Is my staycation illegal? How the new rules affect UK holidays

The 'rule of six' means that many group holidays are illegal – but even that is confusing, with kids under 11 or 12 exempt in Wales and Scotland
The 'rule of six' means that many group holidays are illegal – but even that is confusing, with kids under 11 or 12 exempt in Wales and Scotland Credit: getty

Across the UK, there are many restrictions on hospitality and group gatherings. In some places, the rule of six applies; in others, there is a blanket ban on socialising. Some hotels have been forced to close; elsewhere, they remain open – but only for guests from certain areas.

It's confusing, yes, but it's also vital to be clued-up before you travel – especially as 'offenders' can face hefty fines. 

But what does this mean for your staycation? And who exactly will police your holiday, if it is now illegal?

What are the rules for socialising?

In England, restrictions vary according to tier. In Tier 1, the 'rule of six' applies – meaning you can only socialise in groups of six or less, both indoors and out. While there are some exceptions, this applies to all groups mixing in public and private – even in the confines of a holiday rental property. 

In Tier 2, people must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place – but the rule of six applies while outside. In Tier 3, you must not socialise with anybody outside your household or support bubble, either indoors or outdoors. 

Across England, hospitality venues must be closed by 10pm: this applies to hotel restaurants and bars, too. 

In Scotland, a new five-level system will come into force from November 1. The central belt – which covers Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Falkirk – will join Dundee and Ayrshire in Level 3. Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen, Fife, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross and Angus will be in Level 2. Highland, Moray, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland will be in Level 1. 

In practical terms, Levels 1-3 are broadly comparable to those in England – though currently no indoor socialising is permitted in any place. In Level 2, pubs may only serve alcohol indoors with a main meal; in Level 3, no alcohol sales are permitted indoors or out, and cafes/restaurants can only open until 6pm. 

At present, no areas will be placed in levels 0 (fewest restrictions) or 4 (tightest restrictions). 

In Wales, a 'firebreak' lockdown came into effect on Friday 23 October. Food and drink venues can only offer a takeaway service, and socialising with other households is forbidden. Hotels are closed. The restrictions will be enforced until November 9, at the earliest. 

In Northern Ireland, similar restrictions apply. Pubs and restaurants are closed until mid-November, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. However, up to 15 people can meet indoors or outdoors – except in a home, static caravan or self-catering holiday home.

What are the penalties for breaking the rules?

In England, organisers of group gatherings may be fined up to £10,000. Individuals who fail to comply with group limits and social distancing can be fined £200, rising to £3,200 for repeat offenders. 

In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, penalties for rule-breaking start at £60 – but can be much larger depending on the severity or frequency of the offence.

I’ve booked a staycation – is it illegal now?

If you intend to mix in a group of people that exceeds social gathering laws, then yes – your trip is illegal. The rules apply to the likes of holidays, parties and family get-togethers – in self-catering properties, Airbnb rentals, hotels, restaurants and bars. 

In England, the Government advises people to avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are resident of a Tier 3 area, and avoid staying overnight in a ‘Very High’ area if they are resident elsewhere – but there are, at present, no actual laws against this. 

In Wales, all non-essential travel is now banned – and this encompasses holidays.

In Scotland, people in Level 3 or 4 are asked not to travel outside of their local area; those in lower-level areas are asked not to travel into councils in the higher restrictions.

You must abide by the rules from your home area: for example, if someone from London (Tier 2) planned to visit Brighton (Tier 1), then they would have to abide by Tier 2 regulations. 

Can I get a refund for my holiday? 

The prospect of refunds and rescheduling depends on the individual company – so we recommend that you contact them directly. 

Those with affected bookings may benefit from Covid-19 flexibility within travel companies' booking terms. Many have made booking alterations more generous – giving customers the option to move dates, request vouchers or obtain refunds should the pandemic affect their ability to travel. 

When booking a holiday rental property in the UK, you may now be asked to assert that your group size complies with the law. 

How does the rule of six apply to hotel stays?

In the unlikely event that your entire group of more than six people will be staying in the same room, your gathering will be illegal. If, however, you will be staying in separate rooms, there will be no issue... until breakfast-time.

For meals, and any other socialising in the hotel's dining areas, the general law for bars and restaurants applies. So, your details will be taken for tracing, and you will not be able to socialise in groups that exceed local laws. 

Any pubs, restaurants and other venues that are found to not be complying, will be fined £1,000 and potentially shut down. 

Is a group camping trip off-limits too? 

Yes, if it breaks the local rules on socialising or non-essential travel. If it's a trip for your household-only though, and your destination isn't subject to non-essential travel restrictions, then it should be fine. Check with your campsite.

What about tour-group holidays in the UK – will they be cancelled now?

Your tour operator will advise, as there are a few loopholes. Some walking holidays, for example, may still go ahead – if the group doesn't break the rule of six and only socialises outdoors, and sticks to areas where non-essential travel is permitted. 

Can I go to Wales?

No. The firebreak lockdown will remain in place until November 9 (at least); until then, the land borders and roads will be monitored by police. Citizens of Wales must not leave the country for non-essential reasons either. 

Can I go to Scotland?

Yes. You can cross the border, and some hotels remain open – but you should check the rules in your destination.

Can I go to Northern Ireland?

Yes, though some politicians have urged the Government to close the borders entirely. For now, they remain open – but you should check local laws in your destination. 

Can I go to England?

Yes. Even in Tier 3, non-essential travel is only advised against, though of course there will be reduced hospitality offerings.