With May half-term and summer holidays around the corner, along with lighter evenings, it seems a good time to consider the law and guidance about children being home alone.

The NSPCC has created a tool to help parents decide whether or not their child is ready to be left at home alone. It asks questions for parents to consider and helps them to prepare their child for being left.

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 will be at risk.

Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect. This means they can be fined or sent to prison if they are considered to have placed a child at risk of harm by leaving them at home alone. The local authority would also be informed, and may decide to bring child protection proceedings, so it is important to make sure you are within the law.

The NSPCC advice on leaving a child at home confirms:

  • 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
  • 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?

If you are leaving an older child alone, make sure they know who to contact in an emergency and check on them regularly.

  • Leave a contact telephone number, and be available to answer it immediately
  • Make sure your child knows about keeping safe at home p Tell your child not to answer the door to strangers
  • Make sure your child knows what to do in an emergency and how to dial 999 if they need to and escape from the house if required.
  • Leave a list of people they can contact if they need to like neighbours and grandparents.
  • Make sure any hazards like matches and medicines are out of reach.
  • Make sure your child is happy about this.
  • Make sure your child knows when you will be back, and make sure you are back at this time.

It’s a good idea to talk to your child when you’re home, and make sure he or she has been happy about the arrangements and nothing has worried them.

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.

Given this, it is really important to make sure you have after-school and school holidays covered.

Share the time off school with partners, family, and friends, and make use of childminders and holiday clubs. But don’t take the risk.