Coronavirus / Tier 4 - When can I leave home?

Tier 4 (National lockdown) – When can I leave my home?

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 restrictions in place in Tier 4 are similar to those of the March 2020 lockdown. This means there are restrictions on leaving your home, limits on gathering with others indoors and outdoors, and certain businesses have to close.

The Tier rules will remain in force until 31 March 2021, but every 14 days the Health Secretary must review the need for each area in Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4 to remain in those Tiers in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to provide a public health response. In addition, the Health Secretary must review the need for the restrictions themselves at least every 28 days.

How do I know whether I’m in a Tier 4 area?

At the time of writing, every area of England was subject to Tier 4 rules.

When can I leave my home?

In Tier 4, it is a criminal offence to leave or to be outside of your home without a ‘reasonable excuse’.

Reasonable excuses

Examples of a reasonable excuse include:

Leaving home necessary for certain purposes

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to buy goods and obtain services from businesses which are allowed to remain open, either for yourself, for people in your household, for a vulnerable or disabled person or people in a vulnerable or disabled person’s household
  • to obtain money from or deposit money with banks, building societies and certain other businesses
  • to exercise outside by yourself or with members of your household, support bubble or childcare bubble, or in a public outdoor place with one other person not from your household, support bubble or childcare bubble (there are exceptions for people with children under 5 years old or caring for a disabled person)
  • to go to a place of worship
  • to carry out certain activities relating to buying, selling, letting or renting residential property, including moving home
  • to visit someone in your support bubble
  • to collect food, drink, or any other goods ordered from a business which is allowed to stay open and trade in this way
  • to visit a waste disposal or recycling centre.

Work, voluntary services, education and training etc

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • for work purposes, or to provide voluntary or charitable services (where it is not reasonably possible for you to do that work from home)
  • for specified education and training purposes
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • to provide emergency assistance to someone
  • to meet a legal obligation or take part in legal proceedings (this includes attending court or satisfying your bail conditions)
  • to access critical public services, such as social services, services provided by the Department for Work and Pensions, victims’ services and asylum and immigration services
  • to access voluntary and charitable services, including food banks.

Elite athletes

  • 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 it is reasonably necessary for you to leave or be outside of your home for the purposes of training or competition.

Medical need

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to seek medical assistance, including taking any medical tests or being vaccinated
  • to donate blood or attend medical trials
  • to avoid injury or illness or escape a risk of harm
  • to attend a person giving birth at their request
  • to visit a person receiving treatment in a hospital or staying in a hospice or care home, or to accompany a person to a medical appointment, where that person is part of your household, a close family member, or a friend.

Support and respite

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to attend a meeting of a support group which is allowed under the rules on gatherings
  • for the purpose of respite care being provided for a vulnerable person or a person with a disability
  • for the purposes of providing a short break in respect of a child who is being looked after by a local authority.

Death bed visit 

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to visit a person (a friend, close family member, or member of your household) that you reasonably believe is dying.

Funerals etc

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to attend a funeral or a commemorative event celebrating the life of a person who has died, or to visit a burial ground to pay your respects to a member of your household, a family member or friend.

Marriages and civil partnerships 

Where it is reasonably necessary:

Children

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to continue with contact arrangements for children who have parents in different households
  • to continue 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
  • to facilitate a meeting between prospective adopters (and their household) and the child who or children who may be placed with prospective adopters
  • to access educational facilities or to accompany your child or a child you have parental responsibility for to those facilities
  • for the purposes of 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
  • for the purposes of social services placing children into care, whether on a temporary or permanent basis.

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.

Animal welfare

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to attend veterinary services, or to attend to the care or exercise of a pet or other animal you own or care for.

Returning home

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to allow you to return home from any place where you were on holiday immediately before these rules came into force.

Prison and immigration detention visits

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to visit a person living in criminal justice accommodation or immigration detention accommodation who is a close family member or friend.

Voting

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • for the purposes of voting, counting votes or other related activities in relation to an election or referendum organised under UK law, or organised by another country where its embassies or consulates in the UK have made arrangements for eligible people to vote in that election from the UK.

Permitted outdoor sports gathering

Where it is reasonably necessary:

  • to take part (this does not include spectating) in a ‘permitted outdoor sports gathering’ as described in the rules on gatherings.

Students and vacation households

Where you were a student on a higher education course at the time these rules came into force, and it is reasonably necessary:

  • for the purposes of moving on one occasion from your student household before 8 February 2021 to another household for the purposes of a vacation
  • for the purposes of returning to your term time accommodation after the vacation.

Picketing

  • You may leave home to attend a picket which is allowed under the rules on gatherings. 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.

This list is not exhaustive. 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.

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. You should speak to a solicitor about this.

Different police officers and different forces may take different approaches. But professional police bodies have also published this briefing to help police officers understand and enforce the rules consistently.

What counts as my home?

Your home is considered to be the place where 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 and see here for more information.

Can I go shopping?

Yes. You can go shopping for yourself or your household. You can also go shopping on behalf of a vulnerable or disabled person or their household.

There are no restrictions on what you can go out to buy. However, you can only physically go to shops and businesses which are permitted to stay open.

While non-essential retail shops are required to close their premises, they can continue to operate click-and-collect and delivery services.

Cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars can stay open only for the purposes of providing food and drink for takeaway, click-and-collect, drive-through or delivery (alcohol can only be provided via delivery).

There are no specific limits in the law about how often you can go shopping. Government guidance however recommends that you minimise the number of journeys you make and that you buy the goods and services you need within your local area where possible.

Can I exercise outside?

Yes, you can exercise outside alone, with one or more members of your household or support bubble, or with one person from outside your household or support bubble.

If the person is from outside your household or support bubble you can only exercise outside in a public outdoor place. This includes places such as parks, beaches and countryside accessible to the public, but no longer includes outdoor sportsgrounds or sports facilities, and use of these for exercise is not permitted.

If you have a childcare bubble, you can also exercise outside with one or more members of your childcare bubble, where the exercise is being taken as part of informal childcare for a child aged 13 or under.

Note that:

  • any child under five
  • any person who is present as a carer for a disabled person who needs continuous care (provided there are no more than two people present in this capacity)

does not count when determining whether you are exercising with one other person for the purpose of these rules.

The law does not specify what kind of exercise you can do. Walking is a type of permitted exercise.

There is no legal limit on how often you can exercise. However, the Government guidance recommends that you limit exercise to once per day, minimise time spent outside your home, and only exercise within your local area.

The Government has published guidance about which elite sport can continue during the lockdown period.

Is the “open air recreation” exception still in place?

No. Previously, the law allowed you to visit a “public outdoor place” for the purposes of open air recreation. However, this is no longer an exception to the rule that you must remain at home.

The meaning of “open air recreation” was never defined, but appeared intended to cover a broad range of activities which can take place in a public outdoor place but which might not fit naturally within the exercise exception (for example, working on your allotment, having a picnic, or sitting on a park bench). These activities are now no longer permitted unless they fall within another exception. Taking children to a playground to play, for example, is likely to constitute exercise or otherwise be deemed as a reasonable excuse, since the Government has allowed playgrounds to remain open during this lockdown.

Can I drive somewhere to walk my dog or exercise in a park?

Yes.

If you leave your home, you must have a reasonable excuse to do so. Reasonable excuses include going out to exercise, or going out to exercise a pet that you own or care for. Walking your dog would fall under either or both of these exceptions.

Government guidance states that you should not travel outside of your ‘local area’ in order to exercise: for example, so that you can access an open space. The guidance suggests that your ‘local area’ is the village, town, or part of the city where you live. This is only guidance and not law. The police cannot enforce this guidance, and if you break it you will not commit a criminal offence.

Although the law does not place any explicit limit on how far you can travel for the purpose of exercise, it does state that your excuse for leaving the house must be reasonable.

The term “reasonable” usually means what an ordinary person would think was fair, taking into account all the information they have. The distance you can legally travel will therefore depend on your own individual circumstances, such as where you live and what is in the local area.

For example, it might be reasonable to travel by car to the closest open space if you live in a busy city neighbourhood. It is less likely to be reasonable to travel a long distance to exercise if you have several local parks closer to your house. Ultimately, this will depend on the discretion of individual police officers.

Can I go to work, school or university?

Yes, in certain circumstances.

You are allowed to go to work or to provide voluntary or charitable services if it is not reasonably possible for you to do this from home.

You are also allowed to attend places for education or training, which includes schools and university.

However, government guidance explains that while colleges, primary and secondary schools remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, all other children will learn remotely until at least 8 March. The Government guidance also contains specific advice for those attending university.

You may want to contact your college, school or university for advice on what to do.

Government guidance recommends that if you need to travel, you should try to walk or cycle where possible, and plan ahead to avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This is only guidance and not law so the police cannot enforce these rules, and if you break them, you will not commit a criminal offence.

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 run by Refuge 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 my home for mental health reasons?

Yes. You are 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. NHS mental health services remain open.

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 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 (such as bail conditions) or take 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 remotely through the use of video link.

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

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

Yes. You can also attend commemorative events celebrating the life of a person who has died. These events must comply with the rules on gatherings (for example, no more than 30 people can be present at a funeral).

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.

You are allowed 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.

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 when you can gather with other people.

 

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