

The legal age to buy cigarettes or tobacco is 18 years old. It is an offence for an adult to buy cigarettes for anyone under the age of 18. It is illegal to smoke in all public enclosed or substantially enclosed areas and workplaces. This includes smoking on vehicles which serve the public such as buses and trains.  It is illegal to smoke in cars when children are present. The driver is responsible for all passengers and can be fined.

There is no legal restriction to vaping in the UK however vaping is also routinely banned in workplaces, inside and outside, outside hospitals and near public buildings.

If you are caught using, possessing or selling illegal drugs you can be arrested. You can carry drugs you buy from a chemist or drugs that are prescribed to you by your doctor. Illegal drugs are classified A, B, and C, with Class A drugs treated by the law as the most dangerous.

Class A drugs include, cocaine and crack (a form of cocaine), ecstasy,

No smoking sign

heroin and methadone and magic mushrooms.

Class B drugs include cannabis, amphetamine barbiturates, codeine and cannabis.

Class C drugs include anabolic steroids, minor tranquillisers, ketamine, and khat.

Please note that these are just examples of what is included within each category.

Please note that while cannabis is decriminalised in some countries, in the UK it is a Class B drug and it is illegal to use even in your own home.

It is also worth noting that khat, a plant used as a stimulant in some Somali communities, is illegal and is a class C drug in the UK.

Visit the government for more information on the penalties for possessing or dealing drugs.


In the UK the legal age to buy cigarettes is


In the UK the legal age to buy alcohol is


In the UK the legal age to buy energy drinks is

If someone is being aggressive to you

No weaponsIf someone is being aggressive to you, the first option should be to remove yourself from the situation. Walk or run away, lock yourself in your home, or go into a shop and ask for help.

Then call the police.

Finally you do have a right to defend yourself if needed to help you get away from the situation.

However it is really important to know that in the UK you cannot carry weapons for protection. More information on the law around carrying, buying and selling knives is available on the government website.

Stop and search

Stop and search with policeThe police can stop and question you at any time, although it is not common and should not happen regularly.  A police officer might stop you and ask:

  • What your name is
  • What you are doing in the area
  • Where you are going 

Police officers can search you depending on the situation, being searched does not mean you are being arrested. Police officers need to have ‘reasonable grounds‘ to suspect you are carrying:

  • illegal drugs
  • a weapon
  • stolen property 
  • something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crow bar 

Reasonable grounds could include such things as a police officer sees something sticking out of your bag or pocket, or you are with someone who they know had these things in the past.

A Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) must be in uniform when they stop you. Please be aware that sometimes police officers drive unmarked cars and a police officer does not always have to be in uniform but if they are not wearing uniform they must show you their warrant card.

The stop and search process is not voluntary – the law gives police the authority to stop and search, and if you refuse you can be searched by force. 

You can find out more about the police powers to stop and search on the government website.


The police 'stop and search' process is voluntary

UK laws on sex

Shadow on wall of man, child coweringIn the UK, it is an offence to have sexual contact at any time without the other person’s consent (that means both people agreeing to what is happening by choice, and having the freedom and ability to make that choice). This includes unwanted physical contact such as touching in any way, kissing or holding on to someone.  This includes your wife, girlfriend or partner.

It is important to remember that if someone is really drunk or high, they cannot give consent. And if you are sexual in any way with someone who is drunk or high and does not know what is going on and therefore cannot give informed consent, it is equivalent to raping them.

Crying womanIt is an offence to have pornographic images of children under the age of 18, this includes on your mobile phone and also drawings.  If you receive a pornographic photo of a child under the age of 18, do not forward it to anyone, delete the photo and cease contact with the person that sent it to you.  If you are concerned that someone is being abused you should report it to the Police.

It is an offence for a male or female to have sex with any person who is under the age of 16 even if they consent.  It is important not to assume a person is over 16 because you meet them somewhere like a pub or a club.  In the UK it is not socially acceptable to form romantic relationships with people under 16.

If you are aware that you are HIV positive, it is important that you tell your partner before engaging in sexual activity, if you do not do this, it could lead to criminal charges.  Being HIV positive will not affect your asylum claim or lead to you being deported from the UK.

PhoneYou may be living in areas where sex workers or people in prostitution are to be found walking the streets, however it is important to know that it is illegal in this country to approach someone in public and ask them for sex. This is often referred to as kerb crawling. You are advised not to engage in conversation with people in prostitution as there is a range of cultural attitudes and expectations which can lead to misunderstandings and could put you at risk.

Domestic violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence, and female genital mutilation

Woman in anguishViolence against your family, your husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend, partner or children is known as domestic violence and is taken very seriously in this country – remember everyone has the same rights; being married does not remove a woman’s rights.

Anyone who is violent towards their partner, spouse or another family member, whether they are a man or a woman, married or living together, can be prosecuted.

Domestic violence usually occurs in the home and can take many forms. It can be:

  • physical abuse, like hitting, kicking or hair pulling
  • emotional abuse, like blackmail, mental torture and threats to disown a person or harm those they care about
  • controlling behaviour, like restricting a person’s movements or access to or contact with family or friends or preventing access to money or a home or a career
  • coercive behaviour, like using threats, humiliation or intimidation in order to harm, punish or frighten
  • rape – being married does not mean that a partner has the right to force sex against the will of the other

Visit the government website for more information about how to get help if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence.

Man hitting woman

In the UK it is illegal for a family to force someone to marry another person without their consent.

Polygamy or having multiple husbands or wives is also illegal in the UK.

Woman looking through curtains

In the UK, it is illegal for a family to punish, abuse or hurt another family member for what they consider to be dishonourable behaviour. Honour-based violence and abuse can take many forms, for example threatening behaviour, assault, rape, kidnap, abduction, forced abortion, threats to kill and false imprisonment and are committed due to so called ‘honour’ and shame brought on a family. Some examples include, dressing or behaving too westernised, falling in love with somebody not chosen by their family, rejecting forced marriage or being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  There are men and women in the UK who have been convicted and sent to prison for harming family members for reasons of honour. If you are worried about honour-based violence you can speak to the police.

It is illegal in the UK to practice female genital mutilation (FGM) also known as cutting or female circumcision, it is also a criminal offence to take a girl or woman abroad for FGM. Children who are worried that they are in dangers of FGM can speak to police, teachers or social workers. If you are a victim of FGM, you need to speak with your GP.

Visit the NHS website for more information about FGM and advice on where to get help and support.

Protecting and caring for your children

As a parent you are legally responsible for the protection, care and well-being of your children. 

  • By law your child must be in education, most children start school full-time in the September after they turn 4. It is a parent’s responsibility to make sure their children attend school. If you do not you could be taken to court. It is acceptable for children to be away from school if they are sick or it is a family emergency, but you must inform the school straight away of the reason.
  • Going to school is very important for the welfare of a child. Helping out with tasks at home must not stop a child’s ability to go to school and learn. 
  • You should not let young children walk to and from school on their own. It is not considered safe. If you are unsure whether your child is old enough to walk to school alone or with brothers, sisters or friends, you should talk to a teacher at your child’s school.
  • It is an offence to leave children alone if this will put them at risk. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says:
    • children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
    • children under 16 should not be left alone overnight
    • babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone

If you are unsure whether your child is old enough to be left at home alone or with brothers, sisters or friends, you should talk to a teacher at your child’s school. Visit the government website for more information about the law on leaving your child at home alone.

A parent can be charged with a criminal offence if they harm their child.  You should never use any implement to hit your child with. This is illegal in the UK.  You should not smack your child as a punishment if it causes them harm. If you smack your child you could be charged with a criminal offence if it causes reddening of the skin, swellings, minor bruising, grazes, scratches, abrasions, or superficial cuts.  Parents in the UK often recommend discipline techniques that require thought and reflection on inappropriate behaviour instead of smacking. Visit the Child Law Advice website for more information about the law on smacking children and alternative discipline techniques.

If you smack, harm or neglect your children you need to be aware that social services can intervene. UK laws require social services to investigate allegations of child neglect or abuse. In some cases courts can ask social services to take the child to a foster home to make sure they are safe from harm.  

Social services may be able to offer help or advice to parents that are having difficulties caring for their children or if they are caring for a child over the age of 18 who has physical or learning disabilities.

Everyone in the UK has a responsibility to help protect children. If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, please contact the police, a school or social services.


In the UK it is a parent's responsibility to make sure their child attends school. It is acceptable for children to be away from school if:

(Tick all that apply)

Other UK rules and laws

Fine signTrainIn the UK everybody shares a responsibility to look after their local environment. This means you should not leave rubbish behind you in public spaces or in the streets but always use the rubbish and recycling bins. Throwing/dropping/putting rubbish outside and not in a bin is a criminal offence this includes chewing gum, cigarettes and seeds. This is called littering in the UK and you could be fined.  

It is also not acceptable to spit in the street or other public places and could result in you being fined.

To travel on a train, bus or metro you must have a ticket and show your ticket if you are asked. If you cannot show a ticket, you might be fined.

In the UK it is illegal to cycle on pavements and you could be fined for doing so. Please also note that it is important for your safety and the safety of others that when cycling at night to have lights on your bike, both front and back.

Woman on bike

If you borrow books from a library you may be fined if you do not return them on time.

Please be aware that most areas have CCTV to keep people from breaking rules and as a way to make areas clean and safe. 


In the UK you could be fined for

(Tick all that apply)

Making a complaint against the police

Police complaintsIn the UK, the police are not above the law, you can make a complaint against them.  You can make a complaint against a police officer or a member of police staff if you are not happy about their actions. 

You can do this by: 

  • Visiting any police station in person
  • Calling 101
  • On the local police force’s website

Contacting the police

Contacting police

You can contact the police in person by calling into any police station or on the telephone 24 hours a day.

999 – Is the number to call if you have an emergency, for example if you are the victim of an assault or see a crime taking place. When you call, say you need ‘police’, as this is also the number to call an ambulance or if there is a fire. It is free to call 999.

101 – Is the number to contact the police in less urgent situations, for example if your property has been damaged, to give information about a crime, or any general enquiries.

You can also report non emergency crimes to the police online using a simple reporting form.  You will need to search the internet for your police force online crime reporting form.

111 – Is the number to call if you are worried about a medical concern and want to get advice.

When dialling 999, if you need an interpreter, please do not hang up. Tell them what language you speak. The line may go quiet (for up to 10 minutes), then someone speaking your language will come on the line to help you.

If it is an emergency and you cannot wait on the phone, say the street name and the police will attend.

It will help by learning:

how to ask for the police

how to say your address in English

if you are not at your address learn how to use a land mark to say where you are, for example a shop or a street name

to say which language you speak



In the UK, if your car has been stolen, you should contact the police by phoning


In the UK, if your life is in danger, you should contact the police by phoning


In the UK, if property has been damaged, you should contact the police by phoning


In the UK, if violence is being used or threatened, you should contact the police by phoning

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