Rules that apply to being in a support bubble and when you can see other people in their homes or yours (alert level 4).
The general rules at alert level 4 are that:
- people must stay local, except for very limited purposes
- 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 four people from two households (not including carers or children under 11 from either household) living locally meet at one time
Extended household arrangements are suspended in alert level 4.
However, some households may be eligible to form a support bubble with one other household. This will allow you to spend time with the people in that household as if you lived with them.
This guidance helps explain what is meant by a household and a support bubble, the key rules that apply to being in a support bubble, and some advice on how to form one.
Households and support bubbles
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.
At Alert level 4, you can only enter into a support bubble in limited circumstances. Please see below for further details.
If eligible, people can form a support bubble with one other household. This will allow you to spend time with the people in that household as if you lived with them.
This means that all the people in the two households join together to become in effect part of a single household and enjoy the same legal freedoms a household has – they are able to meet indoors and have physical contact. They can also stay in each other’s homes.
This support bubble concept has been designed to help people who might be lonely or who might be particularly struggling with the impact of the lockdown.
Who can form a support bubble?
Support bubbles can be formed by a household that meets one of the following criteria:
- households where one adult lives alone
- households where there is a single responsible adult (for example, where one adult lives with any number of children under 18, or where more than one adult lives, but one adult has caring responsibilities for all of the other adults in the home
- households with one on more children under the age of 1 year old
- you are 16 or 17 living alone, or with others of the same age, with no adult
For example, if Laura lives with her parents and acts as a carer for them, and also has two young children living with her, she is effectively the sole responsible adult in the household. Her household would therefore be able to join a support bubble with one other household of any kind.
Benefits of being in a support bubble
The people you choose to join with, in effect, become part of your household, and legally you can treat any member of your support bubble as if you lived with them.
This means you can:
- spend time with them indoors or outdoors
- have physical contact with them – there is no need for social distancing with people in your support bubble
- stay in each other’s homes overnight
- go places together and do things, such as shopping, driving in cars or exercising, without needing to physically distance from each other.
- 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)
Rules on support bubbles
Because a household can vary in size, there is no limit on the number of people who can be in a support bubble. But only two households can form part of the support bubble, and one of them must meet the above criteria.
The key rules on who belongs to a support bubble are that:
- no person can be part of more than one support bubble, 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 support bubble
- all of the adult members of each household must agree to join the same support bubble
We recommend people avoid changing support bubbles 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 support bubble provided that:
- both households end their current support bubbles
- both households refrain from mixing with any other household (including your new support bubble) for a period of 10 days before forming the new support bubble.
If someone in your previous support bubble develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus up to 48 hours after members of the bubble last met, all members of the bubble must self-isolate. You must not form a new bubble until you have completed your self-isolation.
Local areas and support bubbles
There are no rules at Alert level 4 specifying that your support bubble has to be with someone in your local area, or within any set distance of your home. There are also no rules preventing support bubbles 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 Alert level 4 is to reduce contact between people as much as possible, we do recommend that support bubbles are formed locally where possible. In particular we ask that people think very carefully about possible alternatives before forming support bubbles which would require extensive travel or travel into areas outside Wales with very high incidence of coronavirus.
Houses of multiple occupations (HMOs)
Houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) are made up of separate households within a shared building. If you are eligible to form a support bubble and live within a shared building you can be in a support bubble 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 a support bubble 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.
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 support bubble. The child should be considered to be part of the household or support bubble of the parent they are with at any particular time. In other words if either or both parents form a support bubble 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 support bubbles (i.e. the child does not have to socially distance within the support bubble, 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.
All of the above rules are legal requirements, and by entering into a support bubble which does not comply with these rules, or by acting as if you were in a support bubble 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 a support bubble develops symptoms of coronavirus, the entire support bubble 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. 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 support bubble 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 a support bubble with
Choosing which household to go join with to form a support bubble 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 a support bubble with another household.
There is no right or wrong way to decide on who you should go into a support bubble 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 a support bubble if they meet the qualifying criteria, 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 still 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 a support bubble. In particular, if you enter into a support bubble 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 support bubble.
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 support bubbles.
Other reasons for entering private homes
There are only very limited circumstances in which people other than members of your support 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.
Meeting in gardens and private outdoor spaces
Up to four people from two households (not including carers or children under 11 from either household) who live locally 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 not use kitchen equipment, cutlery or anything else in another household. 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. 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 legally continue.
As in all other parts of life, just because something is permitted does not always mean it is the right thing to do. Particularly at alert level 4, 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 move to a lower level.
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.
Even for non-carers, if there are compassionate reasons for visiting someone, you may still have a reasonable excuse to see people outside your support bubble 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 support 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