As of Wednesday 6 January England went into its third national lockdown. This means there are bans on meeting people from other households, among other restrictions. 

The essential message is to stay at home, just like the first lockdown in March last year, which means working from home where possible and only going out for limited reasons permitted in law.

The lockdown restrictions mean people will not be allowed to gather or mix with different households in any public place, indoors or outdoors.

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

If exercising with one other person, this should be done in a public outdoor place such as a park or beach.

However, this exercise should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area in order to do so.

But for other types of meeting, the rules do not permit socialisation with those outside your household. The new guidance says: “You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with.

However, there are exceptions to the rules, namely with support and childcare bubbles.

So, let’s look at what the rules are around a support bubble.

The first thing to know, is that you have to meet certain eligibility rules to form a support or childcare bubble.

A support bubble is a support network which links two households.

You can form a support bubble with another household of any size only if you meet the eligibility rules.

Guidance says bubbles must be “exclusive”. Once in one, you can’t start another with a different household. If you decide to change your bubble, you should treat your previous bubble as a separate household for 10 days before forming a new one.

People in a bubble can stay overnight in each other’s homes, visit outdoors places together and do not have to socially distance.

People may form a support bubble during the January lockdown with another household of any size if: 

  • you live by yourself – even if carers visit you to provide support
  • you are the only adult in your household who does not need continuous care as a result of a disability
  • your household includes a child who is under the age of one or was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • your household includes a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of 5, or was under that age on 2 December 2020
  • you are aged 16 or 17 living with others of the same age and without any adults
  • you are a single adult living with one or more children who are under the age of 18 or were under that age on 12 June 2020

Based on the 2 December support bubble rules, if you share custody of a child with someone you do not live with, the child can move freely between both parents’ households, but you do not need to form a support bubble in order to do this.

You should not form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble.

However, if you form a support bubble, it is best if this is with a household who live locally. This will help prevent the virus spreading from an area where more people are infected.

There are different support bubbles for Childcare.

If you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, you can form a childcare bubble. This allows friends or family from one other household to provide informal childcare.

A childcare bubble is where one household links with one other household to provide informal childcare to anyone under 14.

All adults in both households must agree to this arrangement. ‘Informal’ childcare means it is unpaid and unregistered.

Members of either household can provide childcare in a home or public place. This includes overnight care.

You can only have one childcare bubble with one other household. This means no household should be part of more than one childcare bubble.

If you decide to change your childcare bubble, you should treat your previous bubble as a separate household for 10 days before forming a new bubble.

This means following the rules on meeting people from other households. You should not provide childcare as if you are in a bubble during this period.

If your child lives in more than one location, moving between two parents who live separately is not counted as a childcare bubble.

This means both you and the other parent can also form a childcare bubble with one other household.

In addition to childcare bubbles, the following people can provide childcare support (including in private homes and gardens):

  • registered childcare providers
  • providers of other supervised activities for children, including wraparound care and children’s groups
  • paid in-home childcare providers
  • people in your support bubble

Early years settings and childminders remain open, and you can continue to use these settings as normal. Nannies are able to work in your home or any other setting.

You can also get informal help with childcare from people who do not live with you and are not part of your support or childcare bubble, so long as you follow the rules on meeting other people which apply in your area.

It has also been announced that if you break the rules, there are penalties. The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

While vaccination is well under way, the UK government are advising we continue to play our part and keep wearing masks, sanitising and social distancing. 

For more information on government guidance on the latest Covid rules visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/making-a-support-bubble-with-another-household