What do social distancing laws say about ‘mingling’?
16th Sep 2020
“Mingling is people coming together. That is my definition of mingling, it’s people coming together.”
Priti Patel, BBC Today programme, 15 September 2020
Asked about changes that appear to say people cannot “mingle”, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she defined “mingling” as “people coming together”. When asked whether two families of four stopping for a chat in the street on the way to the park would be mingling, she said it would be. But what does the law actually say?
The latest update to the law, which came into force on 14 September, says no one can participate in a “gathering” which consists of more than six people unless they are all members of the same household, two linked households (where one household has formed a support bubble with a single adult household), or in certain specific situations (which we will discuss below).
A group of six includes people of all ages in England. (In Scotland, children under the age of 12 are not counted in the limit of six people, and in Wales children under 11 are not counted. There is no age exemption in Northern Ireland, where up to 15 people can meet outdoors as long as they maintain social distancing).
However, the ban on “mingling” is only in very specific circumstances. The law says that at events outside a private dwelling, organised by a business, charity or public or political body, people should not “mingle with any person who is participating in the gathering but is not a member of the same qualifying group as them”. This qualifying group must be no more than six people, unless they are within the same household or support bubble.
“Mingle” is not defined in the law, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is and is not permitted, but it does define a “gathering” as “when two or more people are present together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other.”
Writing on Twitter, human rights barrister Adam Wagner said people “accidentally bumping into each other [...] saying ‘hi” was unlikely to meet the definition of a “gathering” as “they are not there ‘in order’ to socially engage, they have bumped into each other unintentionally”. He also warned that Ms Patel’s definition of “mingling” as “people coming together” was “probably wrong - too wide”.
Ms Patel told the Today programme: “You’ve got to put this in the context of coronavirus, and keeping distance, wearing masks... The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people’s health at risk.”
There are some exceptions to the rules around meeting in groups of six or less. Groups can be larger than six people in circumstances including:
- For work, or voluntary or charitable services
- Registered childcare, education or training
- Supervised activities for children (such as wraparound care, youth groups and playgroups)
- Providing support to a vulnerable person
- Providing emergency assistance or avoiding injury or illness or risk of harm
- When children do not live in the same household as both of their parents
- To fulfil a legal obligation, like attending court or jury service
- Elite sporting competition and training
- Organised sport or exercise classes or licensed outdoor activity
- Wedding and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions
- Support groups
Government guidance says you should continue to maintain social distancing with anyone you do not live with.
The current guidance for England says you should try to keep at least two metres away from people you do not live with, and avoid physical contact, being close and face-to-face, and shouting or singing close to them. You should also avoid crowded areas and touching things other people have touched. If you cannot stay two metres apart, the guidance says you should ensure you stay more than one metre apart as well as taking extra steps like wearing a face covering, moving outdoors or keeping indoor rooms well ventilated.
Full social distancing guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found online. It is important to remember that, if you are living in an area impacted by local restrictions, your guidance may well be different.