Lockdown changes come into effect at midnight tonight for 2million people across the North East.
For the first time, it will be illegal to meet people from other households inside a pub or restaurant – and offenders can get £200 fines.
This brings the law for “public venues” in line with an existing legal ban on visiting other people’s private houses in the North East.
On the face of it, the change is very simple – the guidance is staying the same, it’s just that more of it is becoming a criminal law.
But when you delve into the detail it gets more complicated, because there’s now even more of a confusing overlap between guidance and the law.
And even Boris Johnson couldn’t get the details right.
So we’ve tried to explain the differences below.
Where do these changes apply?
The changes apply to the areas of the North East (below) which are already affected by a local lockdown. That means they do not apply to other parts of the North East like Darlington.
- Durham (County Council area)
- Gateshead (Metropolitan Borough Council area)
- Newcastle (City Council area)
- Northumberland (County Council area)
- North Tyneside (Metropolitan District Council area)
- South Tyneside (Metropolitan District Council area)
- Sunderland (City Council area)
What are the current rules in the North East?
Like in other local lockdown areas, people in the North East are banned from meeting people who aren’t in their household or bubble (see below). Currently this is part law, part guidance.
The law bans people in the North East from “hosting people you do not live with in your home or garden” – or visiting a friend’s home or garden.
Separately, guidance orders people in the North East not to socialise with anyone they don’t live with in “any public venue”. This includes pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship, community centres, leisure and entertainment venues, or visitor attractions.
The above guidance applies to anyone who lives in the affected area, whether they leave the area or not. It also applies to anyone who comes to visit from outside.
Meanwhile people in the North East should also not visit friends or family in care homes, “other than in exceptional circumstances”. They are also discouraged from non-essential travel. Exceptions to this include getting to work, travelling to buy food or medicine, and travelling to support a vulnerable person.
What’s changing from midnight tonight?
None of the actual rules are changing. However, the enforcement of them is being tightened up by changing the law.
From Wednesday 30 September, a key element of the North East guidance is being changed into a criminal law, with £200 fines for those who breach the rules.
The section changing from guidance to law is the ban on meeting people from other households in any indoor “public venue”, like a pub or restaurant.
From midnight, you will be committing a criminal offence if you mix with anyone from outside your household or bubble (see below) in certain “indoor settings”, including pubs or restaurants.
Police can issue a £200 on-the-spot fine, which halves if paid promptly. Repeat offenders will see their fine double each time, up to a cap of £6,400.
If you pay the fine, you will not get a criminal record. However, if you want to appeal the fine, you will need to go to a magistrates’ court and plead not guilty. If the magistrates then find you guilty, you will get a criminal record.
Can I meet friends in their home or garden?
No. In the North East, both guidance and the law ban meeting anyone outside your household or bubble in a private home or garden.
Can I meet friends inside a pub or restaurant?
No. In the North East, both guidance and the law will ban meeting anyone outside your household or bubble in a public indoor venue.
Can I meet friends in a pub beer garden?
Here’s where it gets confusing. It definitely isn’t illegal – but it’s against guidance.
Outdoor spaces attached to public venues, like pub beer gardens or terraces for cafes and restaurants, are not “indoor” venues.
The government clarified it will not be illegal to meet people from other households in these outdoor areas in the North East.
However, it will still be against guidance.
So you shouldn’t meet friends in a beer garden, but you can’t be fined if you do.
Can I meet friends in the park?
Even more confusing. It definitely isn’t illegal – but it might be against guidance.
Currently, neither the guidance nor the law in the North East appear to ban meeting in “public open spaces”, like in the park, on the beach, in the woods, and so on.
There will be no legal change to this tomorrow. The law will be the same as in the rest of England – where the ‘rule of six’ limits outdoor gatherings to six people.
However, it’s less clear whether the guidance will change. Boris Johnson tweeted to people in the North East: “You should avoid socialising with other households outside.” This suggests the guidance now covers all outdoor settings, including parks or beaches, not just pub beer gardens and terraces.
Asked to clarify, the Department of Health pointed to the Prime Minister’s tweet.
What are the exemptions?
Firstly, you can count anyone in a “support bubble” or “childcare bubble” as part of your household.
A support bubble is where a household with one adult joins with another household of any size.
Bubbles can still visit each other, stay overnight, and visit public places together. However, they must be exclusive – you can only be in one bubble that doesn’t change. And one of the households must have only one adult.
A childcare bubble is where someone in one household provides informal, unpaid childcare to a child under 13 in another household. This must also be exclusive – always the same two households.
Beyond this, the current law also allows these exemptions to household visits. It’s likely we can expect the same exemptions for pubs and restaurants.
- Where everyone in the gathering lives together or is in the same support bubble
- To attend a birth at the mother’s request
- To visit a person who is dying
- To fulfil a legal obligation
- For work purposes, voluntary or charitable services
- For the purposes of education or training
- For the purposes of childcare provided by a registered provider
- To provide emergency assistance
- To help people avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm
- To facilitate a house move
- To provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
- To continue existing arrangements for children with separated or divorced parents to split their time between both households.
What about everything else?
The North East is also covered by other laws that affect the whole of England.
For instance, all pubs and restaurants must close by 10pm and are banned from allowing dancing or playing music above 85 decibels.
People who are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace can be fined £1,000 for leaving isolation, or £4,000 for “recklessly” leaving isolation, on a first offence.
And people must tell their bosses when they go into self-isolation, or be fined £50.
Wedding receptions and ceremonies can continue but only for 15 people. Funerals can continue for 30 people.
Schools and workplaces remain open but office workers who can work from home should do so.