Can you get arrested for running away from home?

Can I get arrested for running away

If you’re thinking about running away, you’re probably worried about some of the consequences of doing it. Will your parents or loved ones be angry? Will your siblings feel you’ve abandoned them? Will you be safe on the streets? Can you get arrested for running away?

While you may not be entirely certain how to respond to the first pair of those questions, the second two are much easy to answer:

Can you get arrested for running away in the UK? No, you can’t.

Running away (or ‘going missing’ as it’s also known) is not illegal in the UK, and you won’t be in trouble with the police if you do it. So if you feel like you need to speak to the police when you’ve run away or are living on the streets, you don’t need to let the fear of being punished stand in your way.

It’s understandable that there is some confusion over whether you can get arrested for running away, as in some countries running away is illegal. For example in America there are nine states where it is illegal to run away if you’re under 18 years old. However, regardless of the laws elsewhere or what you may have heard, in the UK it is not illegal to run away from home.  

If someone is telling you that the police will arrest you or you will be in trouble with the law, they are lying to you. Often adults who want to exploit young people tell them they will be in trouble with the police, because these exploiters don’t want the police to find out what they’re doing or have been making you do.

Will you be safe on the streets?

Young people living on the streets are extremely vulnerable. If you’re living on the streets you’ll be at a much higher risk of being attacked and abused, of becoming ill and of being hungry, cold and alone.

Being targeted by criminal gangs is one of the main dangers a young person living on the street faces. These gangs know that they can take advantage of the fact that you don’t have a warm place to stay, that you are hungry or that you’ll need somewhere to wash or go to sleep. They’ll offer you these things in exchange for you doing ‘favours’ for them, but these favours usually turn out to be carrying and selling drugs, or having sex with people you don’t want to.   

So while running away may be legal, it’s very rarely a good idea. You should think of running away as a last resort. If you really want to get out of your current home environment or away from your parents or carers, there are plenty of people you can get in contact with who’ll be able to help you, including:

  • Police – on their emergency number 999 or their non-emergency number 101.
  • The Children’s Society - we can help you find your nearest support service  
  • Social services – go online to find out how to contact your local social services team.
  • A teacher – if you tell a teacher at school what you’re going through, they’ll know what to do and who to refer you to so you can get the help you need.