The aim of this study was to estimate the amount of childhood hepatitis B virus transmission in children born in the UK, a very low-prevalence country, that is preventable only by universal hepatitis B immunization of infants. Oral fluid specimens were collected from schoolchildren aged 7–11 years in four inner city multi-ethnic areas and tested for the presence of antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc). Those found positive or indeterminate were followed up with testing on serum to confirm their hepatitis B status. The overall prevalence of anti-HBc in children was low [0·26%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0·14–0·44]. The estimated average annual incidence of hepatitis B was estimated to be 29·26/100 000 children (95% CI 16·00–49·08). The total incidence that is preventable only by a universal infant immunization programme in the UK was estimated to be between 5·00 and 12·49/100 000. The study demonstrates that the extent of horizontal childhood hepatitis B virus transmission is low in children born in the UK and suggests that schools in the UK are an uncommon setting for the transmission of the virus. Targeted hepatitis B testing and immunization of migrants from intermediate- and high-prevalence countries is likely to be a more effective measure to reduce childhood transmission than a universal infant immunization programme.