Coronavirus – what does the law say about leaving your home?

April 3, 2020 1:51 pm Published by

The Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced sweeping changes to life in the UK and makes many things that were previously normal everyday activities crimes. With the new laws comes a great deal of confusion about what is permitted and what isn’t. In this post, we’ll look at what the law actually says.

Lots of people on the internet, and in government, are ordering people to stay at home unless it is essential that they go outside. You may also have heard that you should only go outside once a day. But, does the law actually say that?

The relevant law here is a Statutory Instrument called The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 – there are separate Regulations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but as we only practice in England and Wales that is where we will focus our attention in this blog, although the law is broadly the same in other parts of the UK.

When can I go outside?

The first thing to say is that the law does not require you to only go outside if doing so is essential. The test is whether you have a reasonable excuse for being outside. This is a familiar test to many solicitors as it is one used in motoring law. It places the emphasis in any prosecution on the prosecutor to prove that you did not have a reasonable excuse rather than on you to prove that you did. The Regulations helpfully provide an extensive, but not an exhaustive, list of reasonable excuses, namely:

(a)to obtain basic necessities, including food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) or for vulnerable persons and supplies for the essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household, or the household of a vulnerable person, or to obtain money, including from any business listed in Part 3 of Schedule 2;

(b)to take exercise either alone or with other members of their household;

(c)to seek medical assistance, including to access any of the services referred to in paragraph 37 or 38 of Schedule 2;

(d)to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(1), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;

(e)to donate blood;

(f)to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;

(g)to attend a funeral of—

(i)a member of the person’s household,

(ii)a close family member, or

(iii)if no-one within sub-paragraphs (i) or (ii) are attending, a friend;

(h)to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings;

(i)to access critical public services, including—

(i)childcare or educational facilities (where these are still available to a child in relation to whom that person is the parent, or has parental responsibility for, or care of the child);

(ii)social services;

(iii)services provided by the Department of Work and Pensions;

(iv)services provided to victims (such as victims of crime);

(j)in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, “parent” includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;

(k)in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;

(l)to move house where reasonably necessary;

(m)to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm.

So, if you are outside for one these reasons then you should be okay.

What counts as my home?

We should also take a moment to think about what counts as your home because the answer is not just the four walls of your house. The Regulations define your home to include, “the premises where they live together with any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse or other appurtenance of such premises.” Not sure what an appurtenance is? Don’t worry, we had to get the dictionary out too – if you already knew then well done you. An appurtenance is, “an accessory or other item associated with a particular activity or style of living”, which we think must cover situations such as people who live in flats and have to go on the public road to empty their bins, for example.

Can I only go out once a day?

This is the most confusing point at the moment and the answer changes depending on where you live. The answer is that you can go out as many times as you need to provided you have a reasonable excuse each time you go outside. However, if you live in Wales then the law clearly states that you may only go outside for exercise once a day – Regulation 8(2)(b). That does not apply in England where the law does not place a limit on how many times you can exercise – Regulation 6(2)(b).

It is important to remember that although your reason for going out may fall within one of the reasonable excuses set out above, if you are going repeatedly then a court might find that your excuse is no longer reasonable. For example, if I pop to the shop for milk in the morning, bread at lunchtime and some coco in the evening a court might say that I could have bought all those things during the first trip and thus that my second and third trips were unnecessary. Equally, if I live in England and I’m claiming to be out running four times a day then a court might say that is no longer a reasonable excuse – obviously, if I were a professional athlete then I might well be covered as somebody travelling for work as well as for exercise.

What if I’m accused of an offence?

If you have been accused of an offence then you should contact a solicitor who has a proven track record of providing high quality criminal defence litigation and advocacy and who have taken the time to study these brand new laws with the thoroughness they deserve.

We can help you to show to the court that you had a reasonable excuse for being outside and thus help you avoid the criminal record that would flow from a conviction. Call us now if you need assistance.