Coronavirus / Criminal penalties

Coronavirus: Criminal penalties

This information was correct as of 28 February 2022, but is subject to possible changes.

This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

Can I be charged with a criminal offence?

Although a majority have been repealed compared to the various lockdowns, there are still certain coronavirus regulations in place which carry penalties including:

  • Breaking mandatory quarantine and testing rules after travelling from an red list country.
  • Not providing accurate details about the countries you have visited in the 10 days before you arrived in the UK.

See our other Coronavirus articles for more information on offences in particular areas. It is also a criminal offence to:

  • ‘incite’ others to commit an offence, for example by encouraging someone to break isolation rules when returning from a red list country
  • threaten someone with infection by coronavirus, for example by coughing or spitting at them.

These are pre-existing offences and are not contained specifically within the coronavirus regulations.

What are the punishments?

If you’re 18 or over, and the police reasonably believe you have committed an offence under the new regulations, you will most likely be given a ‘fixed penalty notice’ (a fine). If so, you will be offered the option of paying a fine to the local council in order to avoid any further action.

Standard fixed penalty notices

For most of the offences, the fine is £200, payable within 28 days – or only £100 if paid within 14 days. If you pay the fine within 28 days, you won’t be prosecuted for a criminal offence. If you don’t pay it, you might be prosecuted and have to go to court.

If you later commit a second offence under these regulations and are given a second fixed penalty notice, the fine increases to £400. It will then double every time you are given a fixed penalty notice for breaching the regulations (and this is capped at £6,400 for the sixth offence onwards).

Fixed penalty notices for travelling offences

There are still legal requirements on arriving in England. These change depending on whether you are travelling from a country that is listed as red list or non-red list on the Government’s system.

Breaching these legal requirements is punishable by a fixed penalty notice. See our dedicated articles on the rules of each list (linked above) for more detail.

Penalties for self-isolation offences

On 24 February 2022, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 were revoked. These regulations required you to self-isolate if you test positive for coronavirus on a PCR test, or if you were identified as a close contact. This has therefore removed almost every requirement to self-isolate. This includes when you have travelled from a non-red list country and tested positive, even if you are unvaccinated. The NHS Test and Trace service has also closed down.

There are some remaining self-isolation requirements when travelling from red list countries. However, at the time of publishing, there are no countries on the red list.

However, NHS guidance still recommends staying home if you test positive to avoid transmitting the virus.

Appealing your penalty

There is no formal right of appeal in the regulations, but councils can set up an appeals procedure if they wish to. So, if you do not think you have broken the law, look at the fixed penalty notice to see if it mentions this.

If there’s no way of appealing, and you do not pay the fine within 28 days and are prosecuted for a criminal offence under the regulations, you can seek to defend yourself at the Magistrates’ Court. But if you are convicted, you may have to pay a higher level of fine and will have a criminal record. If you are found not guilty, you won’t.

Alternatively, you could try to challenge the fixed penalty notice by a process known as ‘judicial review’, where a High Court judge would be asked to decide whether or not the police acted lawfully in issuing the fine. If the judge decided that the police did not act lawfully, then the fine would be cancelled. But if they decided that the police did act lawfully, then the fine would still stand, and you would either need to pay it or risk being prosecuted for a criminal offence.

Judicial review is a complex legal claim and you should get advice from a solicitor if you are considering this.

If your solicitor believes that the FPN was very clearly wrong, they may send a letter to the police station directly. In some cases the police force have acknowledged the error and dropped the FPN, rather than taking it to court. However, this is an unofficial process which would depend on the police force’s discretion. They may simply refuse.

It’s also possible that instead of fining you, the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may charge you directly with a criminal offence. You would then have to go to court.

Is there a time limit within which the police must issue the fixed penalty notice?

There is no time limit for issuing a fixed penalty notice for breach of the coronavirus regulations. However, there is a time limit for bringing criminal charges if you refuse to pay the fine.

If you do not pay the fine, you may be charged with a criminal offence of breaching the coronavirus regulations. The coronavirus regulations were made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 which says that if the police or the CPS are going to charge you with an offence, they must do it within:

  • Three years from the date the offence was committed, and
  • Six months from the date the prosecutor believes they have enough evidence to charge you.

Put simply, if you failed to pay a fixed penalty notice within 28 days, the police or CPS would then have 6 months in which to charge you with a breach of the coronavirus regulations.

Can I go to prison for breaking these rules?

No. All the new offences are “non recordable”, summary offences, which do not come with prison sentences. They are only punishable by fines.

This also means that the offences are unlikely to be recorded on the Police National Computer (although it is possible that they could be.)

What should I do if I’m charged with a criminal offence?

You should seek the advice of a criminal defence solicitor if you have been:

  • Arrested
  • Asked to go to the police station for a voluntary interview
  • Charged with a criminal offence.

Getting advice from a solicitor will not make you look guilty. The solicitor will explain your rights and help you understand the criminal process.

You can get free legal advice if you are questioned at a police station. Get help finding a solicitor.

If you need further advice about your rights, contact us.

What are my rights on this?

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

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