Coronavirus / Tier 4 - Can I gather with other people?

Tier 4 (National lockdown) – Can I gather with other people?

This information was correct as of 25 January 2021 but is subject to possible changes.

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

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.

The new Tier 4 rules ban indoor gatherings and outdoor gatherings 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 must not gather in a public outdoor place in a group of more than two people. Gatherings of two people are therefore allowed in public outdoor places.

You must not gather with anyone (i.e. in a group of two or more people) in any outdoor place that is not a ‘public outdoor place’. That means that you cannot gather in the garden of someone’s home.

Again, there are exceptions to these rules which allow you to gather in larger groups in specific circumstances.

Remember: regardless of whether a particular gathering is permitted, you can only leave your home if you have a reasonable excuse.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

Government social distancing guidance recommends you stay two metres apart from anyone who isn’t from your household or your linked household. However, it now says that you can be one metre away from others so long as there are also ‘mitigation measures’ in place. This is known as the “one-metre-plus” rule. Mitigation measures might include screens or the use of face coverings.

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.

Remember: the rules do not allow you to gather with anyone in addition to your household or support bubble.

For example, it is against the law for you to gather with someone from your household plus someone from outside of your household, unless one of the exceptions apply (for example, you are providing childcare and all the other people are part of your childcare 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.

The Government has stated that while colleges, primary (reception onwards) and secondary schools will remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, all other children will learn remotely until at least 8 March.

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 six 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 six 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.

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 six 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 aged under 18 (but see comment below)
  • 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.

The exception in relation to later years childcare provision or supervised activities for children only applies where:

  • the parent, or the person who has parental responsibility for, or care of, the child in question is a ‘critical worker’

OR

AND

  • the childcare is reasonably necessary to enable the parent, or the person who has parental responsibility for, or care of, the child in question, to work, to search for work, to undertake training or education, or to address a medical need.

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

Students and vacation households

  • The gathering is reasonably necessary for a student who was undertaking a higher education course on 6 January 2021 to
    • join a new household for the purposes of a vacation AND
    • afterward to return to their term time accommodation.
  • A student may only make use of this exception once, and cannot make use of it later than 8 February 2021.

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 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.

Note that this exception does not cover protests more generally. A picket is a specific type of protest and this exception is only relevant in cases of industrial action.

Exceptions in relation to indoor gatherings and outdoor gatherings other than those in certain public outdoor places

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.

Exception in relation to outdoor gatherings

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

AND

    • a risk assessment which meets the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 has been carried out
    • 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.

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. 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 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’ is 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.

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 house and/or garden?

No. Under the law you cannot gather or socialise with anyone who is not from your household or your support bubble (where applicable) inside your home or in your garden, unless one of the exceptions applies.

Can I meet up with a friend outdoors?

You are allowed to meet up with one other person in certain public outdoor places such as parks and open countryside.

However, you must also have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving your home. Socialising with a friend is not listed a reasonable excuse. You may however leave your home in order to exercise with one other person from another household.

Note that children under five and up to two carers of disabled people who require continuous care do not count towards this two-person limit. So, for example, two adults from different households could meet together with any number of their children aged under five. Or two adults, one of whom is disabled and requires continuous care, could meet with two of the disabled person’s carers present. The purpose of this gathering must be to exercise.

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. There is a corresponding exception in the rules on leaving your home which allows you to leave your home where it is reasonably necessary to do so for the purpose of such a visit. There is therefore no legal ban on visiting relatives or friends in care homes.

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 recently published new guidance for care providers, which explains how they should make these decisions and communicate them to residents and families. It also sets out certain standards that providers must ensure are met when they are organising visits, such as limiting visitors to an absolute maximum of two constant visitors per resident, ensuring social distancing at all times and arranging for visits to happen in the open air wherever possible.

When making these decisions, 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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