Coronavirus: Know your rights

There’s been a lot of confusion around the changing coronavirus rules. What are the new Step rules? What can the police do? What can we do if we’re questioned, fined or arrested? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered.

To help deal with the public health emergency caused by coronavirus, the Government has made new rules putting the country on ‘lockdown’ which have prevented us from going out, meeting people and doing things in the way we did before. It has also introduced lots of other rules dealing with things such as face coverings, travel quarantine and self-isolation. The rules continue to change regularly and at short notice.

There have been a lot of confusing and contradictory messages about the rules. Many people are unsure about what is and what isn’t allowed.

To help clear this up, we’ve created an explainer of what you can and can’t do.

What are the rules in place as of 12 April 2021?

There are now many sets of rules in force which deal with different areas of our lives:

  • Step 2 rules: On 12 April 2021 every area in England transitioned to the Step 2 restrictions. These allow you to leave your home and allow gathering outdoors in groups of up to six people. The primary change from Step 1 to Step 2 was to allow more businesses to open, and to loosen the restrictions on later years provision in childcare. Larger gatherings are still subject to certain restrictions, and indoor gatherings are still unlawful in most circumstances. There are certain exceptions to these gathering rules. Travelling abroad from the United Kingdom without a reasonable excuse is also an offence under these rules. Travel Declaration Forms are used to record the reasons of anyone hoping to travel. The list of reasonable excuses are provided in these rules, as is a list of certain categories of people who are exempt from this restriction.

These rules will remain in force until at least 17 May 2021. At this date, the Government has indicated that it intends to move all of England into Step 3, where different restrictions will apply. The Government will review the need for the restrictions at least once every 35 days (since 12 April 2021). The rules will expire at the end of 30 June 2021 at the latest. However, the government may instate other regulations at this, or any other, point.

  • Face coverings rules: On 15 June 2020, new regulations came into effect making it a criminal offence to use public transport without wearing a face covering, unless you have a reasonable excuse, or you fall into one of the exceptions. On 24 July, further regulations came into force making it a criminal offence not to wear a face covering in certain other indoor places, including transport hubs, shops, shopping centres, banks and post offices, unless you have a reasonable excuse, or you fall into one of the exceptions. The regulations were amended on 24 September 2020 to extend the relevant places where face coverings have to be worn to include restaurants, bars, pubs and theatres. There is an exception which allows you to remove your face mask where it is reasonably necessary to eat or drink.
  • Collection of contact details rules: On 18 September 2020, new regulations came into force which require certain people and businesses to collect the names and contact details of people who are seeking to enter their premises, and to display a QR code for the purposes of collecting these details. This data must be retained for 21 days and then destroyed unless there is some other legal reason for keeping it. However, relevant people and businesses must disclose this data if requested to do so by the Department of Health or a public health officer, where this is considered necessary for contact tracing. It is a criminal offence for relevant people and businesses not to comply with these rules.
  • Self-isolation rules: On 28 September 2020, new regulations came into effect in relation to people who have tested positive for coronavirus and their contacts. If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace that you have tested positive or that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, you are required to self-isolate in your home (or certain other permitted locations) for a specified period and are only allowed to leave that place during that period where certain exceptions apply. It is a criminal offence to break these rules and you can be given a fine of £1,000 for your first offence. This does not apply to notifications received via the NHS Covid 19 smartphone app.

The above regulations only apply in England. Different rules apply in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Where can I find government guidance on the rules?

On 31 March 2021, the Government also provided updated social distancing guidance.

It is recommended that you follow this advice, but the guidance doesn’t create criminal offences like the regulations.

The Government has also provided guidance about travelling safely, including by public transport, during this time.

There is also guidance for WalesScotland and for Northern Ireland specifically.

What is the Coronavirus Act 2020?

In addition to the various health protection regulations listed above, the Government also introduced an Act of Parliament – the Coronavirus Act 2020, on 25 March 2020. This changed the law in a number of different areas in response to the pandemic. This includes things such as:

What about speeches made by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers?

The Prime Minister and other Government ministers have made a number of speeches and public statements about what you can and can’t do, and what the Government is planning to do in future.

Advice that is set out in speeches by either the Prime Minister or Cabinet ministers is not law. To be as sure as you can be, we recommend checking this page regularly as we update it to reflect the current law.

What are my rights on this?

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

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