This information relates to England only, although the law is similar in Scotland, Wales and NI. Please note that there are other rules and powers relating to gatherings of people which are not included in this post.
The legal powers to control movements are contained in Regulations issued by the Dept of Health on 26 March. Under Regulation 6 (a) ‘no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse’. This means just what it says – by law, during this crisis, you may not leave your home without a ‘reasonable excuse’.
WHAT’S A REASONABLE EXCUSE?
The first thing to remember is that the Regulations do not define a reasonable excuse. The Regs give a list of things that are definitely reasonable excuses, but things that are not in that list can still be a reasonable excuse. In the end, it would be up to Magistrates to decide whether or not your reason for being out of your home was a reasonable excuse, if you were prosecuted for being out of your home.
Remember, the starting position is that you should be at home all the time. If you are thinking of going out, ask yourself if nearly everyone would agree that you have a good reason to be out. If a lot of people would think it wasn’t reasonable for you to be out, then it probably isn’t a good enough reason.
WHAT ARE THE REASONABLE EXCUSES IN THE REGULATIONS?
Regulation 6(b) gives a list of reasons which, in law, are reasonable excuses for being out of your home. If you are out of your home for one of these reasons, you are not breaking the law and you can’t be sent home by the police or given a penalty notice. Remember, these are not all the reasonable excuses for being out, just the ones specifically listed in the Regulations.
In some cases, you have the legal right to leave your home to visit somewhere which is now closed, like schools or day centres. Obviously, if the place that you are supposed to be going is actually closed, it wouldn’t be a reasonable excuse to leave your home to go there.
SHOPPING & COLLECTING GOODS
Going out to get basic necessities like food and medical supplies, or DIY materials to do essential repairs and maintenance, for your own household is a reasonable excuse to be out. This applies whether you are buying stuff in shops or picking it up from somewhere else, like a food bank or neighbour. Obviously, you should try to do everything by phone or online if you can.
Going out to get basic necessities like food and medical supplies, or DIY materials to do essential repairs and maintenance, for vulnerable people (see definition below) is also a reasonable excuse to be out. This applies whether you are buying stuff in shops or picking it up from somewhere else, like a food bank or neighbour. Obviously, you should try to do everything by phone or online if you can.
Going to the bank or another essential financial service is also a reasonable excuse to be out. Obviously, you should try to do everything by phone or online if you can. Also, many banks and finance places are now closed, so check before you go.
Going out to get basic necessities for pets in your own household or in the household of a vulnerable person is a reasonable excuse to be out. This applies whether you are buying stuff in shops or picking it up from somewhere else, like a food bank or neighbour. Obviously, you should try to do everything by phone or online if you can.
Going out to get inessential items like toys, games, clothing, cosmetics, furniture, decorating supplies, etc is NOT a reasonable excuse and you will be breaking the law and liable to fines if you do this. This applies whether you are picking the stuff up from another house (eg because a neighbour is lending it to you) or buying it. If it’s not a basic necessity, you can’t go out to get it.
Going out by yourself or with other members of your household, including pets, to take exercise is a reasonable excuse to be out of doors. The Regulations do not say how long you are allowed to exercise for, or what sort of exercise you can do, or where you can do it. Government guidance, which is not legally binding, says that you should exercise locally to where you live and for no more than an hour.
Remember, the law talks about exercise. Exercise is physical activity to keep your body active (or to keep your pet active). Going on a walk to look at the scenery, enjoy the view, soak up the atmosphere, chat to your family or get fresh air is not exercise as such, it is a leisure activity. Going for a walk to go somewhere is not exercise, it is making a journey.
People should use the ‘exercise excuse’ very carefully. You should only go out to exercise when you are actually doing exercise to keep your body active. Most people do not need more than a hour of exercise to keep their body active and lots of people usually take less than this.
People should also be careful to maintain safe distances from other people while exercising. Choose a place and a route to exercise which enables you to keep safe distances. If you *have* to drive to somewhere local to find a safe or appropriate place to exercise, then that is reasonable. But driving somewhere to exercise because you like to exercise in that place or because it’s a nice place is not reasonable.
LOOKING FOR MEDICAL HELP
Leaving your home to ‘seek medical assistance’ for you, a member of your household or a pet is a reasonable excuse to be out of your home. As well as doctor and hospital visits, this includes going to a dentist, optician, audiologist, chiropodist, chiropractor, osteopath, a mental health clinic, therapist or psychologist/psychiatrist. Visiting a vet for your pets is also allowed.
Of course, many medical services and vets are now closed to face-to-face visits anyway, and only essential appointments are being made. You should phone the service or person you are hoping to see before setting off.
HELPING VULNERABLE PEOPLE
Provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person is also a reasonable excuse to be out of the house. This includes direct personal care, such as help with washing, eating or moving around, but it also includes bringing them (or their pets) basic necessities like money, food, medicines and things for essential household repairs or maintenance. Helping vulnerable people to take exercise or look for medical help is also a reasonable excuse to be out.
Most if not all vulnerable people will be self-isolating as much as possible, and some will be shielding, which means not having any contact with outsiders at all. Although helping vulnerable people is a reasonable excuse to be out, you still need to make sure you protect them while helping them.
A vulnerable person is defined in the Regulations as someone who has chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or bronchitis, chronic heart disease, such as heart failure, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis, chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, a learning disability or cerebral palsy, diabetes, problems with their spleen, such as sickle cell disease or removal of the spleen, a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy, or who is seriously overweight with a body mass index of 40 or above.
If a person doesn’t have one of these listed conditions, they are not a vulnerable person for the purposes of these Regulations and so helping that person is not a reasonable excuse to be out. Helping an older person, or an autistic or blind person, for example, is not classed as a reasonable excuse to be out (but see below for charity and voluntary work).
Providing ‘emergency assistance’ to other people is also a reasonable excuse to be out of your house. But it has to be a genuine emergency, such as a fire, heart attack or assault.
Leaving home to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm, is also a reasonable excuse to go out of your home. This could apply to people who are moving out to prevent being infected by another person, or because your home or circumstances are unsafe. See also ‘victims’ below.
Going out to donate blood is a reasonable excuse to leave your home. Remember, you still need to travel and donate safely.
VOLUNTARY & CHARITABLE WORK
If you are doing voluntary or charitable work and it is not reasonably possible for you to do that work from home, this is a reasonable excuse to leave your home. The Regulations do not say what sort of charitable or voluntary work is covered, so this is a bit of a grey area.
If you are thinking of going out to do voluntary or charitable work, ask yourself first if the work can reasonably be done from home or in a way that means you don’t need to leave home. If the work absolutely requires you to leave your home, you then need to ask if it’s necessary for you to do it. Ask yourself if nearly everyone would agree that you have a good reason to be out of doors doing this work in the middle of a national crisis. If a lot of people would think it wasn’t reasonable for you to be out, then it probably isn’t a good enough reason, even if your work is for a good cause.
Volunteer members of community groups set up to help others during the crisis by bringing shopping or medications to older and vulnerable people are covered by this exemption.
If it is not reasonably possible to do your work from home, going out to travel to work, or for your work, is a reasonable excuse to leave your home.
This is a very broad exemption and it applies to millions of workers, especially those who do practical jobs in areas like retail, security, catering, cleaning, manufacturing, warehousing, building, property services, farming and agriculture, etc. However, most non-essential workplaces have been closed down by other Regulations, so many workers have no job to travel to. But if your job is still legally happening, or your workplace is still legally open, you have a legal right to travel. Obviously, you should use safe social distancing when you travel and in your workplace.
Going to the funeral of someone from your household or a close family member is a reasonable excuse to leave your home. Going to the funeral of less close family members (eg aunts, cousins or nephews), friends, acquaintances or work colleagues is not a reasonable excuse to leave your home.
If there is a funeral arranged for someone and no one from their household or a close family member can attend, then one friend of the deceased person can attend in the place of relatives or household.
If you are required by law to go somewhere, then you have a reasonable excuse to leave your home. This includes things like being summonsed to a court or tribunal, seeing a social supervisor or probation officer, or meeting the terms of a conditional discharge or community treatment order under the Mental Health Act. However, the vast majority of court and tribunal proceedings are being suspended or done by telephone, and people subject to legal restrictions are having the restriction varied to prevent the need for face-to-face contact. You should always check before you leave that you still need to go.
If you are a parent or have parental responsibility, taking children and young adults to and from childcare or a preschool, school, college or university is a reasonable excuse to leave home IF the school etc are still open for that child or young adult. This applies now to the children of key workers only and to children and young adults with significant special educational needs. Taking other people’s children to these places is not a reasonable excuse to leave home.
Going out to get or receive social care from your local council or social care provider is a reasonable excuse to leave home. This includes going to day centres, family centres etc. However, all these places are now shut.
JOBCENTRES & DWP
Going to a JobCentre or another place to access a service provided by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is a reasonable excuse to leave your home. However, all JobCentres are now closed and all DWP face-to-face meetings cancelled, along with assessments for disability benefits.
VICTIMS AND ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Going out to access a service provided for victims, such as victims of crime or domestic abuse, is also a reasonable excuse to leave your home. People in abusive relationships can still go to refuges and places of safety, for example.
Children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, can still travel between households in the same way as before the restrictions came into force, accompanied by an adult if necessary. Going out to keep these access arrangements going is a reasonable excuse to leave the house.
CHURCHES, MOSQUES, TEMPLES ETC
If you are a minister of religion or a worship leader, it is a reasonable excuse for you to leave home to go to your place or worship. However, if you are not the minister or worship leader, it is not a reasonable excuse to leave home to go to a place of worship. Most churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship are closed in any case.
If it is ‘reasonably necessary’ for you to move home, then it is a reasonable excuse to leave your old home to go to the new one. This would apply if the move is already arranged and can’t reasonably be postponed, or if the move was coming about because of legal proceedings or a family breakup. But most house moves can be postponed and all evictions have been postponed too.
CRIMINAL OFFENCES & PENALTY NOTICES
Under Regulation 9, it is a criminal offence to break any of these movement restrictions ‘without reasonable excuse’. It is also an offence to obstruct a police officer, PCSO or official who is enforcing the restrictions. If convicted by a Magistrate of these offences, you can be fined an unlimited amount.
However, the Regulations allow people to avoid a court prosecution by paying a ‘fixed penalty notice’. Police officers, PCSOs and authorised council or government officials can issue a fixed penalty notice where they feel that someone has committed a criminal offence by breaking one of the movement restrictions without reasonable excuse. The fixed penalty notice is like a parking ticket, it imposes a fine of £60 to be payable within 28 days, or £30 if paid within 14 days. If you have had previous fixed penalty notices, the fine may be doubled up to a maximum of £960. It will be possible to appeal to an independent Tribunal against being issued with a fixed penalty notice, although details of this are not yet available.
Please note that police officers etc do not have to issue you with a fixed penalty notice. They can refer you to the Crown Prosecution Service for a court hearing. We expect this would only be done in exceptional circumstances, most people will get a fixed penalty notice.
The fixed penalty notice will tell you how to pay the fine, which goes to your local council.
Under the Regulations, if a police officer or PCSO (or an authorised) thinks that you are outside your home and breaking one of the movement restrictions, and they feel that it is ‘necessary and proportionate’, they can tell you to go home.
Although the Regulations do not specifically say you have to obey this instruction, it is likely that the police would see refusal as obstructing a police officer, which is an offence. So, the police would likely follow up a refusal to follow their instructions with a penalty notice.
The police can also tell children who are out of doors to go home in the same way. If there is a responsible adult or parent with children, that adult must make sure the children go home or face a penalty notice or prosecution. Police etc can also instruct parents (and people with parental responsibility) to stop their children breaking movement restrictions even if the parents are not out with the children, and again failure to stop their children breaking the restrictions means the parent could face a penalty notice or prosecution.
The police also have power to physically remove people who they think are breaking movement restrictions back to their home, using reasonable force if necessary. However, the police say this is a last resort.
This is free information from the BuDS Disability Information Service. It is only information and you should take advice on your own circumstances.
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To see a copy of the Regulations go here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/…/regulation/8/made