Coronavirus / When can I leave my home?

Coronavirus: When can I leave my home?

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

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

When can I leave my home?

It is now a criminal offence to leave or to be outside of your home without a ‘reasonable excuse’. Examples of a reasonable excuse include:

  • shopping for basic necessities, including food and medical supplies
  • collecting goods that you have ordered from businesses permitted to trade remotely
  • obtaining money from or depositing money with businesses permitted to remain open
  • exercising by yourself, with members of your household or with one member of another household
  • visiting a public open space by yourself, with members of your household or with one member of another household, for the purposes of open-air recreation to promote your physical or mental health
  • seeking medical assistance
  • providing emergency assistance
  • providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • donating blood
  • going to work (in certain circumstances)
  • attending a funeral (in certain circumstances)
  • attending a burial ground to pay your respects (in certain circumstances)
  • going to court or taking part in legal proceedings
  • satisfying your bail conditions
  • accessing childcare or educational facilities (where available)
  • accessing social services
  • accessing services provided by the Department for Work and Pensions
  • accessing victims’ services
  • continuing with contact arrangements for children who have parents in different households
  • going to a place of worship but only if you are a minister of religion or worship leader
  • carrying out certain activities relating to buying, selling, letting or renting residential property, including moving home
  • avoiding injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm
  • using a waste or recycling centre.

This is not a complete list. There might be other lawful reasons for you to leave your home or to be outside that are not listed here.

It must be necessary for you to leave or to be outside your home for the reason given. It must also be reasonable. The term “reasonable” usually means what an ordinary person would think was fair, taking into account all the information they have. It will therefore depend on your own individual circumstances.

In the first instance, police officers will decide whether your excuse is reasonable and whether you have committed an offence. Professional police bodies have previously published a practical guide produced by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on what might and what might not be a ‘reasonable excuse’. This has not been updated since the law changed on 13 May and parts of it may no longer be up to date. The guide says that officers still need to consider each case based on its individual facts.

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. You should speak to a solicitor about this.

Different police officers and different forces might take different approaches to enforcement. But professional police bodies also published a briefing to help police officers understand and enforce the rules consistently, and have published an update to the briefing to reflect the new laws from 13 May.

 

Social distancing

Government social distancing guidance also recommends you stay two metres apart from anyone who isn’t from your household.

It is recommended that you follow this advice for the safety of yourselves and others.

However, it isn’t a specific criminal offence if you don’t follow this advice.

What counts as my home?

Your home is considered to be the place that you are currently living. It includes any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage or outhouse at your home.

If you are homeless (for example, you are sleeping rough) then the restriction about when you can leave or be outside of your home will not apply to you.

If you have nowhere to stay, you can call Shelter’s emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444 or read Shelter’s housing advice: coronavirus.

Can I go shopping?

Yes, but only for certain items.

You can go shopping for basic necessities for your own household. This includes food, medical supplies, and pet supplies (for animals in your home). It also includes supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of your household.

You can also go shopping for any of the items above on behalf of a vulnerable person.

And you can go out to obtain money, including from banks, off-licences, and other businesses permitted to stay open.

Despite some statements from the Government suggesting otherwise, there are no specific limits in the regulations about how often you can go shopping, as long as you are shopping for the above things.

The Government social distancing guidance recommends that you go shopping as little as possible.

Shopping - top tips

The CPS guide makes clear that you are not restricted to buying only basic food supplies, and that you are allowed to buy snacks and luxury items as well. You can also still buy hot food from takeaways.

In general, you will likely have a reasonable excuse if you are visiting any shop which has remained open during the lockdown. This now includes garden centres.

Who is a ‘vulnerable person’?

The regulations say that the following people are considered to be vulnerable:

  • people aged 70 or older
  • anybody with an underlying health condition
  • anybody who is pregnant.

A non-exhaustive list of underlying health conditions can be found in Schedule 1 of the regulations.

Government guidance provides more detailed definitions as follows:

Clinically vulnerable

You will be in this category if you are aged 70 or over, you have a specific chronic pre-existing condition and/or you are pregnant. Underlying health conditions include things such as lung conditions if they are not severe (for example asthma, emphysema or bronchitis), heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, hepatitis, conditions affecting the brain or nerves (such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease or multiple sclerosis), being seriously overweight (with a BMI of 40 or above), or other things set out in the list below.

Clinically extremely vulnerable

If you are in this group, you will likely have been informed about it by the NHS, your clinician or your GP. You will be in this group if you have had an organ transplant, have certain types of cancer, have a severe lung condition (such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and others), if you have a rare disease that significantly increases your risk of infection (such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) or sickle cell), or other things set out in the list below.

The full list of medical conditions in relation to both categories can be found here. If you are unsure whether you fall into either category, you should call your GP or 111 for the non-emergency NHS helpline.

 

What are the rules for ‘vulnerable people’?

The regulations don’t impose any specific restrictions on vulnerable people. This means that, if you fall into one of these groups, you are required to follow the law (as set out in the regulations) in the same way as anybody else.

However, the Government has provided specific guidance for people who fall into these groups, which they recommend you follow to keep yourself safe. The guidance distinguishes between the clinically vulnerable and the clinically extremely vulnerable (see definitions above). What you are advised to do will depend on which group you fall into (as set out below).

What can I do if I’m a ‘clinically vulnerable person’?

If you fall into the clinically vulnerable group, government guidance advises that you stay home as much as possible, but that you can leave your house for things like food, medicine or exercise. The important thing is that you are advised to take particular care to minimise contact with people from outside your household.

If you are pregnant, the Government has issued some advice about pregnancy and coronavirus here.

What can I do if I’m a ‘clinically extremely vulnerable person’?

If you fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable group, the Government strongly advises that you continue “shielding”. This means that you are advised to stay at home at all times, as well as to avoid all face-to-face contact and gatherings.

The Government advises you to continue “shielding” until at least the end of June, but that it is likely to continue for longer than this. This is advice, not the law. The Government has recognised some people may choose not to “shield”, for instance if they have a prognosis of a very short time left to live.

The Government has provided separate guidance for you if you fall into this group – it can be found here in multiple languages and easy read format.

If you need help accessing basic supplies or meeting basic care needs, you can register for the National Shielding Programme here. By doing so, you can have a box of basic supplies sent to you, access priority supermarket deliveries and request help for basic care needs.

You can also find a food bank through The Trussel Trust website here.

Support for vulnerable people

If you are feeling isolated and lonely, you can call the following helplines for emotional support:

  • Samaritans – freephone 116 123 (open 24 hours a day, every day of the year) or access their website here.
  • Mind Infoline – 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm Monday to Friday except bank holidays) or access their website here.
  • Age UK Advice Line – 0800 678 1602 (8am-7pm every day of the year) or access their website here.

Can I go out to take care of a vulnerable person?

Yes, under the regulations you can leave your home to provide care or assistance to somebody who is vulnerable.

This includes providing assistance in relation to:

  • eating or drinking (including the administration of parenteral nutrition)
  • using the toilet (including in relation to menstruation)
  • washing or bathing
  • dressing
  • oral care
  • the care of skin, hair or nails.

This is not a complete list, and there might be other ways for you to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person.  

Government guidance states that you should not provide support to a vulnerable person if you are a vulnerable person yourself, or if you or anybody else in your household has any symptoms like a cough or high temperature. This is because doing so could put yourself or others at risk.

Read the Government’s advice on how to safely help others.

Read the Government’s guidance for people who provide unpaid care.

Can I exercise outside?

Yes, you can exercise outside:

  • alone
  • with other members of your household
  • with one other person from outside your household.

The regulations don’t specify what kind of exercise you can do, and don’t limit the number of times you can exercise in a day.

In England and Wales, the Government’s guidance now also makes clear that you can exercise outside as often as you want.

The guidance says that if you exercise with a person from outside your household, you should stay 2 metres apart. You can exercise with all members of your household at the same time. However, you are only allowed to exercise with one person from outside your household at any given time.

If you are leaving home several times a day (to exercise or otherwise), you will need to show that you have a reasonable excuse to do so each time you leave home.

Can I drive somewhere to walk my dog or exercise in a park that isn’t close to my home?

Yes. The regulations don’t say anything about where you can exercise. But they do state that your excuse for leaving home must be reasonable.

Previously, there were instances of police forces telling people they must stay close to their home. The government guidance now makes clear that you can drive to an outdoor space no matter how far away it is, but you should follow social distancing guidance while you are there.

The government guidance also says that you should not travel in your car with someone from outside your household. You can only travel with someone from outside your household if you can stay 2 metres apart, for example, by cycling.

Driving for exercise or recreation - top tips

There are different rules in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you travel to these other parts of the UK, you should make sure that your intended activity is lawful there.

The new police briefing says that travelling to outdoor spaces for recreation (not exercise) in Wales or Scotland may result in offences being committed in those jurisdictions, and so may not be a reasonable excuse for leaving home.

Can I use outdoor sports facilities?

The regulations now say that outdoor sports courts can reopen. Government guidance makes clear that this includes things such as tennis courts, basketball courts, golf courses and bowling greens.

As with other forms of exercise, you can only use these facilities:

  • alone
  • with members of your household
  • with one other person from outside your household.

The guidance says that if you exercise with a person from outside your household, you should stay 2 metres apart.

Indoor sports courts, indoor and outdoor gyms, leisure centres, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and playgrounds all remain closed.

 

Can I meet my friends and family in the park?

The regulations say that it is a reasonable excuse to be outside for exercise or for recreation. However, public gatherings of more than two people from different households are still not allowed except in very specific circumstances – see below ‘Can I socialise or attend a social gathering?’.

This means that it is lawful to gather with two or more people only if you are all from the same household. You can meet one other person from outside your household. You can’t meet more than one person from outside your household at any given time.

Government guidance makes clear that you should only meet with one other person from outside of your household if you meet outdoors and that you should not visit friends or family in their homes.

Can I go to work?

Yes, in certain circumstances.

Under the regulations, you are allowed to work or provide voluntary or charitable services if it isn’t reasonably possible for you to do this from home. You don’t need to be a key worker or an essential worker to do this.

Work - top tips

The CPS guide makes clear that volunteers don’t have to work for a registered organisation or charity, and that this could include delivering food packages to a vulnerable person. Your volunteering also doesn’t need to be linked to coronavirus in any way.

New government guidance and recovery strategy suggest that anybody who can work from home should continue to do so wherever possible. However, anyone who can’t work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open.

The guidance encourages any sector which is allowed to be open under the regulations to now open. The sectors that are now allowed to open include food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution, and scientific research in laboratories. However, workplaces in hospitality and non-essential retail are not yet allowed to open.

The Government has published “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines  for people who work in outdoor working environments. It sets out who should go to work, as well as guidance about how workplaces can minimise the risk of transfer of the virus.

There is also separate guidance for people who carry out work in other people’s homes – for example if you are a cleaner, tradesperson carrying out repairs and maintenance, or providing paid-for childcare in a child’s home.

I am scared of my partner or somebody I live with. Can I leave my home if I’m worried about my safety?

Yes.

You are allowed to leave your home to avoid injury or illness, or to escape any risk of harm. This means it’s okay to leave your home if you fear for your own safety or that of your children.

Social isolation can be a time of increased risk for anybody experiencing domestic abuse. If you need to escape to a safe place, domestic abuse refuges are still open.

If you are worried about your immediate safety, you should call the police on 999. This guide explains how you can alert the police that you need help if you are unable to speak.

For further assistance, you can call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on: 0808 2000 247.

Contact the helpline through this online form.

The Government has also produced guidance about what to do if you are experiencing domestic abuse during this time, which includes other ways that you might be able to get support.

 

Can I leave the house for mental health reasons?

Yes, you are allowed to visit public open space to promote your mental health or emotional wellbeing, as long as you do this alone, with members of your household, or with one member of another household.

You are also allowed to leave your home to avoid injury or illness, or to escape any risk of harm. This almost certainly includes mental illness, as well as physical illness.

If you are having a mental health emergency, for example, you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or ending your life and feel like you can’t keep yourself safe, you should call the emergency services on 999.

The NHS has provided guidance on where to get urgent help for mental health issues.

You can also call the Samaritans for free 24-hours a day, 365 days a year on 116 123.

The mental health charity Mind has also created a list of helplines that you can call in a crisis.

The Government has provided guidance and support to help improve your mental health.

Can I leave my home to satisfy my bail conditions?

Yes, you are allowed to leave your home to fulfil a legal obligation. This includes to comply with your bail conditions.

Can I leave my home to attend a trial or court hearing, as a witness, defendant or juror, for example?

Yes, you are allowed to leave your home to fulfil a legal obligation. This includes taking part in legal proceedings.

However, many hearings, including criminal trials, are being cancelled to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Some hearings may be going ahead using video links.

If possible, you should speak to a lawyer or contact the court directly for more information.

Get help finding a lawyer.

Am I allowed to leave my home to attend a funeral?

Yes, but only in certain circumstances.

You are only allowed to attend the funeral of a close family member or member of your household. You may be allowed to attend the funeral of a friend if nobody from their family or household is able to attend.

Crematoriums and burial grounds are allowed to open for funerals or burials. A place of worship is also allowed to open for a funeral to take place.

It is also okay for you to visit a burial ground or garden of remembrance in order to pay your respects to a member of your household, a family member or a friend.

What other reasons might be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving my house?

There is no complete list of reasonable excuses in the regulations.

The CPS has suggested some other examples of what could likely be considered reasonable. For example, it is likely to be reasonable to move to a friend’s address for several days to allow a ‘cooling-off’ following arguments at home, and it is likely to be reasonable to take an animal for emergency treatment at a vet’s surgery.

Government guidance makes clear that in general leaving the place you live to stay at another home, for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed.

Can I socialise or attend a social gathering?

No, except for in very specific circumstances.

You can meet with one person from outside your household as long as you are outdoors and have a reasonable excuse for being there.

Public gatherings of more than two people are not allowed in most circumstances. You can’t go to weddings, baptisms or other religious ceremonies.

You are only allowed to gather in public in a group of more than two people in one of the following circumstances:

  • if all the members of the group are from the same household
  • where the gathering is essential for a work purpose
  • to attend a funeral (of a close family member, member of your household, or possibly a friend)
  • to move home (where it is reasonably necessary to do so)
  • to provide care to a vulnerable person (where it is reasonably necessary to do so)
  • to provide emergency assistance (where it is reasonably necessary to do so)
  • to participate in legal proceedings or fulfil a legal obligation (where it is reasonably necessary to do so).

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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