‘Rule Of Six’ Explained

UPDATE – Information in this article relating to meeting people indoors is now out of date. Please read our latest stories for latest information,

New emergency law came into force in England on 14 September, generally prohibiting people (including children and babies) who don’t normally live with each other from meeting in groups of more than six, indoors or outdoors.

Adults and children usually living in the same household and those in ‘linked households’ (those in ‘support bubbles’ for instance) can form a bigger group providing they are the only ones together in their group.

Provision is also made to allow people’s carers or a childminder, or those involved in parent/child contact or access arrangements, to be part of a bigger group.

The regulations, published online less than 25 minutes before they were due to come into effect, contain a long list of exceptions to what the Prime Minister has dubbed the ‘Rule of Six’.

Exemptions include workplaces, charity and volunteer provision, education and training, outdoor and indoor sport activity, accident or illness emergency situations, legally organised protests, places of worship, leisure centres, bars, restaurants and hospitality settings.

Weddings, funerals and team sports will be allowed attendances of up to 30.

People at permitted larger gatherings must attend in groups of no more than six and must not ‘mingle’ with those from other groups.

Government guidance on the new rules is available here.

The guidance is also available in different languages.



Those found in breach or facilitating a breach of the new measures face £100 fines for a first offence, doubling for subsequent offences, up to £3,200 (six offences). Police will also have powers to break up gatherings.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse told Radio 4’s Today programme that those concerned about neighbours breaching the ‘rule of six’ should ring the non-emergency police phone number (101) to report violations.

Northumbria Police Chief Constable Winton Keenan said local police would be doing all they can to “to ensure those who put others at risk by refusing to comply with the regulations are subject to appropriately robust enforcement action.”

“We have no desire to use the formal powers now made available to policing but it’s right that we’re able to enforce against those who disregard these measures and put people at risk,” says a statement on the Northumbria Police website.

Since pubs re-opened, Newcastle City Council has been working with police to “act against any licensed premises that is not sticking to social distancing guidelines”. 24 premises have been issued with prohibition notices and the Council’s licensing staff have visited 105 premises in the city to support ‘good compliance’.


The latest emergency regulations were issued by the Home Secretary “in response to the serious and imminent threat to public health” posed by “the incidence and spread” of coronavirus in England.

Powers available under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 allow Secretaries of State to make law without consulting MPs or members of the House of Lords, if they are of the opinion it is necessary ‘by reason of urgency’.

The regulations make clear that no assessment has been made of the impact the new rules will have.

Some critics of the new powers point out that they only allow parents to link with one of their children’s households and that limiting numbers to groups of six can mean all members of extended families being unable to meet at the same time. People have also commented on how it may adversely affect their ability to pursue new personal relationships.

Although many commentators have viewed the new powers as being more restrictive and reducing people’s exposure to coronavirus, the reality is that instead of just two households being able to meet indoors last month, those from six different households can now do so. Also, an adult living on their own can now link with any other household regardless of how many people live there.

Social distancing guidance still applies to all meeting in groups not in the same or linked households.

“To reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus, try to keep at least 2 metres away from people you do not live with. Social distancing is essential to stop the spread of the virus, as it is more likely to spread when people are close together. An infected person can pass on the virus even if they do not have any symptoms, through talking, breathing, coughing or sneezing,” says the Government website.

“When with people you do not live with, you should also avoid: physical contact; being close and face-to-face; and shouting or singing close to them. You should also avoid crowded areas with lots of people; and touching things that other people have touched.

Where you cannot stay 2 metres apart you should stay more than 1 metre apart, as well as taking extra steps to stay safe. For example:

  • wear a face covering: on public transport and in many indoor spaces, you must wear a face covering by law, unless you are exempt
  • move outdoors, where it is safer and there is more space
  • if indoors, make sure rooms are well ventilated by keeping windows and doors open”

GH 15 September 2020, updated 17 September to include Council enforcement action, updated 18 September to reflect new North East regulations. Updated 30 September to reflect changed law relating to meeting at indoor venues.