Please note, England is now in a second national lockdown. This Explainer is out of date. Information was correct at the time of writing.

15 October 2020

The “lockdown” began in the UK on 23 March 2020. The legal rules about who you can meet in England may be different to the Government’s guidance.

The guidance is not the law, the law is set out in Regulations. The Government has produced guidance on a range of areas during Covid-19, including Making a support bubble with another household and Social Distancing. There have been big legal changes this week to the rules on gathering, with a new three-tier alert system introduced. With these changes comes new Government guidance, Local COVID alert levels: what you need to know. These guidance documents refer to the ideas of social “bubbles” and restricting your meetings to certain numbers of people and/or a set number of households. It should be noted that these are guidance documents. These restrictions are not the law on lockdown.

The legal rules on the lockdown are set out in Regulations. The Regulations are government-made law, made under emergency powers (this means they are not debated and approved by parliament before becoming law). This Explainer focuses on the parts of the Regulations which deal with restrictions on people’s gatherings. The latest changes to the law have introduced a new three-tier system of restrictions to areas in England, with those in the higher tiers facing must tighter restrictions on gatherings.

Tip: when viewing legislation, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re viewing the “latest version (Revised)”, which you can choose on the left of the page under “What version?”. That way, any amendments to the legislation will be included as you view it.

This Explainer will help you understand what the law is on gatherings in your area, and how that compares to other areas.


What are the Regulations?

The new three-tier Regulations introduce three different tiers of restrictions for different areas in England:

  1. Tier 1 is for medium risk areas in England. Everywhere in England falls under this Tier unless they are specifically listed in the other Tiers. The law on restrictions in Tier 1 areas is the Tier 1 (Medium) Regulations.
  2. Tier 2 is for high risk areas in England. The Tier 2 rules only apply to those areas listed in the Tier 2 (High) Regulations.
  3. Tier 3 is for very high-risk areas in England. The Tier 3 rules are the most restrictive, and they only apply to those areas listed in the Tier 3 (Very High) Regulations.

To help you understand what restrictions apply in each Tier, we have created a table of the rules on gatherings in areas under each Tier, and what the exceptions are to those rules.

As these are Regulations, they are a form of delegated or secondary legislation. This means they come from the Government, not from parliament in an Act. They have been made using emergency procedures, which means there has been no debate in parliament about these Regulations before they become the law. 

The Government Minister that issued the Regulations, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, must review the need for these Regulations every 28 days. The first review of the need for the new Regulations should be carried out by the 11 November 2020. For Tier 2 areas, the Minister must also review the Tier 2 areas every 14 days. The first review of the Tier 2 areas must be carried out by 28 October 2020.

All three sets of Regulations expire at the end of a period of six months after they came into force. They came into force on 14 October 2020, and so will expire on 14 March 2020.


Why have they been introduced?

These Regulations were introduced to provide a legal framework for restrictions on people’s movements and gatherings during “lockdown”. As noted above, please remember that the law as set out in the Regulations may not be the same as the Government issued advice and guidance.

What are the rules on gatherings?

Please note the below table is best read on the PDF of this Explainer - see page 4 for the table.

Tier

Rules on Gathering

Exceptions to the Rules on Gathering

1

Medium

6 people or less, indoors and outdoors. You do not have to be from the same or a linked household (“bubble”), you can be from up to 6 different households.

 

 

These exceptions apply to all Tiers. Where there are specific or different exceptions for different Tiers these have been highlighted in the relevant colours.

  • If all people gathered are from the same household or linked households and this makes the number more than 6 (for the rule of 6), or more than 2 indoors for Tiers 2 and 3. Linked households are often called “bubbles”. To be linked one household must be a single adult (with or without children) and the other household can be a single adult or group of adults who usually live together (with or without children). You can only have one linked household or bubble.

  • Permitted gatherings: gatherings which take place at a business or charity and are organised by them and if you attend as part of a ‘qualifying group’
    • A qualifying group at INDOOR gatherings means a group from the same household/linked households (if there are usually more than 6 of you in your household or linked household, this is allowed).
    • A qualifying group at OUTDOOR gatherings means a group of 6 people or less, or of people from the same household/linked households (if there are usually more than 6 of you in your household or linked household, this is allowed).

  • Gatherings for permitted purposes:
    • For work or volunteering
    • For education or training
    • For childcare provided by a registered person, for supervised activities for children and for informal childcare
    • To provide emergency assistance
    • To enable one or more persons in the gathering to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm (this includes domestic abuse)
    • To provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
    • For the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents.
    • To enable siblings to have contact when one or more is a child looked after by the Local Authority or is a relevant child (16 or 17 and formerly looked after).
  • Fulfilling a legal obligation or participating in legal proceedings (e.g. you have to go to court).

  • Gathering in criminal justice accommodation.

  • For support groups of 15 people or less as long as not held in a private dwelling/house (e.g. support groups for victims of crime).

  • To attend a birth at the woman giving birth’s request.

  • Weddings: 15 people or less where the organiser has done a risk assessment and taken steps to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

  • Tier 1 and Tier 2 ONLY – Wedding Receptions: 15 people or less, not at a private dwelling (house) and the organiser or manager of the venue has done a risk assessment and taken steps to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19. No wedding receptions in Tier 3.

  • Tier 1 - Funerals: 30 people or less and held at premises run by a business, charity or public body (not a private dwelling) or in a public outdoor place where the organiser or manager of the venue has done a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19.  Tier 2 and Tier 3 Funerals these are the same except the law does not include a funeral at a public outdoor place in areas under Tiers 2 and 3

  • Funeral commemorative celebration: 15 people or less, not a private dwelling, and the organiser or manager of the venue has done a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

  • Tier 2 and Tier 3 ONLY - Visiting a dying person: for family, close friends and members of the same household as the person at the end of their life.

  • Tier 2 and Tier 3 ONLY - Visiting persons receiving treatment: to visit a person receiving treatment in a hospital or staying in a hospice or care home, or accompanying them to a medical appointment for family, close friends and members of the same household as the person they are visiting.

  • Protests: organised by a business, charity or public body and the organiser has done a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

  • Elite sports: for athletes and coaches to train or compete (also for parents of child elite athletes).

  • Other sports: gatherings for indoor sports for people with disabilities and outdoor sports if organised by a business, charity or public body and the organiser or manager has done a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19.

  • Outdoor activities: a physical activity which is outdoors and which needs a permit from a public body.

  • Remembrance Sunday – gatherings to commemorate Remembrance Sunday, as long as the organiser has done a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19 AND the only people who can attend are:
    • persons there as part of their work,
    • persons providing voluntary services in connection with the event,
    • members of the armed forces,
    • veterans of the armed forces or their representatives or carers,
    • spectators who participate in the gathering alone or as a member of a qualifying group (see above).

2

High

You cannot have gatherings of 2 people or more indoors. You can only gather with people who are already in your household or your linked household.

 

6 people or less outdoors. You do not have to be from the same or a linked household, you can be from up to 6 different households.

 

 

3

Very high

You can only gather with people who are already in your household or your linked household  in any indoor setting, private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events. 

The rule of 6 applies to outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches, public gardens or sports venues.

  • in a public, free to access outdoor space = any 6 people or less.
    (You do not have to be from the same or a linked household, you can be from up to 6 different households.)

  • at an outdoor sports grounds/facility, botanical garden or the grounds or gardens of a castle, stately home or historic house = any 6 people or less.

(You do not have to be from the same or a linked household, you can be from up to 6 different households.)

Who must obey the law in which Tiers?

The rules on gatherings apply to all gatherings in areas within the relevant tier. At the time of writing all of England is in Tier 1 (Medium) unless the law (Regulations) has placed an area in Tier 2 or 3. The Government has provided a postcode checker so you can check what Tier you are in – access the postcode checker here.

 

Travelling between Tiers

  • The law does not ban travelling between the Tiers. The Government has instead chosen to issue guidance about travel.
  • The rules on gatherings apply to all the people living in that tier.
  • People living in an area in one tier are bound by the rules of that tier and cannot participate in a gathering in an area of another tier with different rules. This means if you live in an area in Tier 3 (very high), you are bound by the Tier 3 rules on gatherings even if you leave and go somewhere in a different Tier. Therefore, you would only be allowed to participate in groups of 2 people or less in indoor settings anywhere in England, even in areas under a different/lower tier. This rule is set out in Regulation 1 of Schedule 1 to both the Tier 2 Regulations and Tier 3 Regulations.

 

Offences and fines

It is a criminal offence to break the rules on restrictions in the different tiers. If you meet up with more people than is legally allowed in your area, then you are breaking the law and could be issued with a fine, called a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), if you are over 18 years old.

If an FPN is issued by the police, a person does not have to accept it. If they do not, the police can issue criminal proceedings and the matter will be decided in court. If a person accepts the FPN they must pay a fine. If they pay the FPN within 28 days, they cannot be convicted of the offence. If they accept the FPN but do not pay it, then the police can start criminal proceedings after 28 days.

A first FPN is £200 but reduced to £100 if you pay it within 14 days. For every additional FPN given to you, the amount you have to pay will double:

  1. £200 for a first FPN
  2. £400 for a second
  3. £800 for a third
  4. £1,600 for a fourth
  5. £3,200 for a fifth; and
  6. £6,400 for a sixth FPN, and any more after that.


What does this mean for people?

The new three-tier Regulations which became law on the 14 October 2020 significantly tighten the legal restrictions on gatherings of people in certain areas of the UK. For people in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas, the changes mean:

  • No more gatherings indoors, unless for an exception as listed in the table above or outside.
  • Only gatherings of up to 6 people outdoors, and only in outdoor public places or similar for those in Tier 3 areas (see the table for more infomation).

These represent big restrictions on people's freedom and ability to see their friends and family. It also means people living in different areas will have different restrictions in place to each other, which may cause confusion and uncertainty.

It is important to keep in mind that the guidance issued by the Government, such as advice on social distancing, may be different to the law. But guidance is not the law. (This information should not be taken as encouragement to not follow the guidance, especially social distancing advice, which is an important part of public health measures).


What human rights are involved?

There are a range of human rights under the Human Rights Act that may be engaged by the Regulations. These include: 

  • The right to life (Article 2), which includes a duty on government to take proactive steps to protect life.

  • The right to liberty (Article 5), which is about not being arbitrarily deprived of your liberty. Deprivations of liberty are only permitted in certain circumstances, and with certain safeguards met. A range of lockdown restrictions may engage the right to liberty, but this does not mean they have been breached, if the safeguards have been met.

  • The right to non-retrospective punishment (Article 7), which requires criminal offences to be known by the public (foreseeable and accessible). The changes to the Regulations, the lack of clear promotion about the Regulations and the confusion between the Regulations and Guidance is problematic.

  • The right free assembly (Article 11), which covers the ability to gather in public spaces. This covers issues related to people’s ability to meet with others. Restrictions on this right must be lawful, necessary (e.g. to protect the person/wider public) and proportionate.

  • The rights to respect for private and family life (Article 8), which include participating in the community, relationships with others, and maintaining contact with family. Restrictions on this right must be lawful, necessary (e.g. to protect the person/wider public) and proportionate.

  • The right to manifest religious beliefs (Article 9), by attending places of worship and similar. Restrictions on this right must be lawful, necessary (e.g. to protect the person/wider public) and proportionate. Restrictions on visiting places of worship raise concerns under this right.

  • The right to not be discriminated against in the enjoyment of these human rights (Article 14). For example, disabled people may require adjustments to ensure the Regulations are not applied in a discriminatory way.

  

PLEASE NOTE: BIHR Explainers are provided for information purposes. These resources do not constitute legal advice. The law may have changed from the date of writing.

You can download PDFs of our previous versions of this Lockdown and Police Powers in England Explainer series here:

  1. First version

  2. 26 May 2020

  3. 1 June 2020

  4. 15 June 2020

  5. 6 July 2020

  6. 28 July 2020

  7. 27 August 2020

  8. 14 September 2020
  9. 12 October 2020
  10. 15 October 2020