Young Londoners can get ID cards from February

The government is touting the cards as a way for 16- to 24-year-olds to prove their age, but has come under criticism over the cost

Londoners aged 16 to 24 will be able to apply for a card under the National Identity Scheme from 8 February, the Home Office has announced.

The ID cards will be useful to prove the bearer's age, identity and passport minister Meg Hillier said in a statement on Monday.

"The national identity card will prove an extremely useful tool for young people in London, whether they are opening a bank account, buying age-restricted goods such as computer games or DVDs, entering a nightclub or travelling to Europe," said Hillier.

Some early adopters have had difficulties using the identity cards as travel documents, according to reports. Salford resident Norman Eastwood was refused passage to Rotterdam in December, despite having an ID card, the BBC reported.

But a Home Office spokesman said the majority of legitimate travellers with ID cards should not be refused entry to Europe.

"We expect all carriers in the UK to accept national identity cards for travel as a legal duty, and we are confident that the vast majority of travellers will have no problems using their identity card as a travel document," said the spokesman.

ID cards will cost £30, but will be available only to people who have a passport or whose passport has recently lapsed, the Home Office said. An adult passport costs £77.50 to get or amend.

Privacy campaigner Phil Booth, national co-ordinator for the No2ID campaign, said young people would do better to use government-approved proof-of-age cards, rather than an ID card, to demonstrate their age.

"To get a £30 ID card, you have to have bought a £77.50 passport," said Booth. "You can get a validated proof-of-age card, that doesn't involve you having a passport or giving your fingerprints, for £10 or £12. If the database behind ID cards weren't so sinister, it would be ridiculous."

Booth said that once people have signed up to the National Identity Register, they have a legal obligation under the Identity Cards Act to update information — such as change-of-address — for the rest of their lives, or face fines of up to £1,000.

The Home Office spokesman said that while people have a legal obligation to update their details, the Home Office will not enforce the penalties if the owners no longer carry the card.

"Our policy is clear that we will not enforce the requirement to update personal information if you have returned your card to cancel it, or you report it lost or stolen, and inform us you do not wish to renew it," said the spokesman.

Home secretary Alan Johnson announced in December that 16- to 24-year-olds in London would be the next group to be approached for the ID card scheme, following a rollout in the north-west of England.

The Conservatives have said they will scrap the cards should they win the next general election, which must be held by June 2010.