General

What is social distancing?

 

Social distancing refers to measures you can take to reduce your social interaction with people. It includes:

 

- avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)

- avoiding non-essential use of public transport when possible

- working from home where possible

- avoiding large gatherings where possible (see further information below under “What are the restrictions on gatherings?”)

- using telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services rather than attending in person

- staying two metres (or six feet) apart from others where possible

 

Am I legally obliged to socially distance?

There is nothing in the regulations that makes it a legal requirement to socially distance, however the government guidance maintains that social distancing should occur wherever possible.

 

Who qualifies for critical worker status?

 

Those working in:

 

- health and social care

- education and childcare

- key public services including law enforcement

- food and other necessary goods

- public safety and national security

- transport

 

Further detailed guidance on each of these categories can be found here.

 



Leaving the house

When am I allowed to leave my home? 

As of June 1st 2020, there is no restriction on leaving your home, except if you plan to stay elsewhere overnight.

 

Under what circumstances can I stay overnight at a place other than my home?

You need a reasonable excuse to stay overnight at any place other than your home. A “reasonable excuse” includes the following:

- to attend a funeral (assuming you are entitled to attend – see below at "Who is allowed to attend a funeral?”)

- to train or compete, if you are an elite athlete, coach of an elite athlete or parent if the elite athlete is under 18

- to move house

- to work or to provide voluntary/charitable services

- to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person

- to provide emergency assistance

- to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm

- to obtain medical assistance

- to fulfil a legal obligation or participate in legal proceedings

- to continue existing childcare arrangements

- where it is not safe to return home

- where living at home is unavailable for any other reason

This list is non-exhaustive.

What are the restrictions on gatherings?

 

In general, the following gatherings are prohibited:

- an outdoors gathering comprising more than six people

- an indoors gathering comprising more than two people

These prohibitions do not apply if:

- all people in the gathering are from the same household.

- the gathering takes place at an educational facility (e.g. school) and the gathering is “reasonably necessary for the purposes of education”.

There are also the following, further, exceptions:

- funeral attendance

- a gathering necessary for training or competition where the person concerned is an elite athlete, the coach of an elite athlete, or parent (if the elite athlete is under 18)

- to work, or to provide voluntary or charitable services

- to move house

- to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person

- to provide emergency assistance

- to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm

- to obtain medical assistance

- to fulfil a legal obligation or participate in legal proceedings

- to continue existing childcare arrangements

- for the purposes of “early years childcare”

Note that there are NO other exceptions allowed for by the legislation.

Who is allowed to attend a funeral?

A member of the deceased person’s household or a close family member. If there is nobody attending from either of those categories, a friend may attend.

Again, government guidance is that social distancing measures should be abided by.

Who is considered an ‘elite athlete’?

An elite athlete is defined as somebody who meets one of the following criteria:

- they derive their living from competing in a sport

- they are a senior representative nominated by a relevant sporting body

- they are a member of the senior training squad for a relevant sporting body

- they are aged 16 or above and on an “elite development pathway”

 

Travel

Am I allowed to use public transport?

Yes, you can use public transport, however, people are urged to avoid public transport if possible, to aid with social distancing.

Do I have to wear a face covering whilst using public transport?

No, the government guidance states face coverings should be worn when using public transport, or in enclosed spaces, but this is not a requirement.

 

Do I have to be a critical worker to travel to work?

No.  Any person is allowed to travel to work.

 

If possible, avoid using public transport to get to work.

 



Work

Do I have to go to work if I am unable to work from home?

No, you should only go to work if your work is open and processes have been put in place to make your work environment safe. Workers have the right in law not to work if it would put them in imminent danger.

 

In England, employers will be provided with guidelines on keeping workplaces as safe as possible, including the use of staggered shifts and frequent cleaning. If workplaces do not follow these guidelines, they could face criminal proceedings.

 

For further information please click here.

Can I go into other people's homes to work?

 

If you're a cleaner or plumber etc., needing to enter someone else's home for your job, you are allowed to return to work.

However, unless there is a direct risk to household safety, no work should be carried out in the home of someone shielding or isolating because of Covid-19 symptoms. In homes where someone is shielding or isolating because of Covid-19 symptom, face-to-face contact should be avoided, and strict hygiene rules followed.

For further guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people's homes in England please click here.

Can I use a childminder, nursery or nanny to watch my children whilst I go to work?

Childminders and nannies are now allowed to care for children as long as all the children in their care are from the same household.

This does not impact the childcare already being provided to key workers.



Enforcement

Can the police enforce the regulations?

Yes, if you are caught breaching the regulations you can be:

 - fined (see below at “How much are people being fined for breaching the regulations?”); or

- prosecuted (see below at “What happens if I am prosecuted for a breach?”)

Is it an offence not to comply with directions given by a police officer regarding gatherings?

A ‘relevant person’ (generally a police officer) can take ‘such action as is necessary’ to enforce the prohibition on gatherings. This includes issuing a prohibition notice. A person who contravenes such a direction or fails to comply with a prohibition notice commits an offence (provided that the intervention by the relevant person was ‘reasonable’). It should also be noted that somebody who ‘obstructs, without reasonable excuse’ any person carrying out a function under the regulations commits an offence.

Can I be fined for not socially distancing or not wearing a face mask?

The college of policing have stated that they have no powers to enforce social distancing (i.e. the two-metre distancing rule) or the government guidance to wear a face covering whilst on public transport or in confined spaces. 

How much are people being fined for breaching the regulations?

Where an enforcement decision is taken, in most circumstances the police are likely to issue a fixed penalty notice (although they are not obliged to do so).

The fine will be £100 but is reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days.

If the person is not dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice then a Magistrates’ Court can technically impose an unlimited fine (though the offender’s means will always be considered). 

However, police guidance suggests that enforcement should be a “last resort”.

What if someone commits more than one offence and receives multiple fixed penalty notices?

For every subsequent fixed penalty notice an individual receives, the amount doubles from £100, up to a maximum amount of £3,200 (i.e. for the sixth and subsequent fixed penalty notices received). 

It is worth remembering that the police do not have to issue a fixed penalty notice.

What happens if I do not pay a fixed penalty notice?

If you do not accept a fixed penalty notice (or one is not issued), then you will be liable to prosecution for the alleged breach, where the Magistrates’ Court can impose an unlimited fine (though the means of the offender will always be considered).

Will I receive a criminal conviction for breaching the regulations?

If you receive a fixed penalty notice, which you pay, you will not receive a criminal conviction. However, you may receive a criminal record if the case goes to the Magistrates’ Court and you are convicted.

What happens if I am prosecuted for a breach?

The prosecution would take place in the Magistrates’ Court and would be heard by three volunteer (‘lay’) magistrates or a single District Judge.

 

Would I be entitled to legal aid to challenge the alleged breach?

No. The maximum sentence is a fine. As you cannot be imprisoned, legal aid is unlikely to be available.

If I was convicted in the Magistrates’ Court would I have a right of appeal?

Yes. There is an automatic right of appeal from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court following a trial in the Magistrates’ Court where a person is found guilty. The appeal is a complete re-hearing.

 

Note, however, that if an appeal is unsuccessful you would be liable to pay a higher amount towards the prosecution costs.

Who would be hearing my appeal in the Crown Court?

A Crown Court judge (‘Circuit Judge’ or ‘Recorder’) sitting with two volunteer magistrates.

 

Do I commit an offence if my child breaches the regulations?

Parents do not automatically commit a criminal offence simply because their child fails to comply with the regulations. 

However, if their child has stayed overnight in a place other than their home or repeatedly gathered with too many others, the police may direct the parent to take the child home. 

The parent must comply with that direction, so far as reasonably practicable. Failing to do so could amount to a criminal offence. 

This offence is explained in more detail here

Can people be detained by authorities to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

Yes. If there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect a person is ‘potentially infectious’ a public health officer or police officer is entitled to remove the person to a place where the person can be assessed/screened. He may also simply direct that the person goes to a suitable place.

 

What happens if the screening indicates that the person is infected with coronavirus?

Where a person has been diagnosed with coronavirus (or where the screening is ‘inconclusive’) they can be subject to requirements that either oblige them to remain at a specified place for a specific period (in isolation or otherwise) or place restrictions on their movement/activities/contact. These restrictions can be in place for a maximum of 28 days although this does not apply to the requirement to remain in isolation, which could potentially last indefinitely.

 

Is there any appeal against such restrictions being imposed?

Yes, there is an appeal to the Magistrates’ Court, which can either confirm or quash the requirement or restriction.

Do violations of the restrictions on potentially infectious people constitute a criminal offence?

Yes. The maximum sentence is a fine of up to £1000.

Please note that this document contains our summary of the legal position and should not viewed as formal legal advice.