Coronavirus: Know your rights

There’s been a lot of confusion around the lockdown rules. What are the new Tier 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 6 January 2021?

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

  • New national lockdown: On 2 December 2020, the second national lockdown in England ended and the Government introduced a new, strengthened system of “Tier” rules, also known as local alert levels. On 20 December, the Government added a new Tier 4. People living in Tier 4 must not leave their homes unless they have a reasonable excuse for doing so. On 6 January 2021, the Tier 4 rules were further strengthened and extended to apply to every area in England. This means we are now in a third national lockdown. We have provided specific advice pages on the restrictions on leaving your home and on gathering with other people in Tier 4.

These rules will remain in force until 31 March 2021, but every 14 days the Health Secretary must review the need for each area in Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4 to remain in those Tiers in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to provide a public health response.

  • Travel quarantine rules: On 8 June 2020, new regulations came into effect meaning that most people entering England had to self-isolate for the first 14 days in the country and had to provide certain information. These regulations were amended on 10 July so that the rules didn’t apply for passengers arriving from a large number of countries (so called “travel corridors”). On 12 December 2020, the regulations were further amended to reduce the self-isolation period to 10 days. On 15 January 2021, a new requirement was introduced for all people travelling to England to produce a negative coronavirus test in order to be able to travel. The test must be taken in the 3 days before you start your journey. On 18 January 2021, all travel corridors were suspended. If you arrive in England from anywhere outside the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man you will need to self-isolate for 10 days. It is a crime if you don’t follow these rules.
  • 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 7 January 2021, the Government also provided updated social distancing guidance and it has also published new guidance on the national lockdown.

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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