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 on the government website.

Leaving the house
Am I allowed to leave my home? 

As of 5.11.20, there is once again a restriction on leaving your home. 

This applies to all areas in England, regardless of the ‘Tier’ under which your area was previously designated.

No person may leave or be outside of the place where they live, without reasonable excuse.

The place where you live, includes any garden, yard, passageway, staircase, garage or outhouse attached to your premises.

There are a number of exceptions to the general rule, which amount to a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave your home.

When is it regarded as necessary to leave home?

A number of purposes for leaving home are considered ‘necessary’ – they provide a reasonable excuse to leave your home.  They are:

-          To buy certain goods, or obtain certain services for your household, or for a vulnerable person: this includes food, medical supplies, petrol, obtaining car or bicycle repairs, visiting a bank or building society, accessing health services, including mental health services, or veterinary care;

-          To take exercise outside alone or with other members of your household, including a linked household;

-          Or to take exercise in a public outdoor space with one person from outside your household (this can be in addition to a carer, if one of those people has a disability which requires continuous care);

-          To attend a place of worship; or

-          To visit a linked household.

Can I leave home to go to work?

Yes: if it is not reasonably possible for you to work at home, then you can leave home to go to your place of work. 

You can also leave home to provide voluntary or charitable services which it is not reasonably possible to provide from home.

Government guidance is that where it is possible for you to work from home, you must do so.

Can I leave home to go to school?


Yes: pupils can attend school or nursery, students can attend university, and other persons can leave home for the purpose of education or training (whether adults or children).

If you are a parent, you can accompany your child to school.

What about childcare arrangements outside a school setting?

Registered childcare providers – nurseries and registered child minders – can continue to provide their services.  You can continue to take your child to their usual childcare setting where such childcare is reasonably necessary to enable you to work, search for work or to undertake training or education.

Parents can continue to rely on informal childcare for children under 13 (babysitting) if it is provided by a member of a linked childcare household (see below).

Can I leave home as part of child contact arrangements?


Yes: you can leave home if it is reasonably necessary to do so for the purpose of your arrangements for access to children who do not live, or do not live full time, in the same household as you. 

Arrangements for contact between siblings, one of whom is looked after by the Local Authority, can continue. 

Can I leave home to care for another person?

It is a reasonable excuse to leave home to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person (whether because of their age, a physical or mental health condition, or physical or mental disability).

It is a reasonable excuse to leave home to provide emergency assistance to anybody.

Can I leave home to access care and assistance?

Yes: it is a reasonable excuse to leave home to access:

-           social services,

-          services provided by the DWP,

-           services provided to victims of crime, or

-          asylum and immigration services and interviews. 

You can leave home to access help provided by charities, including food banks.

You can also leave home to attend a support group.

Can I leave home if I need medical help?


Yes: you can leave home to seek medical assistance (including undertaking tests, or to receive a vaccination). 

You can also leave home to donate blood; to attend a person giving birth at the Mother’s request.

You can leave your home to avoid injury, illness or to escape risk of harm. 

It is a reasonable excuse to leave home in order to visit a person in hospital or a care home, or to accompany a person to a medical appointment if you are:

-          a member of that person’s household;

-          a close family member;

-          or a friend. 

But whether you are allowed access to, for example, a care home at this time, may depend on the policy of that institution.

Can I visit someone who is terminally ill?

You can leave home to visit someone who you reasonably believe is dying, if you are:

-          a member of that person’s household;

-          a close family member;

-          or a friend. 

Can I leave home to get veterinary assistance?


Yes: it is a reasonable excuse to leave your home to attend the vet to get advice about the care of an animal you own or care for, or to obtain treatment for your animal.

Can I attend a funeral?


You can leave home to attend a funeral, or a commemorative event celebrating the life of a person who has died; or to visit a burial ground to pay respects to a member of your household, a family member or a friend.

Can I attend a wedding or civil partnership ceremony?

You can leave home to attend a marriage ceremony, or civil partnership ceremony.

Can I attend court?

Yes: you can leave home to fulfil any legal obligation, including attending court as a witness, or as a party to proceedings; and you can leave home to answer a condition of bail.

You can also leave home to visit someone who is resident in prison or other criminal justice accommodation, if you are close family member or friend of the detained person.

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 visit the ACAS website.

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 continue  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 read this government guidance.


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.  Most nursery settings are now open.

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

You can still rely on informal childcare – babysitting – if you are in a linked childcare household with the person providing the babysitting.

 Restrictions on Gatherings
Can I attend a gathering indoors?


You cannot meet with any other person indoors (other than a member of your own or a linked household), including indoors in a private dwelling. 

Can I attend a gathering outdoors?

You cannot take place in a gathering of more than two people outdoors. 

However, for the purpose of determining if the gathering is of two or more people, no account is taken of a carer for a person with a disability who needs continuous care, or a child below the age of five.

Are organised gatherings permitted?

It is a criminal offence to be involved in the organisation or holding of a gathering indoors of more than 30 people.  This includes gatherings in private dwellings.

Are there any exceptions?


The restrictions on gatherings do not apply if:

-          all the people at the gathering are members of the same household, or are members of two linked households;

-          the gathering is necessary for work purposes or to provide education and training;

-          the gathering is to provide emergency assistance or to allow people to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm;

-          the gathering is to facilitate a house move;

-          the gathering is necessary to fulfil a legal obligation or to participate in legal proceedings;

-          the gathering is of a support group, consists of no more than 15 people, takes place in premises other than a private dwelling and it is reasonably necessary for members of the group to be physically present;

-          the gathering is for the purposes of offering respite care provided to a vulnerable person, or a looked after child;

-          the person attending the gathering is attending to support a person who is giving birth, at their request, or is visiting family member or friend in hospital;

-          you can visit a member of your household, close family member or friend, whom you reasonably believe is dying;

-          the gathering is for the purpose of marriage or civil partnership and the gathering is of no more than six people;

-          the gathering is for the purpose of attending a funeral and consists of no more than 30 people; or is for a commemorative event following a person’s death and consists of no more than 15 people;

What are the responsibilities placed on organisers of permitted gatherings?


The gathering organiser or manager must have taken the following precautions:

-          they must have undertaken a risk assessment that would satisfy the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999;

-          they must have taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, taking into account the risk assessment and government guidance.

Sporting activities
Can I leave home to participate in sporting activities with other people?


As a general rule, you can only take exercise: outside; and alone or with other members of your household / support bubble; or with one other person.

Elite sportspeople, or the coach of an elite sportsperson, or a parent of an elite sportsperson who is under the age of 18, can leave home to attend an outside training event or competition, but only if it is reasonably necessary to do so.

Such gatherings are not prohibited so long as they are necessary for training or competition.

Organised, supervised sporting activities for children held outdoors, or indoors at venues such as gyms or dance studios can continue.  Swimming pools can continue to provide classes to school children or as part of post-16 education and training.



It is a reasonable excuse to be outside your home if you are returning from a holiday which took place immediately before the current Regulations came into force.

Linked Households
What is a linked household or ‘support bubble?’

If a household is made up of one adult, or one adult and one or more children under the age of 18 (as of 12.6.20), that household can link with another household.  The second household can be made up of any number of adults and children.  All of the adults in the second household must agree to the link.  You can only link with one other household, and you cannot link with a household that was previously linked with another household.  For the purpose of restrictions on gatherings, the linked household functions as a single household.

What is a ‘linked childcare household’?

A ‘linked childcare household’ means a household that is linked with another household for the purposes of informal childcare.

You can form a linked childcare household with one other household. 

The first household must include at least one child under the age of 13.  The second household can contain any number of adults and children of any age. All of the adult members of each household must agree to be linked in that way. 

Can I change my linked household?


If two households cease to be linked, neither of those households can then link to another household. In essence, you must stick with your linked household permanently.

Face Masks
Are there situations in which I am obliged to wear a face mask?

Yes: individuals over the age of 11 are required to wear a face covering in certain spaces including: public transport; all shops; enclosed shopping centres; banks and building societies, Post Offices, places of worship, public areas of hotels, cinemas, concert halls and museums.

Is anyone exempt from wearing a face covering?


The following are exempt from wearing a face mask in relevant spaces:

-          Children under the age of 11 need not wear a face mask. 

-          In certain circumstances, people who are present in their place of work in the course of their employment (unless they are in close contact with members of the public).

-          Elite sportspeople, or professional dancers

-          In certain circumstances emergency responders and police officers (unless they are in close contact with members of the public)

-          People with a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face mask

What is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face mask?


Reasonable excuse not to wear a face mask includes the following:

-          Where a person cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, impairment or disability;

-          Where to do so would cause severe distress;

-          Where a person is providing assistance to another person who relies on lip reading;

-          To avoid harm or injury, or risk of harm or injury;

-          Where a person is escaping risk of harm or injury and does not have a facemask with them;

-          To eat or drink;

-          To take medication;

-          If required to remove your face covering by a police officer or other law enforcement officer. 

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

You must wear a face mask inside transport hubs: stations, terminals or any building from which a public transport service operates.

You must wear a face mask on all forms of public transport unless exempt.

Business Closures
What businesses are required to close?

A number of businesses which had previously been permitted to re-open, must now close their premises:

-          Restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and social clubs, and any premises where food and drink are provided for consumption on the premises, (with the exception of motorway service stations or international travel hubs);

-          Any business providing holiday accommodation of any kind must cease to carry on that business except to provide accommodation for those moving house; attending a funeral; to elite athletes; for those who need accommodation for the purposes of their work, or education; to provide accommodation for the homeless, or a vulnerable persons’ refuge.

-          Places of worship must close save for funeral services; to broadcast an act of worship; to provide essential voluntary services; organised childcare; or individual prayer.

-          Entertainment venues such as cinemas, theatres, nightclubs, bingo halls, concert venues, museums and galleries, casinos and betting shops.  Indoor visitor attractions like zoos, aquariums, and stately homes must also close.

-          Massage parlours and sexual entertainment venues.

-          Spas, nail bars, hairdressers, beauty salons, tanning salons and tattoo and piercing parlours.

-          Sporting or recreational venues including skating rinks, gyms, dance studios, swimming pools, bowling alleys, playgrounds, soft-play areas and amusement arcades.

-          Outdoor sporting amenities such as water sports venues, stables, shooting or archery ranges, golf courses, outdoor gyms and swimming pools and water parks.

-          Circuses, funfairs, fairgrounds, and theme parks.

-          Conference centres and exhibition halls.

What businesses may remain open?


Essential shops and services are permitted to remain open.  They include:

-          Food retailers (food markets, supermarkets convenience stores and corner shops) and off licences;

-          Pharmacies (including non-dispensing pharmacists) and chemists;

-          Newsagents;

-          Hardware stores, building merchants and building services;

-          Petrol stations;

-          Car repair and MOT services;

-          Bicycle shops;

-          Banks, building societies, credit unions, short term loan providers, savings clubs, cash points, and currency exchange offices.

-          Post offices

-          Funeral directors

-          Laundrettes and Dry Cleaners.

-          Agricultural supply shops.

-          Garden Centres.

Can delivery services continue?

Yes: the requirement to close premises does not prevent the selling of food and drink for consumption off premises (between the hours of 05.00 and 22.00).

Those sales can take place online, by phone, or by post to a purchaser who has pre-ordered by one of those means.  The purchaser may not enter the premises.  Drive-through restaurants can continue to offer goods that way.

Restaurants can continue to offer food through their own or third-party delivery services.

Use of business premises to provide charitable services

Certain services which are required to close – such as libraries can continue to allow their premises to be used by support groups, to provide childcare or education and training or essential voluntary or public services.

Business can continue to provide goods and services to the homeless. 

Premises used by a restricted business may nonetheless host blood donation sessions.

What does self-isolation mean?

If you are self-isolating, you must remain in your home. 

You may only leave your home in order to:

-          Seek medical assistance where urgently required on medical advice;

-          This can include treatment from a dentist, optician, osteopath or from mental health services;

-          To access urgent veterinary services;

-          To fulfil a legal obligation including attendance at court;

-          To avoid risk of harm;

-          To attend the funeral of a close family member;

-          To obtain basic necessities such as food or medical supplies;

-          To access critical public services: for example, social services support;

-          To move to a different place if it is impracticable to remain at your current address.

When am I required to self-isolate?

If you are notified that you have tested positive for Coronavirus, you must self-isolate.

If you are notified that you have had close contact with a person who has tested positive for Coronavirus, you must self-isolate.

If requested to do so, you must provide information about where you are self-isolating and with whom you are self-isolating to the relevant person (the Secretary of State, an employee of the NHS or a person employed by a Local Authority).

How long must I self-isolate for?


If you have had a positive test, you must self-isolate for a period of 10 days after the date of the positive test.

If you are in the same household as an individual who has tested positive, you must self-isolate for a period of 14 days, from the date when that person’s symptoms first developed.

If you are not living in the same household, you must isolate for a period of 14 days, beginning with the date when you last had close contact with that person. 

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?”)

A ‘relevant person’ (usually a police officer, a police community support officer, or a local authority enforcement officer) can take ‘such action as is necessary’ to enforce the prohibition on gatherings and leaving home.

If an officer believes you are outside your home without a reasonable excuse, they can direct you to return there. They may direct a prohibited gathering to disperse and any person present there to return home. They may, if necessary, remove a person from a gathering using reasonable force.

An officer can issue a prohibition notice.  A person who contravenes a reasonable instruction given by an officer or fails to comply with a prohibition notice commits an offence

You could be prosecuted for an alleged breach of the Regulations, although police guidance indicates that this should be a last resort.

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

It is an offence to breach the regulations on leaving home, on attending gatherings and on failing to abide by the business closure rules.

It is also an offence to contravene any requirement imposed or direction given by an officer who is enforcing those regulations.

It should also be noted that somebody who ‘obstructs, without reasonable excuse’ any person carrying out a function under the regulations also commits an offence.

Is it an offence not to follow guidance on social distancing?


The college of policing have stated that they have no powers to enforce social distancing (i.e. the two-metre distancing rule)

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).

For the first fixed penalty notice issued to an individual, the fine will be £200 but is reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days.

The exception is where the individual has organised a gathering of more than 30 people, whereupon the fixed penalty notice will be £10,000.

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

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 £400, up to a maximum amount of £6,400 (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 are the fines for businesses that do not comply with the regulations?


Businesses can be issued fixed penalty notices as well, and these are larger than those for individuals.

The first FPN will be £1,000 and then it increases up to £10,000 for the fourth.

What is the fine for not self-isolating?

If a person does not self-isolate when required to, without a reasonable excuse, then they can be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £1,000 for the first contravention, increasing up to £10,000 for the fourth.

If a person breaks self-isolation believing, or being reckless as to whether, they will come into close contact with other people, then the possible fixed penalty notice is greater: £4,000 for the first breach, increasing to £10,000 for the second and any subsequent breaches.

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 at least two 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 a child was outside their home without reasonable excuse, or attended a prohibited gathering, 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 a summary only of the legal position as at 5th November 2020 and should not viewed as formal legal advice.