Can I gather with other people? / Coronavirus

Coronavirus: Can I gather with other people?

This information was correct as of 13 November 2020, but is subject to possible changes.

Unless otherwise stated, this page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

Can I gather with other people?

Only in very limited circumstances.

The new ‘lockdown’ rules ban indoor gatherings and outdoor gatherings in most circumstances, but there are a number of exceptions to these rules.

Remember, ‘gatherings’ are defined very broadly in the rules.

Indoor gatherings

The rules say that you must not gather with anyone else (i.e. in a group of two or more people) indoors unless certain exceptions apply. This includes gatherings within people’s homes.

Outdoor gatherings

The rules say that you must not gather in a public outdoor place in a group of more than two people. Gatherings of two people are therefore allowed in public outdoor places.

However, if the gathering takes place in any other outdoor place, you must not gather with anyone else (i.e. in a group of two or more people). This includes in the garden of someone’s home.

Again, there are exceptions to these rules which allow you to gather in larger groups in specific circumstances.

Note that:

  • any child under five, and
  • any person who is present in a gathering as a carer for a person with a disability who needs continuous care (provided there are no more than two people present in this capacity)

does not count when determining whether there is a gathering of two or more people outdoors for the purposes of the rules set out above.

Exceptions to the rules on gatherings

You are allowed to gather in larger groups than described above if the gathering falls into one of the exceptions below:

Same or linked households

  • All the people in the gathering are from the same household or support bubble.

Gatherings necessary for certain purposes

  • The gathering is reasonably necessary:
    • for work purposes, or for voluntary or charitable services
    • for the provision of education and training
    • to provide emergency assistance
    • to enable one or more persons in the gathering to avoid injury or illness to escape a risk of harm
    • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
    • to help with the process of moving home.

Legal obligations and proceedings

  • You are fulfilling a legal obligation or taking part in legal proceedings.

Criminal justice accommodation

  • The gathering takes place in criminal justice accommodation.

Support groups

  • The gathering is of a support group which takes place somewhere other than a private home and includes no more than 15 people. It must also be reasonably necessary for members of the group to be physically present at the gathering.

Respite care

  • The gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of:
    • respite care being provided for a vulnerable person or a person with a disability
    • a short break being provided in respect of a child which is being looked after by a local authority.

Births and visiting persons receiving treatment etc

  • You are:
    • attending a person giving birth at their request
    • visiting a person receiving treatment in a hospital or staying in a hospice or care home, or are accompanying a person to a medical appointment, and that person is part of your household, a close family member, or a friend.

Marriages and civil partnerships etc

  • The gathering is for the purposes of a marriage or civil partnership ceremony which is allowed to take place because one of the parties to the marriage or civil partnership is seriously ill and not expected to recover (or is for the purposes of an alternative wedding ceremony where one of the parties to the marriage is seriously ill and not expected to recover), and
    • takes place at a private home; at premises or part of premises which are operated by a business, a public body or a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution; or in a public outdoor place
    • consists of no more than six people
    • the manager or gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
    • the organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Visiting a dying person

  • You are visiting a person that you reasonably believe is dying and that person is part of your household, a close family member, or a friend.

Funerals

  • The gathering is for the purposes of a funeral and
    • consists of no more than 30 people
    • takes place at premises or part of premises, other than a private home, which are operated by a business, a public body or a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution
    • the manager or gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
    • has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Commemorative event following a person’s death

  • The gathering is for a commemorative event to celebrate the life of a person who has died, and
    • consists of no more than 15 people
    • takes place somewhere other than a private home
    • the manager or gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
    • has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Elite sports

You are an elite sportsperson or the coach of an elite sportsperson (or, in the case of an elite sportsperson who is a child, their parent), and the gathering is necessary for training or competition.

Children

  • The gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of:
    • arrangements for contact between parents and children where children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents
    • arrangements for contact between siblings where they do not live in the same household, and one or more of them is in local authority care
    • facilitating a meeting between prospective adopters (and their household) and the child or children who may be placed with prospective adopters
    • childcare provided by a person registered under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006, or as part of supervised activities provided for children (but see comment below)
    • informal indoor childcare, for children aged 13 or under, provided by a member of a household to a member of their childcare bubble.

The exception in relation to childcare provided by a person registered under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006 or supervised activities for children only applies where the childcare is reasonably necessary to enable the parent, or the person who has parental responsibility for, or care of, the child in question, to work, search for work or undertake training or education.

Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day

  • The gathering takes place:
    • outdoors (in a place which is not a private home or garden) to commemorate Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day or
    • in Westminster Abbey on 11th November 2020 to commemorate Armistice Day and the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Soldier
  • the persons attending are limited to:
    • 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 only with members of their household, support bubble or childcare bubble, and
  • the gathering organiser or manager has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
  • has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Can I be fined for not following the rules on gatherings?

Yes. It is a criminal offence if you break the rules on gatherings without a reasonable excuse. You may be fined £100 for your first offence (or £200 if you fail to pay the fine within 14 days of it being issued), with the amount of the fine doubling for each offence that is committed up to a maximum of £6,400.

If you organise or facilitate a gathering of more than 30 people, indoors or outdoors, the fine could be much larger, up to £10,000 (see below).

See our what can the police do and criminal penalties pages for more information.

What counts as a gathering?

A ‘gathering’ is defined in the regulations as two or more people being present in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any activity with each other. This is a very broad definition which is likely to cover any reason for meeting with another person unless the meeting is genuinely accidental.

What is a ‘support bubble’?

A “support bubble” also known as a “linked household”, is where two households, which meet certain conditions, are allowed to link up. This means that your household and your linked household are treated as one household for the purposes of the rules on how many people should meet up at any given time.

Can I form a support bubble?

You can only form a support bubble with another household if one of the households is a single adult household, or a single adult with one or more children who were under the age of 18 on 12 June 2020.

Single adult households, or single adult and child households, can form a support bubble with one other household made up of any number of people.

For example, a single mother and her child who live together can form a support bubble with a household where there are two parents and five children living.

All adults in both households must agree to forming the bubble and neither household should be currently linked to another household or have been linked to another household between 14 September and  5 November 2020.

All adults in both households must agree to forming the bubble and neither household can be linked to another household.

Note, this does not include being linked with another household only for the purposes of informal childcare as described here.

Can I change my support bubble?

No. Once you decide which household you wish to link with, neither of the households can change.

If any of the adults in the second household decide they no longer wish to be linked to the first household, then the households will stop being linked.

Once the households have stopped linking, you can’t form a support bubble with a new household.

What is a childcare bubble?

A “childcare bubble”, also known as a “linked childcare household”, describes a situation where one household can link up with another household for the purposes of providing informal childcare. The limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings do not then apply within the childcare bubble.

One of the households must include one or more children aged 13 or under, and the other household must agree to link up with this household in order to provide informal childcare to that child or children. “Informal” childcare means that it is unpaid and unregistered.

Neither household is allowed to link with another household for this same purpose, and all the adults in both households must agree to it. This means, for example, that grandparents can form a childcare bubble with one set of grandchildren from one household (where at least one of them is under the age of 14), but they cannot form childcare bubbles with their grandchildren across multiple households.

Once you have started a childcare bubble with one household, you cannot change it to another household.

Note that childcare bubbles are separate from support bubbles, and if you are eligible you may be able to form both a childcare bubble and a support bubble. Government guidance states that you should not meet socially with your childcare bubble and support bubble at the same time.

Read the government guidance on childcare bubbles here

What is a public outdoor place?

A public outdoor place is any outdoor place that the public can access or are allowed to access, whether by paying for entry or not. It includes public gardens, open countryside and public roads. The full definition is set out in the regulations.

What are the rules on organising a gathering?

From 28 August 2020, it is a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people which takes place indoors but which would meet the definition of a rave (see section 63(1) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) if it took place on land in the open air.

It is also a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a private home, on a vessel or in a public outdoor place which is not operated by a business, a public body, a charity, benevolent or philanthropic institution, unless an exception applies.

The exceptions to this rule are the same as the exceptions for attending gatherings, as set out above.

There is an additional exception if the gathering takes place on a vessel or in a public outdoor place as described above, but is organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body (for example, a protest). For the gathering to be lawful, the organiser must carry out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and must take all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

It is worth noting that even if it is lawful to organise such a gathering, it will not be lawful to attend it unless one of the exceptions for attending gatherings applies.

The penalties for these “organising” offences are much higher than the penalties for attending a gathering illegally. If you commit one of these offences, a fine of £10,000 can be imposed and, if you do not pay the fine, you may be prosecuted for the criminal offence of breaching the regulations.

What is a ‘support group’?

There is an exception in the rules for ‘support groups’ which can meet indoors or outdoors providing they meet the following conditions.

The support group can be a group or may consist of one-to-one support. It must be organised by a business, a public body or a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution with the purpose of providing mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support to its members or those who attend its meetings. The rules give a non-exhaustive list of examples which include providing support:

  • to victims of crime (including domestic abuse)
  • to those with, or recovering from, addictions (including alcohol, narcotics or other substance addictions) or addictive patterns of behaviour
  • to new parents
  • to those with, or caring for persons with, any long-term illness, disability or terminal condition or who are vulnerable
  • to those facing issues related to their sexuality or identity including those living as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • to those who have suffered bereavement
  • to vulnerable young people.

The support group must consist of 15 people or fewer, and it must not take place in a private home.

Any child below the age of five does not count towards the maximum limit of 15 people.

Can I have people over to my house and/or garden?

No. Under the regulations you cannot gather or socialise with anyone who is not from your household or your support bubble (where applicable) inside your home or in your garden, unless one of the exceptions applies.

Can I meet up with a friend outdoors?

Yes, but you can only meet with one person from outside your home or support bubble at a time, and only in a public outdoor place such as a park, public gardens or open countryside.

Remember, you both need a reasonable excuse to leave your home. Socialising with a friend is not listed as a reasonable excuse, but in most cases you would likely be covered by the reasonable excuses of taking exercise in a public outdoor place or visiting a public outdoor place for the purposes of open air recreation.

Note that children under five and up to two carers of disabled people who require continuous care do not count towards the two-person limit. So, for example, two adults from different households could meet together with any number of their children aged under five. Or two adults, one of whom is disabled and requires continuous care, could meet with two of the disabled person’s carers present.

The rules do not allow you to gather with several members of your household plus one other person. The limit is two people unless they are all members of your household or all members of your support bubble, or unless one of the other exceptions apply (for example, you are providing childcare and all the other people are part of your childcare bubble).

I’m at university, can I visit my parents at their home?

As a general rule, no.

The rules do not specifically ban travel between different locations, but you are not allowed to leave your home without a reasonable excuse. You are also not allowed to gather with another household unless you have a reasonable excuse.

There may be situations where you would have a reasonable excuse for visiting your parents. For example, if you were at serious risk of mental ill health whilst living at university then this might constitute a reasonable excuse for visiting your parents, as there are exceptions to the rules on leaving your home and to the rules on gathering where this is reasonably necessary to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm. However, this will depend on each person’s individual circumstances. In the first instance, police officers will decide whether your excuse is reasonable and whether you have committed an offence. If a police officer believes your excuse isn’t reasonable, but you think it is, you can generally only challenge this by going to court.

Government guidance states that if  you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time. It says that you should only return home at the end of term. The Government has also published guidance on how students can travel home safely at the end of term.

The Government has also published separate guidance on how the new national lockdown restrictions will apply within the higher education sector.

Can I visit a relative or friend in a care home?

Yes. There is an exception in the rules on gatherings which allows you to visit someone in a hospice or a care home if you are a member of their household, a close family member or their friend. There is a corresponding exception in the rules on leaving your home which allows you to leave your home where it is reasonably necessary to do so for the purpose of such a visit. There is therefore no legal ban on visiting relatives or friends in care homes.

However, care providers themselves set their own visiting policies and make decisions about who can visit residents, when and how frequently, based on government guidance and advice from local authority directors of public health (DPHs).

The Government has recently published new guidance for care providers, which explains how they should make these decisions and communicate them to residents and families. It also sets out certain standards that providers must ensure are met when they are organising visits, such as limiting visitors to an absolute maximum of two constant visitors per resident, ensuring social distancing at all times and arranging for visits to happen in the open air wherever possible.

When making these decisions, care homes must also take into account the significant vulnerability of most residents, as well as compliance with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, as applicable.

If you need further advice, you should contact a criminal law solicitor.

Get help to find a solicitor.

You can also contact us for further advice on our Get Advice page.

Read our next page on what the police can do.

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Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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