Skip to main content

Rules that will apply to being in an extended household and advice about how to form one.

First published:
3 July 2020
Last updated:

Firebreak from 23 October

Extended household rules are being replaced by new national firebreak restrictions from 6pm on Friday 23 October.

Introduction

The general rule is that you can only meet socially with people who are in your exclusive extended household group (bubble) indoors. From 14 September, meetings or gatherings indoors within your extended household must be limited to six people at any one time (not including any children aged under 11). This applies in places like pubs and restaurants as well as in people’s homes.

Throughout this guidance the phrase "(not including any children aged under 11)" should be taken to mean that under 11s are not included when counting the six as long as they are part of that extended household.

Extended households (also known as bubbles) were designed to allow friends and families to reunite and to support caring arrangements, particularly working parents with informal childcare, as more businesses reopen, and other caring arrangements.

Since 22 August 2020, people living in Wales have been able to form an exclusive extended household with up to three other households.

This guidance helps explain what is meant by a household and an extended household, the key rules that apply to being in an extended household, and some advice on how to form one.

Households and extended households

A household means a group of people living in the same home. A household can be one person living on their own, flatmates, or a family living in the same home. What’s important is that it’s always the same people and the same home.

Since 22 August 2020, you have been able to form an exclusive extended household with up to 3 other households.

This means that all the people in all the households join together to become part of a single household and enjoy the same legal freedoms a household has – they are able to meet indoors (in groups of up to six at any one time, not including children younger than 11) and have physical contact. They can also stay in each other’s homes.

This extended household concept – also known as bubbles – was designed to allow people to care for their loved ones where they have previously been separated or have had limited time together.

Benefits of being in an extended household

The people you choose to join with, in effect, become part of your household, and legally you can treat any member of your extended household as if you lived with them.

This means you can:

  • spend time with them indoors, in groups of up to six people at any one time (not including children younger than 11)
  • have physical contact with them – there is no need for social distancing with people in your extended household
  • touch things that they have touched, and vice versa
  • stay in each other’s homes overnight
  • go places together and do things, such as shopping, driving in cars or playing sports, without needing to physically distance from each other. You can also go on holiday together and go to cafes, restaurants and pubs together as one unit, again in groups of up to six people at any one time (not including children younger than 11)
  • provide or receive care or support for them, if you do not do so already
  • give unpaid carers a break from their caring responsibilities (for example, by looking after their children while they take some time off)

However, we continue to advise you to take special care around people who are at increased risk from the virus and above all, around people who are extremely vulnerable.

One of the major benefits of allowing extended households is to help support working parents with informal childcare as more businesses reopen their doors and return to formalised working arrangements. They may also provide unpaid carers with additional support and give older people the confidence to meet safely with friends and family in another household.

Rules on extended households

Because a household can vary in size, there is no limit on the number of people who can be in an extended household. But only four households can form part of the extended household, and only six people (not including children under 11) from within the extended household can meet up at any one time (subject to the rules below).

The key rules on who belongs to an extended household are that:

  • No person can be part of more than one extended household, with the exception of children who live in two homes (for example because their parents have separated and have joint custody)
  • All individuals in one home must belong to the same extended household 
  • All of the adult members of each household must agree to join the same extended household
  • Once you have agreed and joined an extended household, nobody can leave the extended household to form a new one.

Extended households can be cross-border – for example, a household in Wales can join with a household in England – but the arrangements will need to comply with the rules in both countries.

Houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) are made up of separate households which will have their own tenancy agreements, but share facilities, such as bathrooms, living rooms or kitchens. Each household within an HMO can enter into separate extended households, but because of the higher potential that coronavirus could be spread throughout the house, these households should be aware that they are potentially putting themselves and others at increased risk and they should think carefully about forming an extended household with people not living in their house.

Where parental responsibility is shared, existing arrangements can continue and the child can move between both parents, and therefore between both parents’ households. The introduction of extended households should not have an impact on this, and the child should be considered to be part of the household or extended household of the parent they are with at any particular time. In other words if either or both parents form an extended household with a household which does not include the other parent, the child could continue to move freely between the parents, and be part of both extended households (i.e. the child does not have to socially distance within the extended household, whichever parent they are with).

All of these rules are legal requirements, and by entering into an extended household which does not comply with these rules, or by acting as if you were in an extended household where you are not, you are at risk of committing a criminal offence.

In addition, although this is not a matter of law, we ask that if one member of an extended household develops symptoms of coronavirus, the entire extended household should self-isolate, not just those living together. Guidance is available about self-isolation and how to apply for a coronavirus test.

It is also useful for people to keep a record of who is in their extended household and their contact details, so contact tracers can get in touch with them quickly in the event that they need to.

Gatherings of people within extended households

The rules on who can meet or gather within an extended household are that:

  • No more than six people aged 11 or over can be part of any one gathering indoors at any one time
  • There is no limit on the number of children aged under 11 who can be part of a gathering

Larger households

Where a (single) household is made up of more than six people aged 11 or over, because they live together, there are no restrictions on the members of that household being together.

Clearly, all members of the household need to be able to be at home together, and there is no public health benefit in preventing the members of a household from being able to go out places together. Therefore, a single, larger household could go to a restaurant, café, bar or pub together as a group.

However, if some members of that household wish to meet up with other people in their extended household, each gathering should contain no more than six people aged 11 or over at any one time.

For example, if a family of six people all aged 11 or over were in an extended household arrangement with their neighbour who lived alone, and wanted to go out for a meal with the neighbour, only a maximum of five people from that family would be able to go.

Carers

Carers – whether they are care workers or unpaid carers – do not form part of your extended household and do not count towards the limit of six people over 11 in a group. However, they can continue to provide you with whatever support you need, and go anywhere with you if you need their support.

How to choose who to go into an extended household with

Choosing which household(s) to go join with to form an extended household is an important decision and for many people we know it may be a difficult one.

For example, parents with adult children who live separately may have to choose which child’s household to pair up with, and similarly other members of a family such as grandparents may not be able to join the extended household. However, we hope that for some people this will be made easier by allowing up to four households to join together from 22 August.

In some cases, you may find that a household you wish to join together with has already agreed to enter into an extended household with another household.

There is no right or wrong way to decide on who you should go into an extended household with. However, in other countries where this approach has been followed, studies have shown that people have found it helpful to ask themselves who is in the most need of support, rather than just trying to decide whose company they have most missed.

Everybody is entitled to be part of an extended household, including people who have been shielding because they are at high risk of developing serious illness if they are exposed to coronavirus. Indeed, people who have been shielding may be at greatest risk of loneliness or of having other needs that are not being met.

On the other hand, while for most people the risk of catching coronavirus is currently low if they abide by all relevant guidance to protect themselves, it is still real, and it is inevitably increased to some degree by entering into an extended household. In particular, if you enter into an extended household with someone who comes into close contact with others in their work or with children who are attending a school or nursery, this will increase the level of risk to the extended household.

Schools, nurseries and employers are required to take all reasonable measures to reduce the risk of transmission. However, ultimately it is for people to decide on their own extended households.

It is important to remember you can still see people who are not in your extended household, just that the circumstances in which you can do so are more limited – see separate guidance on seeing people outside your extended household.

Share this page