Coronavirus (COVID-19) Worried about being fined for leaving the house? Guidance on new police rules around lockdown

During this national emergency there is a lot of confusion surrounding the reasons we can leave our houses and the potential consequences of breaking the new rules. Here we clarify what guidance police forces should be following when deciding whether to issue a penalty.

Police forces around the country were granted new powers under The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and they have been applying these powers by giving warnings, on-the-spot fines and making arrests. These penalties have been handed down for a variety of reasons, including to large gatherings that refuse to disperse, making unnecessary trips and in the most serious cases, coughing directly into police officers’ or other emergency workers faces.

As of 6 January 2021, all areas in England were placed into tight ‘Tier 4’ restrictions. These restrictions enforced the fact that no one may leave their home without a ‘reasonable excuse’. They also required all non-essential shops to close.  

There has been disparity across the country on how the police have been applying these new rules. For example, Derbyshire Police Force recently issued a fixed penalty notice to two women, from different households, who had been driven 5 miles from their home to take exercise together. A situation which is allowed by the rules. This fixed penalty notice was later revoked and an apology was issued to the women in question.

The actual test contained within The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 of ‘reasonable excuse’ has several meanings.

In view of the misapplication of the law by some police forces, the College of Policing and the National Police Chief’s Council published further guidance on what is and what is not a reasonable excuse to leave the house. There is guidance on a number of areas, including shopping, exercise, work, support and other reasons.

The guidance on shopping clarifies that members of the public are allowed to leave the house to go to the shops to buy anything that is on offer there, whether it be deemed as essential (bread, milk etc), or non-essential (luxuries such as chocolate and alcohol). Though multiple trips to the supermarket are clearly discouraged. One can also leave the house for takeaway food from establishments offering this service.

With regard to exercise, residents are permitted to drive to a location and exercise, provided that the area where exercise is taken is ‘local’. There has been no further clarification on this point and it appears that different police forces are interpreting this point at will, though it would appear the general consensus is around 5 miles. It is not permitted to take breaks to rest or eat whilst exercising.

The advice on work states that leaving home is reasonable for anyone (not just key workers), where it is not possible to work remotely. The police should not be asking for ID or any form of ‘Key Worker’ letter if you are travelling to work. It is not acceptable to choose to work in a local park if you are able to work from home, or to travel door-to-door offering to do paid work. You may also leave the home to fulfil a legal obligation or to participate in legal proceedings.

The guidance also details other acceptable reasons to leave the house, including taking a pet to the vet, moving house and visiting a loved one in hospital. This has been expanded to include marriages or civil partnerships, prison visits to a close family member and returning home from a place you have been on holiday before the regulations came into force.

This guidance is non-exhaustive and, as always, police will assess each case individually and based on its own merits. The police have been encouraged to engage first if they suspect a person of breaking these new restrictions. If there are repeated breaches or an unwillingness to co-operate then further action can be taken.

Since the original lockdown in March 2020 the wearing of masks or face coverings has also been bought into law. Every person entering into a ‘relevant place’ should wear a face covering unless the have a reasonable excuse. For these purposes relevant places include but are not limited to: shops, restaurants, banks. Reasonable excuses for not wearing a face covering also include but are not limited to: taking medication, eating or drinking, physical or mental illness and avoiding harm or injury.

Offences for which a fixed penalty notice can be applied are as follows: a person has refused to wear a face mask with no reasonable excuse, a person has refused a direction from an officer with no reasonable excuse, or a person has obstructed an officer or other relevant person from acting in accordance with the regulations without reasonable excuse.

Fixed penalty notices for any of these breaches start at £200 and double for each subsequent breach of the regulations.

There are serious consequences to flouting the new lockdown rules. If you or a family member has been affected, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time for confidential, expert advice.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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