Can I gather with other people? / Coronavirus

Coronavirus Step 2 – Can I gather with other people?

This information was correct as of 15 April 2021 but is subject to possible changes.

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

The coronavirus rules have changed several times in recent months. Here is a brief timeline of the different sets of rules we have seen:

  • On 2 December 2020, the Government introduced a new system of “Tier” rules, also known as local alert levels.
  • On 20 December 2020, the Government amended the existing system of Tier rules to introduce Tier 4.
  • On 6 January 2021, the Tier 4 rules were further strengthened and extended to apply to every area in England.
  • On 8 March 2021, the Tier 4 rules were relaxed slightly but still applied to every area in England.
  • On 29 March 2021, the Tier rules were repealed and replaced with the Step rules. As of 29 March 2021, the Step 1 rules apply to every area in England.
  • On 12 April 2021, the Step 1 rules were disapplied to every area in England, and the Step 2 rules were applied to every area in England instead.

Restrictions on gatherings in Step 2 (from 12 April 2021)

The Step 2 rules ban most indoor gatherings and outdoor gatherings of more than six people in most circumstances, but there are a number of exceptions to these rules.

INDOOR GATHERINGS

The rules say that you must not gather with anyone else (i.e. in a group of two or more people) indoors unless certain exceptions apply. This includes gatherings within people’s homes.

OUTDOOR GATHERINGS

The rules say that you are allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to six. This includes in a public outdoor place, in the garden of someone’s home or on other private property. The six people do not have to be from the same household. Gatherings of more than six people outside are not allowed unless certain exceptions apply.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

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

Exceptions to the rules on gatherings

You are allowed to gather in larger groups than described above if the gathering falls into one of the exceptions provided by law, which include those below:

Same or linked households

  • All the people in the gathering are from the same household or support bubble.

Education

The gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of:

  • early years provision
  • educational activities of a school
  • a course of study or essential life skills training provided by a 16 to 19 Academy, a further education provider or a higher education provider
  • activities relating to residing at a school, a 16 to 19 Academy or a further education provider
  • provision specified in an education, health and care plan (EHC plan)
  • the suitable education of a child otherwise than by regular attendance at school (arranged by a parent, local authority or the proprietor of a school in accordance with standards set down in law)
  • activities provided by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body for the purposes of obtaining a regulated qualification or meeting the entry requirements of an educational institution
  • preparing for work through a work experience placement or work preparation training
  • applying for and obtaining work
  • meeting a requirement for a particular area of work
  • professional training that is working towards an external accreditation recognised by a professional body
  • exams and assessments carried out in connection with any of the matters mentioned in the bullet points above.

Gatherings necessary for certain purposes

The gathering is reasonably necessary:

  • for work purposes, or for voluntary or charitable services
  • to provide emergency assistance
  • to enable one or more persons in the gathering to avoid injury or illness to escape a risk of harm
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • to help with the process of moving home.

Legal obligations and proceedings

  • You are fulfilling a legal obligation or taking part in legal proceedings (this includes attending court or satisfying your bail conditions).

Criminal justice accommodation

  • The gathering takes place in criminal justice or immigration detention accommodation.

Support groups

  • The gathering is of a support group which takes place somewhere other than a private home and includes no more than 15 people. It must also be reasonably necessary for members of the group to be physically present at the gathering.

Respite care

The gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of:

  • respite care being provided for a vulnerable person or a disabled person
  • a short break being provided in respect of a child which is being looked after by a local authority.

Births

  • You are attending a person giving birth at their request.

Marriages and civil partnerships etc

  • The gathering is for the purposes of a marriage or civil partnership (or an alternative ceremony)

AND

    • consists of no more than 15 people
    • (if it is an alternative wedding ceremony) takes place at premises or part of premises (other than a private home) which are operated by a business, a public body or a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution; or in a public outdoor place
    • the manager or organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
    • the organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance

OR

  • The gathering is for the purposes of a marriage or civil partnership ceremony which is allowed to take place because one of the parties to the marriage or civil partnership is seriously ill and not expected to recover (or is for the purposes of an alternative wedding ceremony where one of the parties to the marriage is seriously ill and not expected to recover)

AND

    • the gathering takes place at a private home; at premises or part of premises which are operated by a business, a public body or a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution; or in a public outdoor place
    • the gathering consists of no more than 15 people
    • the manager or gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
    • the organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance
    • it is not reasonably practicable for the gathering to take place in accordance with the rules set out in the previous paragraph.

For wedding or civil partnership receptions, see the section on “Exceptions in relation to indoor gatherings” below.

Funerals

  • The gathering is for the purposes of a funeral AND
    • consists of no more than 30 people
    • takes place at premises or part of premises, other than a private home, which are operated by a business, a public body or a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution
    • the manager or gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Commemorative event following a person’s death

  • The gathering is for a commemorative event to celebrate the life of a person who has died (such as a wake, stone setting or ash scattering) AND
    • the gathering consists of no more than 15 people
    • the gathering takes place somewhere other than a private home
    • the manager or gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
    • the manager or gathering organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Elite sports

  • You are an elite sportsperson or the coach of an elite sportsperson (or, in the case of an elite sportsperson who is a child, their parent), and the gathering is necessary for training or competition.

Children

The gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of:

  • arrangements for contact between parents and children where children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents
  • arrangements for contact between siblings where they do not live in the same household, and one or more of them is in local authority care
  • facilitating a meeting between prospective adopters (and their household) and the child or children who may be placed with prospective adopters
  • social services placing children into care, whether on a temporary or permanent basis
  • later years childcare provision (for children aged five or over but under 18) or as part of supervised activities provided for children or people aged under 18 on 31 August 2020
  • for the purposes of informal childcare, for children aged 13 or under, provided by a member of a household to a member of their childcare bubble.

Childcare in ‘early years’ settings (including nurseries and childminders) is covered by the “Education” exceptions, above.

Parent and child groups

The gathering is of a parent and child group which:

  • consists of no more than 15 people (when counting the number of people, no account is taken of any child who is below the age of five)
  • takes place somewhere other than a private home
  • is organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body for the benefit of children under the age of five.

Students and vacation households

  • The gathering is reasonably necessary to enable a student, who is undertaking a higher education course on 29 March 2021, to:
    • move on one occasion from their student household to another household for the purposes of a vacation on or after 29 March 2021 but before 29 April 2021
    • return to their term time accommodation after the vacation described above, or any vacation which started before 29 March 2021 as allowed under the previous rules.

Communal worship

  • The gathering is for the purposes of communal worship in a place of worship AND
    • you attend the gathering alone or as a member of a qualifying group
    • the gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
    • the organiser, or premises manager, has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Picketing

  • The gathering is for the purposes of picketing which is carried out in accordance with the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992
  • the gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • the organiser has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Protests

The gathering is for the purposes of protest and:

  • it has been organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body, and
  • the organiser:
    • has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
    • has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Nomination of candidates

  • The gathering consists of no more than two people and is necessary for the purposes of participating in the process of the nomination of a candidate in an election or petitioning for a referendum which is being held in accordance with the law.

Campaigning

  • The gathering consists of no more than two people, at least one of whom is a campaigner, and the gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of campaigning in an election or referendum which is being held in accordance with the law.
  • When the campaigning takes place at a person’s private home, the campaigner must remain outside of the home, in an outdoor part of the home or in a common part of the building (e.g. the communal corridor outside of the person’s flat).

Observing an election or referendum

  • The gathering is reasonably necessary for the purposes of observing voting, opening postal votes or counting votes in an election or referendum, where such observation is in accordance with the law which provides for the election or referendum.

Secretary of State’s direction

The gathering is permitted by a direction made by the Secretary of State under these regulations.

On the advice of the Chief Medical Officers, the Secretary of State can disapply the rules on gathering in relation to specified events and gatherings, for the purposes of a research programme to evidence the potential transmission of coronavirus in controlled environments.

Exceptions in relation to indoor gatherings

Visiting a dying person

  • You are visiting a person that you reasonably believe is dying and that person is part of your household, a close family member, or a friend.

Visiting persons receiving treatment etc

  • You are visiting a person receiving treatment in hospital or staying in a hospice or care home, or are accompanying that person to a medical appointment, and that person is part of your household, a close family member, or a friend.

Other sports

  • You are taking part (which does not include spectating) in a gathering which
    • is organised for any sport or fitness related activity for children or people who were under 18 on 31 August 2020, or who have a disability, and who are not elite sportspeople
    • is organised by business, a charity, a public body, a political body, or benevolent or philanthropic institution
    • takes place in premises (or a part of premises) which are operated by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, or a public body – these premises may be indoors or outdoors.

AND

  • the organiser or premises manager has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
  • the organiser or premises manager has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Exceptions in relation to outdoor gatherings

Two households or linked households

  • All the people in the gathering are members of no more than two households
  • For these purposes two households which are in a support bubble are to be treated as a single household.

Permitted organised gatherings

  • The gathering takes place on premises (or part of a premises) operated by a business, a charity, a public body, a political body, or benevolent or philanthropic institution (and not on or at a private home), or
  • the gathering takes place in a public outdoor place and has been organised by a business, a charity, a public body, a political body, or benevolent or philanthropic institution, and
    • the organiser or premises manager has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
    • the organiser or premises manager has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

You can only attend this type of gathering alone or as a member of a qualifying group.

Outdoor sports

  • You are taking part (which does not include spectating) in a gathering which
    • is organised for any sport or fitness related activity for people who are not elite sportspeople
    • is organised by business, a charity, a public body, a political body, or benevolent or philanthropic institution
    • takes place outdoors

AND

  • the organiser or premises manager has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999,
  • the organiser or premises manager has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Outdoor activities

  • You are taking part in a “relevant outdoor activity“, which
    • is a physical outdoor activity for which a licence, permit or certificate issued by a public body must be held by the organiser or a person taking part in the activity
    • the gathering organiser has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and
    • the organiser or premises manager has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance.

Wedding and civil partnership receptions

  • The gathering is for the purpose of a wedding reception, a reception following the formation of a civil partnership or a reception following the conversion of a civil partnership into a marriage and:
    • the gathering organiser or premises manager has carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999,
    • the organiser or premises manager has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, in line with the risk assessment and with any relevant government guidance,
    • the gathering does not take place in a private home, and
    • the gathering consists of no more than 15 people (when counting the number of people, no account is taken of any child who is below the age of five).

Can I be fined for not following the rules on gatherings?

Yes. It is a criminal offence if you break the rules on gatherings without a reasonable excuse. There are different fines depending on the size of the gathering, and whether you attended or organised it.

For attending an unlawful gathering of up to 15 people, you may be fined £100 for your first offence (or £200 if you fail to pay the fine within 14 days of it being issued), with the amount of the fine doubling for each offence that is committed up to a maximum of £6,400.

If you commit a ‘large gathering offence’ where you gather in a group of more than 15 people in certain locations, you may be fined £400 (or £800 if you fail to pay the fine within 14 days of it being issued). See here for further information.

If you organise or facilitate a gathering of more than 30 people, indoors or outdoors, the fine could be much larger, up to £10,000 (see below).

See our what can the police do and criminal penalties pages for more information.

What counts as a gathering?

A ‘gathering’ has been defined in law as two or more people being present in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any activity with each other. This is a very broad definition which is likely to cover any reason for meeting with another person unless the meeting is genuinely accidental.

What are the rules on organising a gathering?

It is a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people which takes place indoors but which would meet the definition of a rave (see section 63(1) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) if it took place in the open air.

It is also a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a private home, on a vessel or in a public outdoor place which is not operated by a business, a public body, a charity, benevolent or philanthropic institution, unless an exception applies.

The exceptions to this rule are the same as the exceptions for attending gatherings, as set out above.

One of the exceptions relates to  “permitted organised gatherings”. This allows people to attend gatherings organised by specified types of bodies in specific locations. Similarly, organisers of these types of gatherings will not commit a criminal offence. However, this exception does not apply to the organisation of gatherings in a public outdoor place operated by a public body. Therefore, organising an event in such a place is still not allowed, unless it is covered by one of the other exceptions.

The penalties for these “organising” offences are much higher than the penalties for attending a gathering illegally. If you commit one of these offences, a fine of £10,000 can be imposed and, if you do not pay the fine, you may be prosecuted for a criminal offence.

Can I have people over to my garden?

Yes. Under the Step 2 restrictions, you can have a gathering of up to six people in a private garden. For outdoor gatherings such as this, you can have more than six people if all of the people gathering are from no more than two households. When considering the number of households, support bubbles (including childcare bubbles) are considered as one household.

Can I have people over to my house?

No. Although Step 2 has relaxed the restrictions around outdoor socialising, indoor socialising is still restricted. You cannot have a gathering of two people or more indoors, unless all of the people gathering come from the same household. Support bubbles, including childcare bubbles, are considered a single household.

Can I meet up with a friend outdoors?

Yes. Under the Step 2 restrictions you can have a gathering of up to six people outdoors. This includes in a public outdoor place, as well as in private outdoor premises (although bear in mind there are still restrictions on the premises that can be open). You can have more than six people if all of the people gathering are from no more than two households. When considering the number of households, support bubbles (including childcare bubbles) are considered to be one household.

In addition, Step 2 has allowed more businesses to open, which includes businesses which serve food or drink AND have outdoor seating. You can therefore meet with a group of up to six people in a restaurant’s or pub’s outdoor seating area, for example.

Can I visit a relative or friend in a care home?

Yes. There is an exception in the rules on gatherings which allows you to visit someone in a hospice or a care home if you are a member of their household, a close family member or their friend.

However, care providers themselves set their own visiting policies and make decisions about who can visit residents, when and how frequently, based on government guidance and advice from local authority directors of public health (DPHs).

The Government has published guidance for care providers, which explains how they should make these decisions and communicate them to residents and families.

This guidance says that from 12 April 2021, every care home resident will be able to nominate up to two named visitors who will be able to enter the care home for regular visits (either together or separately as preferred). These visitors should be tested using rapid lateral flow tests before every visit, must wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow all other infection control measures as guided by the care home. The guidance advises that these visitors keep physical contact with residents to a minimum.

In addition to their 2 named visitors, residents with higher care needs can also choose to nominate an essential care giver.

Care homes can continue to offer visits to other friends or family members with arrangements such as outdoor visiting, substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows.

The guidance states that care home managers are best placed to decide how their care home can best enable visiting in line with this guidance and in a way that meets the needs of their residents both individually and collectively.

When making decisions about visiting, care homes must also take into account the significant vulnerability of most residents, as well as compliance with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, as applicable.

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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