UK Age-verification law explained - parents' guide | Internet Matters

UK Age-verification law explained

Parents’ guide: How will new law protect children online?

Inside the guide

In 2019, the UK will introduce a new law requiring all visitors to commercial pornography websites to prove that they are 18 or over. Age-verification or also referred to as the ‘UK porn block/law’ is intended to reduce the risk of children accessing or stumbling across pornography and will set an international model of child protection online.

What is age-verification law?

Age-verification was approved as part of the Digital Economy Bill in a bid to stop under 18s accessing inappropriate content and Government has designated the British Board of Film Classification as the age verification regulator.

In January, plans to age check all users of commercial porn sites were approved by the government body – the Regulatory Policy Committee – who dubbed them ‘fit for purpose’.

Under the law, online commercial pornography must be placed behind robust age-verification barriers to prevent children from seeing content which isn’t appropriate for them.

Also, it should not contain extreme pornography, as defined by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

These changes will only affect commercial pornography websites. This means that pornography found elsewhere online, perhaps on a social media platform, will not be covered and therefore will not behind an age wall.

The regulator, the BBFC, is required to report to Parliament annually on the effectiveness of the regulations and so there may be scope to change the regulations in the future.

Why is age-verification being introduced?

As part of their commitment to making the UK a world leader in child online safety, the Government in its 2017 Manifesto wanted to curb easy access to porn online and deal with material that would previously have been considered extreme becoming part of mainstream online pornography.

Also, there was a great concern that when young people accessed this material it would normalise harmful behaviour and affect their future emotional and psychological development.

A recent review of 200 commercial online porn sites by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) revealed that 82% offered no form or barrier to see the content and of those that did ask users to confirm their age, 89% allowed this with just a click of a button, i.e. ‘I am over 18 years old’.

What is the current law on managing commercial pornography sites?

There are four types of pornographic material online that is regulated:

Extreme Pornography

This is anything that features someone threatening a person’s life, an act that results in serious injury, bestiality or necrophilia. It is illegal to possess these images or videos and carries a sentence of between 2 -3 years and an unlimited fine.

Indecent Images of children

Indecent images of children are illegal to have on any site or to watch and carry a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Revenge Pornography

This is when an explicit or sexual image or video of a person is shared without their consent. This now a crime carries a sentence of up to 2 years in prison.

Pornography content rated 18

Under our current law, this should only be sold on DVDs on the premises of licenced sex shops to persons over the age of 18. However, it is readily available online. Age-verification will attempt to deal with this gap in the law and make such material will be lawfully available online on sites which have age verification.

How will age-verification work?

Who will enforce the law on commercial pornography websites? 

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) which already regulate film by providing age ratings have been chosen as the regulator who will be responsible for all commercial porn website comply with the law.

Online pornography sites that do not comply with the law by not having age-verification or showing extreme pornography may be blocked by Internet Service Providers and mobile network providers based on a request from the BBFC.

They may also be removed from search engines, payment-services, and social media sites to stop access to their sites.

How will users access pornography sites?

Adults will be required to use a range of solutions normally provided by third parties to demonstrate that they are 18 and over. This could involve buying a card over the counter in a shop where the verification is face to face, like buying alcohol or more traditional use of ID documents online. Digital apps could also be used to age-verify using mobile phones if adult filters have been removed. It’s important to note that the only attribute the adult content sites need is age.  They do not need to have any other identifiers – like name, address etc.

The decision on which method(s) of age verification the adult content sites use, is a matter for them.

What does this mean for data protection?

To ensure that age-verification providers maintain high standards, including on privacy and data security, the BBFC has developed a voluntary certification scheme. This involves a third party audit and includes an assessment of an age-verification solution’s compliance with strict privacy and data security requirement.

  • Certified providers will be awarded the BBFC Age-verification Certificate to reassure the consumer security checks have been made
  • The results of the third party audit will be reported on the BBFC’s age-verification website

All Age-verification solutions and online pornography providers will still have a general obligation to comply with the GDPR enforced by the ICO.

When will Age-verification of commercial porn sites be launched?

The UK will become the first country in the world to bring in age-verification for online pornography when the measures come into force later this year after the government announced that it would be delayed six months from it’s expected the date of the 15 July 2019. This will follow an implementation period to allow websites time to comply with the new standards.

Resource document

See our Inappropriate content advice hub to learn more about the issue and find practical ways to protect your child.

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Use our parental controls guides to set controls on children’s devices

FAQ: What does age-verification mean for your child?

The same way that protections are in place to restrict children from entering sex shops on the high street this will create a safety net for children to be protected online. Although age-verification is not a silver bullet and determined teenager may find ways around it to access pornography, it will mean that younger children will no longer stumble across porn on commercial porn websites.

What do parents and expert think about age-verification law?

Parents views on age-verification

More than 8 out of 10 parents (83%) feel that commercial porn sites should demand users verify their age before they’re able to access content. Our latest research also found 76% of UK parents feel there should be greater restrictions online to stop kids seeing adult content.

And 69% of parents of children aged four to 16 say they’re confident the government’s new ID restrictions will make a difference.

Expert view on age-verification

Our ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos said:

“We recognise this is a great step; especially for younger children who may stumble across it. However, as with all tools, there’s still a chance adult content will slip through the net. It’s really important parents have conversations with their child about pornography – however awkward they anticipate them to be.

“It’s essential parents help their kids learn about the difference between normal sexual behaviour and pornography so they don’t get a warped view. Having open conversations and talking to your child regularly about their digital world, will allow them to feel like they can come to you if they see adult content that has made them feel confused or upset and allow you to address it together.”


See tips from parents on how to help children recover when things go wrong online.

Read parent story

Other steps to take to protect children from online pornography

Although age-verification is a move in the right direction to help prevent children from seeing adult content, it’s important to combine this and other tools in our toolkit to keep children safe online.

There is no substitute for being engaged in children’s digital world. Having regular, honest and open conversations with children about what they’re getting up to online is important. Equipping them with the knowledge of what to do if they do see something that upsets them can help them recover better from exposure and encourage them to make smarter and safer choices online.

What steps can you take if your child seeing inappropriate content?

If your child has accidentally come across pornography or actively sought it out by searching for it, it will prompt questions about what they have seen. Visit our online pornography advice hub to see our practical tips and get age-specific advice about conversations to have.

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