What do lockdown restrictions mean for relationships around the UK?
As restrictions on social contact have been increasing around the UK, our readers have asked us what this means for people in relationships who do not live with their partners. We’ve taken a look at the guidance for all four nations.
This piece has been updated to include information on the tier alert levels in England and new restrictions around the UK. It’s important to remember guidance can change frequently. You can look online for all the latest information on restrictions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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In England, the guidance that you have to follow depends on your local Covid alert level. There are three levels: medium ( tier one), high (tier two) and very high (tier three). You can check the alert level in your local area on the government website.
Government guidance that applies to all alert levels says you do not need to socially distance from anyone in your household or support bubble, or anyone you are in an “established relationship” with. If you are in the early stages of a relationship, the guidance says you should “take particular care to follow the guidance on social distancing”. But if you are in an area with a higher alert level, you may not be able to meet with someone you're in a relationship with unless you live together or have formed a support bubble.
If you live in an area on medium alert you must not meet in a group of more than six people indoors or outdoors (unless they are all in your household or your support bubble - which can consist of two households as long as one is a single adult household).
There are some exemptions to this law - including work, childcare or parental contact with children, for birth partners, to see someone who is dying or provide assistance to a vulnerable person or to attend a wedding or funeral - but you can be fined if you break the rules.
If you live in an area on high alert, you must not meet friends and family indoors in any setting - private or public - unless you live with them or form a support bubble with them. You can continue to see friends and family that you do not live with in outdoor settings, including gardens, but must not meet in a group of more than six (with some exemptions). You also cannot meet indoors with people who live outside of the area, unless relevant exemptions apply.
In areas on very high alert, the restrictions can vary by location so you should check the specific rules for your local area. At a minimum, it means you cannot socialise with anybody you do not live with or have formed a support bubble with in any indoor setting or private garden, or most outdoor hospitality venues, but can still meet in groups of six in outdoor public spaces like parks.
You should try to avoid travelling in and out of areas on very high alert.
Guidance from the Scottish government says two adults who are in a relationship but do not live together can agree to form an “extended household”, which can also include any children they live with. Everyone within this extended household can act, and will be treated, as if they are part of one household. This means they can spend time together inside each other’s homes and do not need to social distance.
Full Fact asked the Scottish government for clarification about whether two people who are in a relationship but live apart in homes they share with other adults (e.g. two people in separate flat shares) can also form extended households. The Scottish government refused to comment.
In Scotland, the rules say you should not meet with anyone from outside of your household or extended household indoors in your home or theirs, and you should only meet people socially from one other household at a time outdoors or at a public place indoors, and only up to a maximum of six people.
There are some exceptions to this, such as if someone requires a carer from another household, to help move house, for work, education or training or to seek medical attention or escape illness or harm.
Unlike in England, there are different rules for young people. Children under 12 from the two households do not count towards the total number of people at gatherings indoors or outdoors, while young people aged between 12 and 17 can meet in groups of up to six outdoors but are not subject to a two household limit.
Local lockdowns are in place in the ‘central belt’ areas of Scotland.
These areas have extra restrictions. Care home visits are restricted to outdoors only, apart from in end of life situations or exceptional circumstances. People can only make essential visits to people in hospital. However, people living in these areas are still permitted to form extended households.
If you do not live in one of the areas under local restrictions but are part of an extended household with people who do, you can continue following national guidance.
Government regulations in Wales do not make any specific mention of people in relationships who do not live together. However, up to four households can join together to form an extended household. At the time of writing the majority of Wales was under local lockdown where socialising within extended households is not generally allowed (see below).
People in an extended household can have physical contact, go on holiday together and stay in each other’s homes. The only people you can meet socially indoors are those in your extended household. You can form an extended household with a household in England, as long as it complies with the rules in both countries.
There is no size limit to an extended household, but only up to six people within an extended household can meet indoors at any one time (not including children who are younger than 11). An individual household which itself consists of more than six people over the age of 11 can, of course, socialise together with no restrictions.
Everyone in each individual household must be part of the same extended household, and you cannot join a new one. However, there is an exception to the extended household rule. If you are living in a house of multiple occupation, you do not all have to agree to be part of the same extended household. In these circumstances you each form separate households and can form your own extended households.
If you share facilities, like bathrooms or kitchens, you can gather indoors with the people you share the facilities with in groups of up to six. However, the government advice is to “think very carefully about forming an extended household in these circumstances”.
In Wales, the rules state you cannot meet socially anywhere indoors with people you do not live with, unless they are in your extended household. You can provide care to and support to people outside of your extended household if necessary.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people are permitted, but you should maintain social distancing from anyone not in your extended household.
Local lockdowns are currently in place across Wales.
As in the rest of Wales, when under local lockdown you should not meet with people indoors who are not in your extended household unless you are visiting them on compassionate grounds or for childcare reasons.
Additionally, you cannot continue socialising within your extended household indoors, even if those households live in the same area as you, with one exception. Two households within the same local lockdown area may continue to have an extended household arrangement, provided that one of the households is a single adult living alone or with children .
You can only meet people you do not live with outdoors, including in your garden, provided they live in the same local lockdown area as you.
This means that, if you are in a relationship with someone you do not live with, you will only be able to see them outdoors, with social distancing, and only if they live in the same local area as you, unless you or them live in a single-adult household and so can form an extended household together.
People who live in these areas are not permitted to visit friends and family who live outside of these areas, unless it’s to provide care for or help someone who needs it. For example, someone living in the Cardiff Council area should not generally be visiting people outside that area.
Even in these cases, you are advised to consider whether alternative sources of support are available and the government strongly recommends that you do not visit more than one person outside of your lockdown area.
In Northern Ireland, there is no specific mention of relationships in lockdown guidance. The latest rules, which cover the entirety of Northern Ireland, state you can only meet in a private home with people in your bubbleBubbles are limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households.
You cannot stay overnight in a private home unless you are part of a bubble, and no more than six people from two households (who aren’t in a bubble) can gather in a private garden.
For people outside of your bubble, there can be no mixing of households inside private homes (with some exceptions).
Update 16 October 2020
This story was updated to reflect changes in lockdown guidance across the UK.