Rule of six: Social distancing rules, support bubbles and exemptions explained

Millions of people across England must abide by the 'rule of six’ again, now lockdown has ended and England has returned to a strengthened three-tier system. Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly have entered Tier 1, meaning people must abide by the rule when meeting other households both indoors and outdoors. London, Liverpool and the majority of the country have been placed in Tier 2. In these areas, people are able to meet in groups of six seated outdoors at pubs and restaurants serving substantial meals, or in public places such as parks, but not indoors. For Tier 3 areas such as Manchester, Kent, Bristol and Leicester, households are only allowed to meet in groups of six in limited public places such as parks and beaches. Use our postcode tool to find out which Tier your area is in. If you break the 'rule of six', you could face a fine of £200 for a first offence. Despite a rebellion from dozens of Tory MP's at the House of Commons vote on the tiers, and backlash from businesses, Matt Hancock said the restrictions were here to stay for the "forthcoming few months." With the news that a vaccine has been approved in England, Mr Hancock encouraged people to "hold their nerve" and stick to the rules. Tier allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, with the Government keeping a close eye on infection rates, particularly in the over 60's. So what do the restrictions mean for you? What are the rules? The different elements behind the rule of six depend on the tier level in your local area. Most of the proposed regulations are intended for Tier 1, where you can mix with people beyond your own household indoors. The following rules apply in each tier: Medium level/ tier one  You must not meet in groups larger than six, indoors or outdoors High level/tier two This is for areas with a higher level of infections.  This means the following additional measures are in place: You must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place The "Rule of Six" applies outdoors and in private gardens Very high level/tier three This is for areas with a very high level of infections.  The Government has announced tougher measures for Tier 3, which are uniform across any area in this tier. The rules state that: You must not meet with anybody outside your household or support bubble in any indoor or outdoor setting, whether at home or in a public space. The Rule of Six applies in open public spaces like parks and beaches. The rule does not apply to households or bubbles of more than six, or gatherings for work or education Organised indoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue to take place, if the rule of 6 is followed. (There are exceptions for indoor disability sport, sport for educational purposes, and supervised sport and physical activity for under-18s, which can take place with larger groups mixing.) Places of worship remain open, but you must not attend or socialise in groups of more than 6 people while there, unless a legal exemption applies Why was the rule of six introduced?  The change to the law first came after Boris Johnson told his Cabinet that ministers must ensure there was "no complacency" among the public, and particularly young people, following the rise in coronavirus infections, as the latest chart below shows. The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, agreed that the action was needed urgently after the number of positive cases rose steeply. Where do these rules apply? The rule of six applies across England to all ages and to indoor and outdoor gatherings, depending, most crucially, on what tier your area is in.  This includes private homes, parks, pubs, restaurants and sporting events. In Tier 1, you cannot sit at a pub or restaurant table with more than five friends at any given time. In Tier 2 and above, you may not meet anybody indoors beyond your home or support bubble.  What are the exemptions? Support bubbles Households or support bubbles of more than six people are exempt from the new rules. Support bubbles allow adults who live by themselves and single parents with children under 18 to join up with one other household. Under new rules, parents with babies under the age of one can also form a "support bubble" with another household. This means they can do things such as visit their house, stay the night and travel together in vehicles. Weddings Weddings are allowed to go ahead, with ceremonies and receptions of up to 15 people permitted. However, Mr Johnson made clear that they must be conducted in a Covid-secure way. Guests have to stand or sit at least one metre apart, and take other safety precautions.  Funerals Funerals can continue, with 30 people allowed to pay their respects. The Government previously faced criticism at the outset of the pandemic when guidance limited mourners to groups of between five and 10.  Funeral dir

Rule of six: Social distancing rules, support bubbles and exemptions explained

Millions of people across England must abide by the 'rule of six’ again, now lockdown has ended and England has returned to a strengthened three-tier system.

Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly have entered Tier 1, meaning people must abide by the rule when meeting other households both indoors and outdoors.

London, Liverpool and the majority of the country have been placed in Tier 2. In these areas, people are able to meet in groups of six seated outdoors at pubs and restaurants serving substantial meals, or in public places such as parks, but not indoors.

For Tier 3 areas such as Manchester, Kent, Bristol and Leicester, households are only allowed to meet in groups of six in limited public places such as parks and beaches. Use our postcode tool to find out which Tier your area is in.

If you break the 'rule of six', you could face a fine of £200 for a first offence.

Despite a rebellion from dozens of Tory MP's at the House of Commons vote on the tiers, and backlash from businesses, Matt Hancock said the restrictions were here to stay for the "forthcoming few months."

With the news that a vaccine has been approved in England, Mr Hancock encouraged people to "hold their nerve" and stick to the rules.

Tier allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, with the Government keeping a close eye on infection rates, particularly in the over 60's.

So what do the restrictions mean for you?

What are the rules?

The different elements behind the rule of six depend on the tier level in your local area. Most of the proposed regulations are intended for Tier 1, where you can mix with people beyond your own household indoors.

The following rules apply in each tier:

Medium level/ tier one 

  • You must not meet in groups larger than six, indoors or outdoors

High level/tier two

This is for areas with a higher level of infections.  This means the following additional measures are in place:

  • You must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
  • The "Rule of Six" applies outdoors and in private gardens

Very high level/tier three

This is for areas with a very high level of infections. 

The Government has announced tougher measures for Tier 3, which are uniform across any area in this tier.

The rules state that:

  • You must not meet with anybody outside your household or support bubble in any indoor or outdoor setting, whether at home or in a public space. The Rule of Six applies in open public spaces like parks and beaches.
  • The rule does not apply to households or bubbles of more than six, or gatherings for work or education
  • Organised indoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue to take place, if the rule of 6 is followed. (There are exceptions for indoor disability sport, sport for educational purposes, and supervised sport and physical activity for under-18s, which can take place with larger groups mixing.)
  • Places of worship remain open, but you must not attend or socialise in groups of more than 6 people while there, unless a legal exemption applies

Why was the rule of six introduced? 

The change to the law first came after Boris Johnson told his Cabinet that ministers must ensure there was "no complacency" among the public, and particularly young people, following the rise in coronavirus infections, as the latest chart below shows.

The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, agreed that the action was needed urgently after the number of positive cases rose steeply.

Where do these rules apply?

The rule of six applies across England to all ages and to indoor and outdoor gatherings, depending, most crucially, on what tier your area is in. 

This includes private homes, parks, pubs, restaurants and sporting events.

In Tier 1, you cannot sit at a pub or restaurant table with more than five friends at any given time. In Tier 2 and above, you may not meet anybody indoors beyond your home or support bubble. 

What are the exemptions?

Support bubbles

Households or support bubbles of more than six people are exempt from the new rules. Support bubbles allow adults who live by themselves and single parents with children under 18 to join up with one other household.

Under new rules, parents with babies under the age of one can also form a "support bubble" with another household.

This means they can do things such as visit their house, stay the night and travel together in vehicles.

Weddings

Weddings are allowed to go ahead, with ceremonies and receptions of up to 15 people permitted. However, Mr Johnson made clear that they must be conducted in a Covid-secure way. Guests have to stand or sit at least one metre apart, and take other safety precautions. 

Funerals

Funerals can continue, with 30 people allowed to pay their respects. The Government previously faced criticism at the outset of the pandemic when guidance limited mourners to groups of between five and 10. 

Funeral directors accused councils of misinterpreting lockdown rules by banning family members from crematoria and graveyards and going “way beyond” their legal powers.

Matt Hancock said he regretted the move because it meant that “in the peak of the pandemic, lots of people didn’t go to the funeral even of someone they’ve been married to for 50 years".

Other linked commemorative events such as wakes or stonesettings are limited to 15 attendees. 

Schools and offices

Schools and workplaces continue to operate under existing Covid guidelines, which include year groups being kept in bubbles, classrooms reconfigured and masks worn in communal areas. 

However, the Prime Minister has encouraged people to work at home wherever possible. 

Read more: Will schools close again?

Pubs and restaurants

In Tier 1 areas, groups are limited to six, however, Covid-secure hospitality venues are able to hold larger numbers of people. They are legally required to request test and trace information from customers and keep the details for 21 days.

All pubs, bars and restaurants must now operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 11pm.

Places of worship

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples remain open, although congregations are required to stay at least one metre apart. Under the existing guidance, services are expected to conclude as quickly as possible, with worshippers encouraged to leave “promptly” afterwards. 

It came after the Archbishop of Canterbury confirmed that the rule of six would not apply to churches, writing on Twitter: "Worship is the work of God - not a social gathering - and gives the strength to love and serve."

However, the government have confirmed that between December 23 and 27, you can attend places of worship with your Christmas bubble. This applies across all tiers. 

Sporting events

All adult team sport events are forced to legally abide by the rule of six with only six players now allowed to play at any one time. This includes indoor five-a-side football matches and the planned return of spectators to sports venues. 

Festive events 

Santa grottos are allowed to open across all tiers, provided they take place in venues that are permitted to open under the new restrictions, whilst ensuring that "appropriate Covid-secure measures" have been put in place, such as social distancing.

New government guidance has stated that door-to-door carol singing and carol services are also allowed to take place as long as the Rule of Six is followed. The government has also suggested principles for safer singing which must be followed should these performances take place. 

Nativity plays are also permitted to go ahead within school bubbles. However, if the performance takes place in an area under Tier 3 restrictions, then it must be viewed as a recording or via a live stream. 

Volunteering during the festive period has also been allowed to take place, but similar to the rules around working, this must be done from home where possible. 

Rules on shopping, whether indoors or outdoors, including Christmas Markets, remain in place throughout the holidays, dependent on tier level. This includes the Boxing Day Sales. 

Grouse shooting 

The Government has been criticised after granting grouse shooting a special exemption from the rule of six.

Hunting with guns is included on a list of sports, pursuits and outdoor activities where groups of up to 30 people are allowed to gather, despite the introduction of the new restrictions.

It is understood the exemption was granted after the Cabinet Office's special Covid-19 Operations ministerial committee organised a meeting to specifically discuss hunting and shooting.

Will there be an exception at Christmas? 

Ministers have agreed on a UK-wide plan to allow up to three households to mix for five days between December 23 and 27.

Northern Ireland has negotiated a seven-day suspension of the rules to allow for people who need to catch flights or ferries to the mainland. It will run from December 22 to 28.

Families must decide on their extended bubbles in advance and will not be able to mix with anyone from outside that bubble during the festive break.

Other restrictions, including pub closures, are expected to be relaxed over the festive period but final details of the arrangements are expected to be announced later this week.

In a conference from Downing Street on November 26, Professor Chris Whitty spoke out about whether easing the rules over Christmas will lead to more severe restrictions before and after the holiday. 

Highlighting the risk, the Chief Medical Officer shared: “Everyone knows that, it’s not a secret at all. However, he said it is only a risk over January and February, as this is the time when the NHS faces the most “extreme pressure”.

Professor Whitty also said that Christmas could be enjoyed without a sharp rise in cases if people “take it really seriously” and “don’t do unnecessary things, just because you can”.

Will I be punished for breaking the rules?

The Government hopes the new rules will be more simple for people to understand. It will also make it easier for the police to break up large gatherings.

Failure to stick to the new rules could mean a £200 fine, which will double with every subsequent offence up to £3,200.

What are the rules in other parts of the UK?

Different rules apply to social gatherings elsewhere in the UK.

Scotland has recently announced a four tier system, which has placed 11 of its central and western areas, including Glasgow into a near-full lockdown.

Northern Ireland announced a circuit breaker lockdown which is set to begin on November 27. This will see the closure of all non-essential businesses, amongst other restrictions across the entire country-wide and imposed. Northern Ireland also has a rule of six which is likely to resume after their circuit breaker lockdown. 

In Wales, tighter Covid restrictions are to be put in place from December 4 as cases start to rise.

How can we socialise safely?

A campaign was launched to encourage people to help stop the spread of coronavirus because people are more likely to socialise indoors during autumn and the winter.

The Hands Face Space campaign urges people to ensure they wash their hands, use a mask where appropriate and stay at least two metres apart - or one metre with a face covering or other precautions.

The campaign states that these are the three most effective ways the public can contain the spread of the virus.

When might we see the end of the Rule of Six? 

The current restrictions were due to expire at the end of March, with Mr Johnson saying he believed the vaccine would make Covid lockdowns "redundant" in the new year.

Boris Johnson also told MP's at the Commons vote on December 1 that tiers would be decided on a more “granular” basis after the review in mid-December, after facing pressure from backbenchers.

But, recent news surrounding the vaccine has seen the Government's plans to vaccinate 44 million adults before April 2021 was praised by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who shared he was "more and more confident" that life will be closer to normality in the spring. Other ministers have labelled it as "a ray of light", which may reintroduce us to everyday life. 

Read More: What exactly is the Pfizer vaccine, who will get it, and is it safe?