Most Videos, DVD's and Blu Ray Discs are classified depending upon their content. The classification is undertaken by the British Board of Film Classification and enforcement is undertaken by local trading standards authorities.

The legislation is contained within the Video Recordings Act 1984. Due to a technical error in the implementation of that Act, it was necessary to repeal and re-pass the Act by the Video Recordings Act 2010, but this made no practical difference to the offences or enforcement (save for the suspension of enforcement during a transition period).

In summary:

  • It is illegal to supply a classified video work to a person who has not attained the age of classification, unless it is an exempted supply.
  • It is a defence to show either that the seller did not know the age of classification, reasonably believed the purchaser to be over the age of classification or reasonably believed it to be an exempted supply.
  • It is a defence to show that the seller took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence.
  • A person may be imprisoned for up to six months or an unlimited fine or both for a breach.
  • A supply is exempted if it is not for reward and not in the course of a business.
  • There are a number of other, quite complex, exempted supplies that apply in specific circumstances.
  • It is illegal to supply R18 restricted material or equivalent restricted material through a programme on demand service (internet streaming) unless an appropriate access control system prevents a person under 18 from viewing the material.

The British Board of Film Classification have published detailed guidance (PDF 4.4MB) on how they apply age classifications and on the additional guidance provided by BBFCinsight.

Suitable for all

A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over, although it is impossible to predict what might upset any particular child. U films should be set within a positive framework and should offer reassuring counterbalances to any violence, threat or horror. If a work is particularly suitable for pre-school children, this will be indicated in the BBFCinsight.

Parental Guidance

PG Parental Guidance – General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children A PG film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Unaccompanied children of any age may watch, but parents are advised to consider whether the content may upset younger, or more sensitive, children.

12A/12 – Suitable for 12 years and over Films classified 12A and video works classified 12 contain material that is not generally suitable for children aged under 12. No one younger than 12 may see a 12A film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult.  Adults planning to take a child under 12 to view a 12A film should consider whether the film is suitable for that child.  To help them decide, we recommend that they check the BBFCinsight for that film in advance. No one younger than 12 may rent or buy a 12 rated video work.

15 – Suitable only for 15 years and over No one younger than 15 may see a 15 film in a cinema. No one younger than 15 may rent or buy a 15 rated video work.

No one younger than 18 may see an 18 film in a cinema. No one younger than 18 may rent or buy an 18 rated video work.

R18 - To be shown only in specially licensed cinemas, or supplied only in licensed sex shops, and to adults only The R18 category is a special and legally-restricted classification primarily for explicit works of consenting sex or strong fetish material involving adults. Films may only be shown to adults in specially licensed cinemas, and video works may be supplied to adults only in licensed sex shops.  R18 video works may not be supplied by mail order.


BBFC Symbols © British Board of Film Classification and reproduced with kind permission.