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Rules that apply to being in a support bubble and when you can see other people in their homes or yours (alert level 3).

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First published:
18 December 2020
Last updated:

Introduction

The general rules at alert level 3 are that:

  • people must not enter each other’s homes, except for very limited purposes
  • people can meet with people they do not live with outdoors (including in private gardens) as long as a maximum of six people from up to six households (not including carers or children under 11 from any of these households) meet at one time

However, people can form an extended household with one other household.

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.

People can form an extended household with one other household. This means that all the people in the two households join together to become in effect part of a single household. This will allow you to spend time with the people in that household in your home or their home and have physical contact. You can also stay in each other’s homes and in holiday accommodation together.

A third household can join an extended household in limited circumstances. The following households can join two other households to form an extended household:

  • a household with an adult living alone
  • a household with a single responsible adult
  • a household where you are 16 or 17 living alone or with others of the same age, with no adult

This was previously referred to as a support bubble. Support bubbles were allowed to help people who lived by themselves, or households with a single responsible adult or a child under one to meet indoors with one other household during alert level four lockdown.

If you were in a support bubble, you can still maintain that arrangement as an extended household. You may also be able to join with one more household as long as your extended household meets the rules described below. 

Benefits of being in an extended household

The people you choose to join with, in effect, become part of your household.

This means you can:

  • spend time with them indoors or outdoors
  • meet up together in groups of larger than four in some public outdoor spaces (not including outdoor spaces attached to regulated premises such as cafes, pubs and bars)
  • have physical contact with them – there is no need for social distancing with people in your extended household
  • stay in each other’s homes overnight or stay in self-contained accommodation together
  • 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.

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 two households can form part of the extended household and if a third household is to join, one of the households must meet the following criteria:

  • a household with an adult living alone
  • a household with a single responsible adult
  • a household where you are 16 or 17 living alone or with others of the same age, with no adult

The key rules for extended households are that:

  • no person can be part of more than one extended household, with the exception of people who live in two homes (for example children whose 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

We recommend people avoid changing extended households unless absolutely necessary, in order to limit the spread of coronavirus between households.

However, we recognise that people’s relationships and circumstances may change over time. If necessary, those eligible can form a new extended household provided that:

  • both households end their current extended household.
  • both households refrain from mixing with any other household (including your new extended household) for a period of 10 days before forming the new extended household.

If someone in your previous extended household develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus up to 48 hours after members of the extended household last met, if told to do so by a contact tracer members of the extended household must self-isolate. You must not form a new extended household until you have completed your self-isolation.

Local areas and extended households

There are no rules specifying that your extended household has to be with someone in your local area, or within any set distance of your home. There are also no rules preventing extended households being formed with households outside Wales, and we recognise that these may in particular be the right answer for people living close to a border.

However, bearing in mind the overall objective of the restrictions is to reduce contact between people as much as possible, we do recommend that extended households are formed locally where possible.

Houses of multiple occupations (HMOs)

Houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) are made up of separate households within a shared building. If you live within a shared building you can be in an extended household with one other household from outside of the shared home.

If you share facilities such as bathrooms or kitchens with other people, you do not need to enter into an extended household with those people in order to be in the same room as them. However, as an absolute maximum you should do so in groups of up to 4 people at a time, not including any children aged under 11.

University students

Students who routinely spend time both away at university and at home are considered to have two households for the purposes of the coronavirus restrictions. However, students are advised to only move between their term-time and out-of-term time households when necessary, for example, for work or because of concerns about their wellbeing.

The term-time household can agree to form an extended household with another household. Forming an extended household may be more difficult in practice in some forms of student households because all of the students are one household and therefore the whole household must agree to this.

It is important for students to understand what form of household they live in, as this will affect what people they are allowed to see and in what locations. Please see our guidance for students for more information.

If you are a student who shares cooking, dining, bathroom or toilet facilities with other people, you should note that you do not need to enter into an extended household with those people in order to spend time with them. However, you can only do this in groups of up to four people at a time (not including any children aged under 11).

Children and parental responsibility

Where parental responsibility is shared, existing arrangements can continue and the child can move between both parents, and therefore between both parents’ households and any extended household. 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).

For children who do not live in the same household as their parents and have existing arrangements in place to visit and safely have contact, these arrangements can continue. This could include children in foster care, children’s homes and adoptive placements.

Self-isolation

All of the above 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 will be 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. This will become a legal obligation if you are contacted by someone working for NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect and told to self-isolate. 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.

How to choose who to go into an extended household with

Choosing which household 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.

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.

On the other hand, the risk of catching coronavirus 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.

Other reasons for entering private homes

There are only very limited circumstances in which people other than members of your extended household can enter your home, or where you can enter somebody else’s. The key one is for reasons of care or compassionate support, both of which are discussed below.  Additionally, if you have someone working in your house (such as carrying out repairs or cleaning) that is allowed.

Meeting in gardens and private outdoor spaces

Up to six people from up to six households (not including carers or children under 11 from any of these households) are permitted to meet outdoors, including in private gardens and private outdoor spaces. Where this is the case, visitors can go through the house to reach the garden or outdoor space, but must not stay in the house. You should avoid using kitchen equipment, cutlery or anything else in another household. Where items are being passed between households, you should ensure items are thoroughly washed and you maintain good hand hygiene. If you can, you should also avoid touching things indoors, such as light switches and door handles.

There is also an additional penalty for taking part in house parties and a higher penalty for organising such parties.

People working in your home

There are many circumstances in which people might need to access your home or garden to carry out work there. As in all other parts of life, just because something is permitted does not always mean it is the right thing to do. We ask you to think about what is the most sensible thing for you to do to protect your family, friends and your community, rather than thinking primarily about what you are allowed to do. Only through everybody trying their hardest to follow this general approach will we be able to continue to lift restrictions.

Where work does take place in private homes, it is important that this is managed in a safe way and both the worker and household members are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus. Like other businesses that you may use outside of your home, people working in your home must take all reasonable measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and consider the guidance on working in other people’s homes.

We recommend that no work should be carried out in your home if you are isolating, unless it is to repair a fault which poses a direct risk to people’s safety – for example, emergency plumbing, or carry out an adaptation to allow that household to remain in their property. If attendance is unavoidable (because of an urgent or emergency situation), additional precautions should be taken to keep workers and householders completely separate from each other.  In these cases, Public Health Wales can provide advice to tradespeople and households. But no work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

Caring for others

The other main exception to the general rule is that you can enter people’s homes, or let people into your home, to provide or receive care. This enables help to be provided to someone who needs it, such as an older person, a child or a vulnerable adult. This covers any form of care, provided by any person, to somebody who is vulnerable.

Whether somebody is “vulnerable” follows the ordinary sense of the word and includes older people, children and those who are ill. It is also reasonable to take food and other supplies to a vulnerable person.

Carers – whether they are care workers or unpaid carers – do not form part of your support bubble. However, they can continue to provide you with whatever support you need, and go anywhere with you if you need their support.

However, although caring for a vulnerable person is allowed, if somebody is considered to be at increased risk from the effects of coronavirus, or extremely vulnerable you should take this into account before going to see them. It is vital that the risk of spreading coronavirus is minimised in such situations.

Compassionate grounds

Even for non-carers, if there are compassionate reasons for visiting someone, you may still have a reasonable excuse to see people outside your extended household in their home.

You may have compassionate reasons for visiting someone where that person may be suffering from a physical or mental illness, is isolated, have suffered a bereavement or you may be concerned about their general wellbeing or welfare.

When considering whether there is a need to visit someone outside your extended household, especially indoors, you should remember we all have a responsibility to recognise the risks the virus presents to ourselves, our families and friends and our wider communities.

People will need to make judgements for themselves about what is reasonable, in line with that overarching principle. Keep in mind that the purpose of the continuing restrictions is to prevent the spreading of the virus, including to those we care about.

Other reasons for seeing people in private homes

Finally, there may be some other limited circumstances where you can enter people’s homes or let people in to your home. For example, you can do so:

  • to obtain or provide emergency or medical assistance
  • to meet a legal obligation
  • to avoid illness, injury or escape risk of harm