Coronavirus / Coronavirus Tier rules - frequently asked questions

Coronavirus Tier rules: Frequently asked questions

This information was correct as of 14 December 2020 but is subject to possible changes.

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

New Tier rules came into force in England on 2 December 2020. Below we explain what some of the different terms in the rules mean. For more specific guidance on the rules in each individual Tier, see our pages on Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 respectively.

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 can meet up and where at any given time.

Can I form a support bubble?

You can only form a support bubble with another household if your household consists of:

  • a single adult
  • a single adult with one or more children who are under the age of 18 or were under 18 on 12 June 2020
  • one or more people under the age of 18 living alone with no adults
  • one or more adults and a child under the age of one or who was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • one or more adults and a child with a disability that requires continuous care who is under the age of five or was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • one or more disabled people who require continuous care living
    • on their own,
    • together with one person who is not disabled, or
    • with more than one person who is not disabled provided only one of them is an adult (who was aged 18 or over on 2 December 2020).

Households which fall into the categories above 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 2 December 2020.

Note, being part of a childcare bubble or a Christmas bubble does not count as being linked with another household for these purposes.

The Government has provided specific guidance on forming a support bubble with another household.

Can I change my support bubble?

Yes. You can change your support bubble if:

  • your household, or the household you intend to form a bubble with, meets the criteria above for forming one
  • the household you intend to form a bubble with agrees to joining a bubble with you and breaking any existing support bubble it is part of.

If you want to change your bubble, you must wait a minimum of 14 days from the last time you gathered with someone in your existing bubble until you form a new one.

If all the members of one household decide they no longer wish to be linked to the other household, then the households will stop being linked and the support bubble will be broken.

Government guidance on changing support bubbles can be found here.

What is a childcare bubble?

A “childcare bubble”, also known as a “linked childcare household”, is 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 under the age of 14, 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 who live together in one household can form a childcare bubble with one set of grandchildren from one household, but they cannot then form a childcare bubble for grandchildren in other households.

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 on childcare bubbles can be found here.

Can I change my childcare bubble?

Yes. You can change your childcare bubble if:

  • at least one of the people in the new childcare bubble is under the age of 14
  • the household you intend to form a bubble with agrees to joining a bubble with you and breaking any existing childcare bubble it is part of.

If you want to change your childcare bubble, you must wait a minimum of 14 days from the last time you gathered with someone in your existing bubble until you form a new one.

If all the members of one household decide they no longer wish to be linked to the other household, then the households will stop being linked and the childcare bubble will be broken. Similarly, if neither household includes a child under the age of 14, because the only child turns 14 for example, then the households will stop being linked and the childcare bubble will be broken,

Government guidance on changing childcare bubbles can be found 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.

Specific types of public outdoor places

Some of the Tier rules apply only within specific types of public outdoor places.

These include:

  • public outdoor places which the public can access for free, which includes places like parks, beaches and countryside which is accessible to the public
  • public outdoor places (whether free to access or not) which fall within one of the following categories:
    • outdoor sports grounds and facilities
    • botanical gardens
    • gardens or grounds of a castle, stately home, historic house, or other heritage site.

Fairgrounds and funfairs are specifically excluded from this category of public outdoor places.

Within these types of public outdoor places, you can gather in groups of up to six people in Tier 3, whereas mixing with others from outside your household outdoors is otherwise banned.

You are also allowed to gather in these types of public outdoor places with your Christmas bubble during the Christmas period in Tiers 1, 2 and 3.

What is ‘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 charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, or a public body, with the purpose of providing mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support to its members or those who attend its meeting. 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.

If you want to find out information on Christmas bubbles, read our page here.

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

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