A baffling array of new lockdown laws have taken force today in large parts of northern England.
Meeting anyone you don’t live with, inside a private home, is now a criminal offence in parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire or West Yorkshire.
You can be fined £100 by police – doubling each time up to £3,200 for repeat offenders – and police can use “reasonable force” to remove you.
Yet while the law bans having lunch at your gran’s house, or having sex with someone you don’t live with in their home, going to the pub is technically allowed.
And there’s a confusing criss-cross between what’s banned under guidance, and what’s banned under the law.
So what exactly can you be fined £100 for doing in Manchester? And what are some of the loopholes in the law? We’ve taken a proper look.
Where the new law applies and when
Everything in this article applies in all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester; the Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale council areas in Lancashire; and the Calderdale and Kirklees council areas in West Yorkshire.
Blackburn with Darwen, Lancashire, also has restrictions but they’re not covered by the same law.
It came into force at midnight and will be reviewed by August 19 at the latest, but could be reviewed before that.
You can’t go round your friends’ or families’ houses
The law bans two or more people from multiple households meeting in a “private dwelling” in the ‘protected area’.
The protected area means the restricted parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
There are loads of exemptions (more below!) but it includes a house, flat, houseboat, yard, passage, stairway or outhouse – along with the garden.
Anyone who breaks this law is committing an offence and can be fined £100 by police. This doubles on each repeat offence up to a £3,200 cap.
But you can meet them in the park
When it comes to outdoor gatherings, people in the “protected area” are still basically under the same laws as the rest of England.
That means the legal limit on meetings in a “public outdoor place”, like a park, forest or beach, is they have to have fewer than 30 people.
However, national guidance says you should limit outdoor gatherings to six people or two households (whichever is larger).
Guidance also says you should stay socially distant from people outside your household.
You can’t meet your mates in their back garden
Despite outdoor meetings being allowed, meetings in a garden that’s part of a “dwelling” are not.
As far as the law is concerned, a private garden is treated in exactly the same way as inside your house.
In other words, you cannot meet anyone from outside your household in your garden, their garden, or anyone else’s garden.
If you do, you can be fined £100.
But you can meet them in a beer garden
Despite gatherings in private gardens being banned in the ‘protected area’, gatherings in pub beer gardens are still allowed – both by guidance, and law.
Guidance says you are still meant to limit gatherings to six people or two households, whichever is bigger.
But this is not a legal requirement.
You’re not supposed to meet your mates inside the pub
Guidance says people in the ‘protected area’ should not gather in any ‘indoor’ space with people outside their household.
This includes the indoor parts of pubs, restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, B&Bs, cinemas – you name it.
And it includes pubs and bars that are outside of the ‘protected area’.
But that’s not actually against the law
Confusingly, the law says something different to the guidance.
While the guidance bans multiple households meeting “indoors”, the law only really covers private dwellings.
That’s because pubs and restaurants have separate regulations, telling them to make a risk assessment and become “Covid-secure”.
So while meeting a mate inside the pub is banned, you can’t be fined £100 for doing it.
You can’t have sex in a house with someone you don’t live with
The ‘sex ban’ is back.
The law makes it illegal for two people in the ‘protected area’ to meet in a private dwelling, if they’re not from the same household or bubble.
The definition of gathering is “when two or more people are present together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other.”
Use your imagination.
But you can technically, legally have sex in a hotel
The law doesn’t cover – for example – a hotel, hostel, members’ club, boarding house or B&B.
Guidance for the ‘protected area’ says you shouldn’t meet someone from another household in any of these indoor places.
But you can’t be fined £100 for doing so.
You can’t have sex with a stranger in their shed
If you’re in the ‘protected area’, you can’t meet someone from another household in a private home.
This includes any “garden, yard, passage, stair, outhouse or other appurtenance of the dwelling”.
So that means sex in their outhouse is banned. Sad.
But technically, legally, you can on a campsite
The law doesn’t apply to campsites or caravan parks.
Guidance says even if you do meet someone outdoors, you should stay socially distant – that means no kissing or touching.
But you can’t be fined £100 for breaking the rules.
You can’t break these rules, even if you travel outside the lockdown zone
These rules don’t just apply in the ‘protected area’.
They also apply to anyone who lives there, and then travels outside it.
So that means if you live in Manchester and your Mum and Dad live in Liverpool, you still can’t go round their house for dinner.
The rest of England is allowed gatherings of two households indoors, so your Mum and Dad can of course have their Liverpool neighbours round. They just can’t have you round.
(The exception to this is if you’re in a ‘support bubble’ – more of this below.)
But you can still go on holiday
There’s nothing in the law or the guidance to prevent you going on holiday – either in the UK or abroad.
There are no travel restrictions in or out of Greater Manchester, Lancashire or West Yorkshire.
And the law specifically exempts hotels, bed and breakfasts, caravan site or ‘members’ clubs’ from the indoor meetings ban.
You will, though, have to quarantine for 14 days if you return from a country with high coronavirus rates. And Brits are advised against “non-essential” travel to scores of countries including Spain.
(…Except to Scotland)
Scottish government guidance says: “Travel between Scotland and Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire should only be undertaken if absolutely essential.”
While that’s not a legal requirement, it might scupper any holiday to the Highlands or Islands you had planned if you live in Manchester.
Your mates from outside the zone can’t break the rules if they come to visit
Anyone living outside the ‘protected zone’ must obey the new, stricter rules when they come to visit.
That means the moment you cross the ‘border’ into the parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire or West Yorkshire, the rules apply to you as if you live there.
So if you live in Newcastle, you can’t go round your mate’s house in Kirklees – but you can of course go round your neighbours’ house in Newcastle.
But you can join in a ‘bubble’
In all the laws in this article, a single “household” can mean any two households that have joined together in a “support bubble”.
To do this, one of the two households must be a “single-adult” household – in other words, only have one adult living there.
You also need to be “exclusive” – in other words, you can’t bubble up with more than one other household.
If you’re in a bubble, you can treat the entire bubble as one household under the law. Likewise if one of you gets symptoms, the rest of your bubble must isolate for 14 days.
You can still have childminders and tradesmen in your home
Two people who don’t live together are allowed to meet in a private home if it’s “reasonably necessary” for a number of reasons.
These include “for work purposes”, which means plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople are still allowed inside. They should obey social distancing.
Another exception is for “childcare provided by a person registered under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006”. That means childminders are allowed.
While we’re at it, gatherings are also allowed for “education or training”, to provide “voluntary or charitable services”, or to move house.
Gatherings are also allowed to provide emergency assistance, to provide “care or assistance to a vulnerable person”, or allow someone to “avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.”
This, for example, could include caring for a frail elderly relative or helping someone escape domestic abuse.
And you can still share childcare if you’re divorced
Divorced or separated parents are still allowed to split time with their children under the law.
Children are allowed to move between the two households freely; though the mum and dad should still stick to the rules around each other.
They are allowed to “continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents.”
You can technically still visit your gran or grandpa in a care home
The law still allows care home visits and does not threaten people making them with £100 fines.
But according to guidance, you shouldn’t
Guidance specifically bans care home visits in nearly all circumstances in the ‘protected area’ – despite rules loosening in the rest of England.
The ‘protected area’ guidance says: “You should not visit friends or family in care homes, other than in exceptional circumstances.
“Care homes should restrict visits to these circumstances.”
You can visit someone who’s dying – or being born
Exceptions include visiting someone you “reasonably believe” is dying.
That person can be a member of your household, a close family member or friend, or someone else if the dying person has no friends or family to visit them.
At the opposite end, people can also gather with an expectant mother who is giving birth, at her request.
And good news! You can still send your kids to school
The law does not ban meetings between two households in a school or any “educational” setting.
And so far the government’s plan is for all schools to reopen to all pupils from the start of September.
The only exceptions may be in specific areas where there is a local outbreak. But despite worrying case numbers in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, no schools have been ordered to close yet.
That’s something we’ll only find out closer to the time.