Coronavirus / Self-isolation

Self-Isolation under coronavirus regulations

This information was correct as of 4 October 2021 but is subject to possible changes.

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

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation is when you stay in your home and don’t go out because there’s a risk you might spread coronavirus to other people.

The law which sets out requirements to self-isolate in England is the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020. Note that this is different from the self-isolation requirements that apply when travelling to the UK (unless you test positive). You can find more information about those requirements in our travel regulation articles here.

The law says that, if you are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, you must stay at one address for 10 days, and you must not leave that address unless certain exceptions apply. This address can be:

  • your home
  • the home of a friend or family member
  • bed and breakfast accommodation
  • asylum seeker accommodation
  • another suitable place.

There is no definition given for a “suitable place”, and it is likely to be up to NHS Test and Trace and/or the police. If they don’t agree that the place where you are self-isolating is a “suitable place” then you may be committing a criminal offence and may have to go to court. See below for more information.

You must provide NHS Test and Trace with the address where you are going to self-isolate and the names of the other people in your household if they ask you for this information.

It is an offence if you don’t give this information when asked.

When will I be required to self-isolate?

There are two situations in which you will be legally required to self-isolate under these Regulations:

  1. when you have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that you have tested positive for coronavirus
  2. when you have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

A close contact is someone who has been close to a person who has tested positive for coronavirus. The Government has provided further guidance on close contacts here.

These rules will apply when you receive a notification in person, or by telephone call, email, text message or letter from NHS Test and Trace. This includes Test and Trace contact tracers/call handlers, local authority contact tracers working with NHS Test and Trace, Public Health England health protection teams and NHS staff.

The rules do not apply in the same way to notifications received through the NHS COVID-19 app. The NHS COVID-19 app is guidance, alerting you to the fact that you have been nearby someone who has now tested positive, and therefore may now be infected. You are advised to isolate when it tells you to and to take a PCR test. However, unlike a notification from NHS Test and Trace telling you to self-isolate, this is not a legal requirement.

If you are responsible for a child, you may also be notified by NHS Test and Trace that the child has tested positive for coronavirus. You have a legal duty to make sure the child self-isolates in these cases.

Do I have to self-isolate if I’ve been vaccinated?

From 16 August, people who are double vaccinated no longer need to self-isolate if they have come into close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Under the new rules, you will not be required to self-isolate when you are identified as a close contact if:

  • you have received a full course of (i.e. both) vaccines in the UK and your final vaccine was at least 14 days before you had the close contact which resulted in your notification
  • you have been, or are, taking part in a clinical trial of a vaccine in the UK
  • you can provide evidence that, for medical reasons, you should not be vaccinated.

People under 18 years old are also no longer required to self-isolate after being identified as a close contact. Importantly, this means that the adults responsible for them no longer have to either.

In all these circumstances, you are nevertheless still advised to take a PCR test. If this test comes back positive, you will be legally required to self-isolate as explained above.

When do my 10 days start?

The Regulations require you to self-isolate from the moment you receive your notification. If you are already at your isolation address (e.g. your home, or the relevant accommodation) then you may not leave from that point (except for one of the reasons set out below). If you are outside of this location, you should try to get to that address as soon as possible and then remain there.

However, this is not necessarily the start of your 10-day countdown for self-isolation.

Your 10 days start the day after the test.

E.g. If you took a PCR test on the 10th without any symptoms and the test comes back positive, your 10 days start on the 11th. This is true even if you don’t get your results until the 12th.

Your 10 days start the day after the symptoms started.

E.g. If your housemate developed symptoms on the 10th and took a PCR test on the 13th then, if this test came back positive, your 10 days would start on the 11th.

Your 10 days start on the 4th day before that test.

E.g. If you developed symptoms on the 10th and took a PCR test on the 16th then, if this test came back positive, your 10 days would start on the 12th.

Your 10 days start the day after your last contact with them

E.g. If you are emailed by NHS Test and Trace on the 13th that someone from your office has tested positive, and you were last in contact with that person on the 10th, then your 10 days start on the 11th.

Your notification (e.g. email or telephone call) will also notify you of the last day on which you are required to self-isolate. You are not allowed to leave your isolation address until the date after this.

If you believe that NHS Test and Trace has given you the wrong information about your self-isolation period or have calculated it from the wrong date, you may want to contact them to explain this and get clarification.

When your 10 days start…

Table explaining when the 10 day countdown starts in different circumstances


Am I allowed to leave the self-isolation for any reason?

If you are required to self-isolate, you may only leave for one of the specific reasons listed in the Regulations. These are:

  • to seek urgent medical care, including medical care for your mental health
  • to see a vet urgently
  • to fulfil a legal obligation (e.g. attending court or taking part in legal proceedings)
  • to escape a risk of harm
  • to attend a funeral of a close family member
  • to obtain basic necessities such as food or medicine where it is not possible to obtain these in any other manner
  • to access critical public services, including social services and services for victims of a crime
  • to take part in coronavirus related research
  • to move to a different place when it becomes very difficult or impossible to remain where you are
  • to attend a testing site for a coronavirus test
  • to accompany a child for whom you have responsibility to their test
  • to post a completed PCR test
  • to participate in a testing scheme
  • when you are a close contact but have not yet tested positive: to accompany an expectant mother to hospital or attend a birth (at the mother’s request).

However, as soon as the reason no longer applies, you are required to return to your place of self-isolation until the 10-day period is over

What are the possible offences?

There are a number of offences set out in the Regulations:

  • It is an offence not to self-isolate for the required self-isolation period when you receive a notification from NHS Test and Trace that you need to self-isolate.
  • It is an offence to leave your given address during your isolation period, unless you have a legally permitted reason.
  • It is an offence not to give the address where you will be self-isolating or the names of the other people in your household when asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.
  • It is an offence to leave self-isolation during your self-isolation period if you believe that you may come into contact with people, you do indeed come into contact with them and you are reckless as to whether you may infect them.
  • It is an offence to obstruct any police officer (or PCSO) who is enforcing the self-isolation Regulations against you or anyone else.
  • It is an offence to obstruct anyone else who is carrying out a function under these Regulations.
  • It is an offence not to comply when a police officer (or PCSO) requires you to do something when enforcing these Regulations.

Importantly, it will not be an offence to do any of the things listed above if you have a reasonable excuse. In the first instance, police officers will decide whether your excuse is reasonable and whether you have committed an offence. If a police officer believes your excuse is not reasonable, but you think it is, you can generally only challenge this by going to court (see below).

  • Additionally, it is an offence to give false information about the address at which you will be self-isolating or who else lives in your household. This includes claiming that someone does live in your household when they do not, or that saying that someone is a close contact of someone who tested positive when they are not.

What are the punishments for these offences?

If you are convicted of any of these offences in the magistrates’ court, you can be punished by way of an unlimited fine. The magistrate can decide on the level of the fine. When deciding on fines in other situations in which there is also a Fixed Penalty Notice amount (that’s a fine given on the spot by a police officer – see below), magistrates tend to use that amount as a starting point. However, they do still have the power to increase or decrease this figure. A conviction will be on your criminal record.

Alternatively, you may be given a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for any of these offences. An FPN is a fine given on the spot by a police officer. The officer should notify you that you are being issued with an FPN, and then you should be sent a letter explaining the amount of your fine, how you can pay this fine, and when you are expected to pay it by. If you pay the amount set out in the FPN within 28 days, then you can’t be taken to court or convicted of the offence. If you don’t pay the amount within 28 days, then you may be taken to court as described above and may be convicted.

As they are not technically a conviction, FPNs will not appear on your criminal record. However, as you will not go to court, you will also not have an opportunity to properly defend yourself. In practice, you can try to explain yourself to the officer as they can decide whether to give the FPN or not. Alternatively, you may be able to informally present your defence by writing to the police station. However, they may not agree to withdraw the FPN. You should therefore think carefully about whether to pay the FPN or defend your case in court. We would recommend contacting a criminal defence solicitor if you have been given an FPN and you wish to challenge it.

For most of the offences in these Regulations, the FPN amounts are as follows:

  • First offence = £1,000
  • Second offence = £2,000
  • Third offence = £4,000
  • Fourth or any subsequent offence = £10,000.

However, there are higher penalties for the offence where you have left your home during the self-isolation period and have come into contact with people and have been reckless as to whether you may infect them. The FPN amount for a first offence of this type is:

  • First offence = £4,000
  • Second offence = £10,000.

What about when self-isolation interferes with my work?

If you are notified of a requirement to self-isolate, you are required to do so regardless of your employment. If you are ordinarily supposed to leave your isolation address in order to work, you must notify your employer of your requirement to self-isolate (including the start and end dates) and must follow the self-isolation requirements. If you can work from home, you should do so.

It is an offence if you don’t tell your employer that you have been required to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and you may receive an FPN for £50 or you may be taken to court.

This presents challenges for people in certain kinds of work that can’t be done remotely. If you can’t work from home, then you should discuss with your employer whether you can take this period as sick leave or annual leave. Your employer is, unfortunately, not under any automatic obligation to pay you for this period. There are some other options depending on your situation.

If you are eligible for statutory sick pay (i.e. you are off work for four consecutive days or more) you may be able to claim this. Your employment contract may also provide for sick pay; you should review your contract and discuss this with your employer. This may not be relevant if you are having to isolate upon returning to the UK from a red list country.

Otherwise, there is a government benefit payment available. However, there are strict eligibility requirements for this, and these requirements may change depending on where in the UK you are.

It is an offence for an employer to knowingly allow an employee who is required to self-isolate to attend any place other than their self-isolation address for any purpose related to their employment.

Note that you may still be able to work if you are taking part in a relevant testing scheme, such as the Daily Contact Testing Study.

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

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