Age verification in the UK explained

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

The Government has indicated that it will introduce new responsibilities on online platforms which host pornography to reduce underage access through website age verification laws. These new measures will form part of the Online Safety Bill, which is to be introduced into Parliament.

Inside the guide

What is age verification in law?

Age verification was approved as part of the Digital Economy Act in an effort to address under 18s accessing inappropriate content. However, these plans were dropped and instead picked up as a part of the draft Online Safety Bill in 2021.

The Government’s goal is for the UK to be the safest place to be online. As such, the draft Online Safety Bill includes new responsibilities for online service providers. These include the prevention of illegal material spreading and to protect users, particularly children, from legal but harmful content.

Referencing Internet Matters’ We Need to Talk About Pornography report, Minister Philp confirmed a new legal duty requiring commercial providers of pornography and the sites that allow user-generated pornographic content to have robust age checks in place to ensure their users are 18 years old or over. This is not limited to porn websites and includes any website that allows adult content.

What is the government’s plan?

The government outlined its goals to go beyond the Digital Economy Act in managing children’s access to age-inappropriate content such as online pornography. However, there were concerns that commercial pornography (as opposed to user generated pornography) was out of scope of the plans.

The draft was scrutinised by a Joint Committee and by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee.  Afterwards, Digital Minister Chris Philp announced that age verification measures in the Online Safety Bill would be extended.

How is pornography currently regulated?

There are four types of pornographic material online that the law currently covers:

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 as well as a fine.

Indecent Images of children

Indecent images of children are illegal to have, host or watch. Doing so can carry a sentence of up to 9 years imprisonment.

Revenge Pornography

This is when someone shares explicit or sexual content of a person without their consent. This can carry a  maximum sentence of 2 years in prison.

Pornography content rated 18

Only licenced sex shops can sell DVD and other pornographic content to persons over the age of 18. This is according to current law.

How will age verification work under law?

Who will enforce the law on commercial pornography websites? 

The Office of Communications (Ofcom) which already regulates the TV, radio and video on demand will also regulate the new online safety regime created by the Online Safety Bill.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile network providers may block online pornography sites that do not comply with the law by not having age verification or showing extreme pornography.

Search engines, payment-services and social media sites may also remove these sites from appearing to people from accessing this content.

How will sites with pornographic content verify users’ ages?

There are no plans for the government to state specifically what sites will need to do to prevent underage access. Perhaps sites will require users to register their credit card, or users might need to use a third-party service to prove their age.

What does this mean for data protection?

Regulated services will have to meet the UK’s data protection standards enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

When will age verification requirements come into force?

It is expected that DCMS will introduce the Bill into Parliament around Spring 2022, but it will likely be many months or years before pornography providers will be required to introduce age verification.

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’s protection online. Although age verification is not a silver bullet, these measures should mean younger children are less likely to stumble across or access pornographic content online.

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

What do people think about age verification in law?

Parents’ views on age verification

In the report, We Need to Talk About Pornography, parents shared their reactions to age verification requirements on commercial pornographic websites. Additionally, they shared their concerns and experiences of their children seeing online pornography.

  • More than 8 out of 10 parents (83%) felt that commercial porn sites should demand users verify their age before they’re able to access content.
  • 76% of UK parents felt there is a need for greater restrictions online to stop kids seeing adult content.
  • However, almost a fifth of parents were against age verification tools due to concerns around security issues or fraud connected to sharing personal data.

Young peoples’ views on age verification

Our Demystifying teens’ online interactions research produced through a partnership with Roblox revealed what teens would like to see implemented. Among these things was improved identity verification online to help them feel more comfortable building online relationships. It also showed that privacy is important to young people and that they like to feel in control of their personal information.

An expert’s view on age verification

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos said:

“[Age verification measures in law] is a great step. . . . 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 you can take to protect your child from online pornography

Although age verification should help prevent children from seeing adult content, it’s important to combine this with other measures to keep children safe online.

There is no substitute for being engaged in your child’s digital world. Have regular, honest and open conversations with children about what they’re doing online.

Equip them with the knowledge of what to do if they do see something that upsets them too. This can help them recover better from exposure and encourage them to make smarter and safer choices online.

If your child accidentally comes across pornography or actively seeks it out, they are likely to have questions about what they have seen. Visit our Online Pornography advice hub for practical tips, including age-specific conversation starters.