The stay-at-home guidance has ended and the rule of six has returned in England. This brings to an end five months of some form of guidance restricting travel within England. Other rules still apply for travel to, and within, other parts of the UK.
In England, the lifting of the “stay-at-home” Government rule is part of four key steps to bring us out of lockdown, and the guidance permits us to meet with family and friends outside and to travel beyond our local area. “I must stress that it is only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step to freedom today,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on March 29.
So what do the new rules mean in practice? How far can we travel? Can we stay anywhere overnight? And how do the rules differ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? And what rules are law, versus guidance? Here’s our guide to travelling in the UK.
Can I travel to the beach?
The mini heatwave parts of the UK are experiencing this week (with temperatures set to reach 75°F/24°C) will tempt many to the beach, but is this permitted under the new guidance?
Yes, according to the Government. An official spokesperson confirmed that day trips are allowed under the guidance. They added: “We ask everyone to act responsibly and cautiously and minimise travel where possible as these restrictions ease.”
However, those keeping a close eye on law changes since the start of the pandemic will note that domestic travel has not been illegal under UK Government legislation. Under England’s third lockdown, we were not permitted to leave our homes without a reasonable excuse, but no explicit ban on travel.
These listed excuses did not include recreation (such as a day trip), but did stretch to work, volunteering, shopping, education or childcare, meeting your support bubble, medical or animal welfare reasons, escaping harm, compassionate reasons, communal worship, funerals, weddings, activities related to buying or selling a home, and exercise. Travelling without a “reasonable excuse” before March 29 could come with a £200 fine (for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400).
The “stay local” guidance is not mentioned in the latest coronavirus restrictions guide published by the Government. Different rules have been applied in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland throughout the pandemic. For visiting the beach:
- Scotland: No; unless you live close to the beach. The “stay at home” message will become “stay local” from April. Travel within mainland Scotland will be permitted under guidance from April 26.
- Wales: Yes; people can travel anywhere within the country.
- Northern Ireland: No; the “stay at home” message remains in place until at least April 12, subject to a review after Easter.
What are the local travel rules for England?
The “stay at home” guidance has come to an end, although the Government is still asking that people “minimise travel”.
That said, the guidance does not put a limit on the distance you can travel within the UK. Indeed, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on March 29: “We are saying that you should minimise travel but if you want to travel to see friends and family then that is absolutely fine.”
Now you can meet outside under guidance, including in private gardens, with a group of up to six, or as two households.
Self-catering accommodation cannot reopen until April 12, followed by hotels and B&Bs on April 17. Staying away from home overnight in a second home or vehicle is not allowed under the guidance, but would not be against the law (see more on this below).
What are the rules for Scotland?
The “stay at home” guidance within Scotland remains in place until April 2. On this date it will change to “stay local”.
Travel within mainland Scotland is to be permitted under its Government guidance from April 26. Tourist accommodation can also open from this date, with restrictions in place. Scotland is to continue its “levels” system, but will move the whole country into level three “if the data allows”.
Under Scottish law, you must not currently travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK, or the Common Travel Area, without a reasonable excuse. These are listed here.
What are the rules for Wales?
All travel restrictions within Wales were removed on March 27. Welsh residents can travel anywhere within the country’s borders.
Holidays within Wales also resumed. Self-contained accommodation was permitted to reopen for people within the same household or bubble. This includes hotels with en-suite bathrooms and room service.
The rule against travelling in and out of Wales to other parts of the UK ends on April 12.
What are the rules for Northern Ireland?
The “stay-at-home” message will not lift until April 12. That said, from April 1, within Northern Ireland restrictions ease. The guidance states that people can meet in groups of up to 10, from two households to exercise or in groups of up to six people in a private garden.
Ministers have issued guidance against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK or Common Travel Area. However, non-essential travel into the country has not been enforced under law. A 10-day quarantine is also advised for anyone travelling into the region, but similarly not enforced. The earliest date at which tourist accommodation would be permitted to reopen for leisure purposes in Northern Ireland is April 1.
Can I stay overnight elsewhere in England?
The UK Government guidance (for England) states that: “You should not stay overnight in a second home, caravan or boat, if that is not your primary residence, unless it is necessary to do so. For example, for work, moving home, to attend a medical appointment, or to avoid injury, illness or harm (including domestic abuse). You should not be going on holiday at this stage.
“You must not stay overnight with anyone who you don’t live with or have formed a support bubble with (where eligible) unless a legal exemption applies.”
Yet visiting a second home in England is not illegal. As human rights barrister Adam Wagner explained on Twitter: “There is no legal restriction on travel and no legal requirement to stay at any particular home.”
He added: “The only relevant legal question is whether you are part of an unlawful gathering. If you are just with your household indoors, or with your linked household, or fall into another exception, it does not matter where you are.”