New laws take force tomorrow that will ban social gatherings of more than six people in England.
If you meet up with more than five friends or family members anywhere, indoors or outdoors, you could be dispersed by police or face a £100 fine.
The harsh limit was brought in to simplify the rules after a frightening surge in Covid-19 cases and includes people of all ages, including babies and kids.
However, there are exemptions for workplaces, schools, unis, places of worship and more.
And pubs and restaurants can have more than six customers in total – people must just be split off into small groups, that’s all.
So what can and can’t you do under the new rules – and what’s happening in Wales and Scotland too?
We explain the rules below.
What are the rules in England?
From Monday 14 September, it will be illegal to gather socially in a group of more than six people.
This limit applies to people of all ages including babies – in private homes and gardens; public outdoor spaces like parks; and venues like pubs and restuarants.
Those caught breaking the law will face £100 fines, doubling on each repeat offence up to £3,200.
The six people can be from any number of households, although guidance says people from different households should still socially distance from each other.
If your household or ‘support bubble’ has more than six people, you’re still allowed to be in a group together.
A support bubble is where one single-adult household has joined up exclusively with another household.
There are also exemptions for work, education, places of worship, weddings, funerals, gym classes and more.
What are the rules in Scotland?
From Monday 14 September, you must not gather socially in groups of more than six people.
Like in England, this ban applies both indoors and outdoors and there will be exemptions for places which are ‘Covid-secure’, like schools and work.
However, the rules are both stricter and more relaxed than in England, depending how you look at them.
In a stricter move, groups of six can only be made up of people from two households in total.
But in a more relaxed move, children under 12 from these households won’t count towards the limit of six people.
What are the rules in Wales?
It is already against the rules to gather indoors with anyone outside your ‘extended household’.
An ‘extended household’ is where up to four households have joined together into one mega-bubble, which must be exclusive and not connected to other bubbles of this kind.
From Monday 14 September, these gatherings must now also be limited to six people – even though you’re already in an extended household together.
Like in England, this rule of six will apply in pubs and restaurants as well as people’s homes.
Unlike England, however, children under 11 will not count towards the six-person limit in Wales.
And unlike England the rule is indoors-only. Outdoors, gatherings of up to 30 people are still allowed.
In a separate development in Wales, face coverings will become mandatory in indoor public places from Monday.
What is happening in local areas?
Some parts of England, Scotland and Wales have stricter local lockdown restrictions either in place now – or coming into place shortly – due to soaring virus rates.
In all of the below places, you are banned altogether from indoor social gatherings with any people you don’t live with (or aren’t in your support bubble), apart from some exemptions for things like work.
The ban includes places like a private home or garden, along with indoor public venues like pubs and restaurants.
Please note the restrictions vary slightly from one area to the next so there may be more restrictions where you live. The list also updates regularly.
- Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull
- Manchester, Trafford, Bury, Tameside, Rochdale, Salford and Oldham
- Preston, parts of Pendle and parts of Blackburn
- Parts of Bradford, parts of Calderdale and parts of Kirklees
- Bolton (plus pubs, restaurants and cafes are takeaway-only, and shut entirely after 10pm).
- Caerphilly county (plus people can’t meet their ‘extended household’ bubble indoors, or enter or leave the area without a reasonable excuse)
- Glasgow City, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire and West Dunbartonshire
What can you do?
Here are some of the things you can do under the rule of six in England – as long as you don’t also live in one of the local lockdown areas.
You can meet up to five other people – from any number of households
The legal ban is on more than six people meeting in any one place at the same time.
However, those people can be from any number of households. That bit is actually more relaxed than what the guidance in England said beofre.
You can also have multiple meetings. So you can see four friends on Monday and a different four friends on Tuesday.
You should still remain socially distanced from people not in your household, though, even when meeting up.
You can still live in a big household
Where everyone lives together, the rule of six does not apply. So if you’re in a house of seven people, that is legal.
It also applies if your ‘support bubble’ includes more than six people. This is where two households have joined together and are acting as though they’re one household.
The rules are that one of the two households must contain only one adult; and the bubble must be exclusive. (You can’t be in more than one support bubble).
If you’re going to uni, you’ll be split into “households” according to which floor or flat you’re on in a hall of residence.
You can still go to pubs, cafes and restaurants
You can go to hospitality venues like pubs and restaurants, but only with up to five other people in your group.
The limit on gatherings only applies to each group meeting in a pub, rather than the entire building.
Pubs will still be able to have dozens of people inside, as long as it’s in a Covid-secure way with social distancing.
But each table won’t be able to have more than six people.
You can go to work and school
There will be a blanket exemption “for work, and voluntary or charitable services”.
There is also an exemption for “education, training, or registered childcare (including wraparound care)”.
This is because schools, unis and workplaces can, at least in theory, be set up in a ‘Covid-secure’ way.
You can send your child to a playgroup
There’ll be an exemption to “participate in children’s playgroups”. They must be done in a Covid-secure way.
Similarly “youth groups or activities” are also allowed.
You can do exercise classes – but not a kickabout
There’ll be an exemption for “organised indoor and outdoor sports, physical activity and exercise classes”.
This means gym classes will be allowed, as long as they are properly socially distanced.
But a kickabout or five-a-side in the park with your mates is not allowed. The emphasis is on the word “organised” – the league or club you’re playing in must show it’s Covid-secure.
You can hold a small wedding or funeral
There is an exemption for “wedding and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions, or for other religious life-cycle ceremonies”. Likewise, funerals.
At all these events, up to 30 people will be able to attend. But they must be socially distanced and wearing face coverings, and dancing isn’t allowed.
You can go to a protest
There will be exemptions for “protests and political activities organised in compliance with COVID-19 secure guidance and subject to strict risk assessments”.
There needs to be a point of contact for police to speak to.
You can share childcare if you’re divorced
The law will allow an exemption to “continue existing arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents”.
This means kids can divide time between the homes of divorced or separated parents, and be taken to those homes, without the rule of six applying.
You can still use public transport
The limit on gatherings does not apply to a dozen strangers happening to use the same space at the same time, like a Tube carriage.
You should continue to wear a face covering and stay socially distant from fellow passengers.
You can do all of these other things
Other exemptions to the rule of six will include:
What can’t you do?
Here are some of the things you can’t do under the rule of six in England.
You can’t meet more than five other people at a time
It is illegal to gather socially in a group of more than six people in England.
This limit applies both indoors and outdoors – in private homes and gardens; public outdoor spaces like parks; and venues like pubs and restuarants.
Those caught breaking the law will face £100 fines, doubling on each repeat offence up to £3,200.
You can’t just count children separately
The ban is on six people meeting in the same place at the same time, of any age.
Children and babies count towards the limit – despite young kids being exempt in Scotland and Wales.
So if you have four children, you can’t take them all to see their grandparents at the same time because that would result in more than six people in the room.
You can’t go rent a cottage with lots of friends
One reader asked if a group of eight from three households can go on holiday, sharing a cottage, in England.
No, they can’t. This would count as a social gathering of eight people and therefore be against the law.
If two people drop out, then the holiday can go ahead as it’ll only be a gathering of six – even if you’re from three households.
You can’t just keep your child off school
The government suspended fines for absence in the summer, but they have now returned.
Ministers have made clear they want children in school, even if they or their parents were previously shielding.
However, they also say if you’re worried, you should discuss your or your child’s circumstances with your school.
Some children may have specific medical circumstances that mean they can be off.
You can meet your partner from another household (legally) but you can’t have sex (in guidance)
The only legal limit is on meeting in a group of more than six.
However, guidelines – which are not the law, and you can’t get fined for breaking – say you should remain socially distant from anyone in another household.
That means staying two metres apart where possible, or one metre with other measures.
Technically sex or cuddling is against the guidelines, even though it’s not against the law.