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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:


One of the most common misconceptions about the coronavirus is that we catch it from people we don’t know. But we are more likely to catch it from – and pass it on to – the people we are in close contact with every day.

It is also clear that a lot of people are catching coronavirus in people’s homes. While some people might be able to keep their houses relatively safe for visitors, people tend to behave differently at home and are perhaps less likely to maintain social distance.  

In addition unlike in shops, cafes, workplaces and other public places, there is nobody present to oversee people’s behaviour and to remind them of the risk of catching and spreading the virus.

For these reasons, there have to be clear rules about who you can see at home.

The safest thing to do is to stop any person who doesn’t live with you from entering your home, and to avoid going to other people’s homes.

However, we recognise that this is difficult for many people. So even though there is some risk involved, we allow each household to enter into an extended household, or bubble, with one other household.

You are allowed to enter the homes and gardens of those in your extended household or bubble, and they are allowed to enter yours. This includes staying in each other’s homes overnight. It also allows you to meet up with them in groups of larger than four in some other outdoor places.

Other than in very limited circumstances, nobody other than members of your extended household should enter your home or garden.

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.

The Christmas period

Different arrangements will be in place during the Christmas period (between 23 and 27 December) which will allow people to form Christmas bubbles instead of their usual extended households. Please see our Christmas bubble guidance for more information.

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.

You can form an exclusive extended household with one other household.

This means that all the people in both households join together to become part of a single household and enjoy the same legal freedoms a household has.

Benefits of being in an extended household

The key benefit of being in an extended household is that you can spend time with them in your home or garden, or in their home or garden. This includes staying in each other’s homes overnight. It also allows you to meet up with them in groups of larger than four in some other outdoor places.

This should allow you to provide or receive care or support for them, if you do not do so already, and to give unpaid carers a break from their caring responsibilities (for example, by looking after their children while they take some time off). It also potentially allows couples who do not live together to spend time together in each other’s homes, and is likely to be of particular benefit to people living alone.

One of the major benefits of allowing extended households is to help support working parents with informal childcare as more businesses again 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.

Social distancing and physical contact

We recognise that for some people it will be important to have physical contact with people you do not live with, for example children, couples who do not live together or people living alone. We also know that maintaining continual social distancing from people in private homes over long periods of time can be challenging. Similarly, it may be hard to avoid touching things that each other have touched.

However, if you do decide not to socially distance from someone, there are clear risks to both of you and to any other people that you see. So you should always think very carefully before making that decision. We also 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.

How to choose who to go into an extended household with

Choosing which household to 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. 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 were previously 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.

However, all contact with other people increases the risk that you will catch or pass on the coronavirus. That risk increases to some degree by entering into an extended household – though the increase in risk will depend who you agree to form an extended household with. 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 significantly increase the level of risk to the extended household.

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. Please see the guidance on leaving your home and seeing other people for more information.

Rules on extended households

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 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 (but see what is said in the section later in this guidance about different types of living arrangements such as HMOs) 
  • 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, no household can leave the extended household to form a new one (other than what is said below about Christmas bubbles)

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.

Keeping local where possible        

There is no geographical limit on who can be in your extended household. For example, you do not need to live in the same local authority area as the other household. That said, the government recommends that you form your extended household with a household that lives locally wherever possible. This will help to prevent the virus spreading from an area where there might be a higher rate of infection.

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. And, again, please do not form an extended household with people who live far away. The rules that apply in England are available here (on GOV.UK).

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

HMOs are made up of separate households (e.g. people have their own self-contained bedrooms), but have shared facilities, such as bathrooms, living rooms or kitchens. Each household within an HMO can enter into separate extended households (and likewise they will each be able to enter into separate Christmas bubbles). 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 or Christmas bubble with people not living in their house.

It is important to understand that if you share cooking, dining, bathroom or toilet facilities where you live with other people who are not technically part of your household, 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 a maximum of four 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. If you have an individual licence or tenancy, this would mean you can form an extended household with one other household. Before doing so, you should consider that this increases the risk of transmission if members of that extended household then use shared spaces in your accommodation. If they do, they would also count towards the maximum number of four people allowed to gather in the shared spaces in your accommodation.

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 or speak to your university or landlord to confirm your tenancy agreement.

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).

If you are a student who has moved home from university, you are considered to be part of the household to which you have returned. You are not treated as part of your term-time household for this period. This includes over the Christmas period.

Shared 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. 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).

The same principles would apply over the Christmas period – a child in this situation could be part of two Christmas bubbles.

Extended households and self-isolation

Although this may not be a matter of law, we ask that if one member of an extended household or Christmas bubble develops symptoms of coronavirus, the entire extended household or Christmas bubble should self-isolate, not just those living together. Guidance is available about self-isolation and how to apply for a coronavirus test. This is over and above the duty to self-isolate which applies if you are told to self-isolate by NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect. In these cases you may be required by law to self-isolate if you are considered to have had “close contact” with any person who tests positive.

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.

Meeting in gardens

The rule that at home you can only meet others from your extended household also applies to your garden.

Gardens have been included in these restrictions because in winter it is much more likely that people meeting in a garden will need or want to go indoors into the home, and as already explained a lot of the transmission of coronavirus is happening in people’s homes. That means unlike during the summer, people will no longer be able to see people outside of their household or extended household in their gardens. The same applies to visiting other people in their gardens.

Even though the risk of transmission is lower outdoors than indoors, the risk outdoors is still higher now than it was in summer. This is because sunlight plays an important role in killing the virus on surfaces. Social distancing is therefore more important than ever whether you are indoors or outdoors and people should resist the temptation to huddle together when cold.   

Other reasons for entering private homes

There are only very limited circumstances in which people other than members of your extended household or Christmas bubble can enter your home, or where you can enter somebody else’s. The key ones are where work needs to take place in your home or for reasons of care or compassionate support, both of which are discussed below.

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. The law says that this must be “reasonably necessary” and that there is no “reasonable alternative”. So if the work is not essential or if there are ways in which the work can sensibly be carried out without people entering your home to work, people should not enter your home. However, people carrying out repairs, maintenance, activities related to home moves, construction work, gardening or domestic cleaners, are among the examples of people who are not realistically going to be able to provide some services without access to private homes or gardens, so this work can continue.

As in all other parts of life, just because something is permitted does not always mean it is the right thing to do. We are asking 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 avoid further lockdowns.

For example, many hairdressers and barbers sometimes provide their services in people’s homes. It is reasonable for this to continue where someone physically cannot leave the home or where leaving the home is likely to have a significant detrimental effect on their wellbeing. Likewise, a hairdresser who does not occupy any premises of their own needs to be able to continue to operate, and so they must be free to continue to provide their services in people’s homes. However, in general, while you may prefer or find it more convenient to have your hair cut at home, your safety and the safety of others should come first.

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 sick. 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 extended household or Christmas 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 or Christmas bubble in their home.

You may have compassionate reasons for visiting someone where that person is struggling generally or they may be suffering from a physical or mental illness, 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 or Christmas bubble, 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