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Tier 4: What the Government guidance (but not the law) says about travel

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The Government has just published its guidance on travel for anyone living in a Tier 4 area in England. Can you travel in the UK or fly abroad if you live in Tier 4?

The official version is here but we have cut and pasted it below. One key point is that people living in Tiers 1-3 are specificially allowed to travel to Heathrow or other airports in Tier 4. Gatwick is NOT in Tier 4.

The majority of flights will continue since only a minority of the population is covered by Tier 4 restrictions.

Coronavirus Tier 4 travel guidance

As usual, what is ‘guidance’ and what is ‘the law’ can be different things. It will only be clear what constitutes an offence when the Statutory Instrument is published, and nothing will become law until that time. It is not clear when this will be – it had not been published by Sunday morning.

(EDIT: the legal text is now available and came into effect at 7am on Sunday – see our article here)

However, this line:

“You cannot leave home for holidays or stays overnight away from your main home unless permitted by law.”

…… implies that the offence will be for ‘leaving home’ and not for travelling abroad, or indeed in the UK, in itself – although you would still be committing an offence.

It is also worth remembering that countries may choose to bring in new restrictions on arrivals from the UK. The Netherlands has already banned flights from the UK until at least 1st January.

The situation is different in Scotland, with travel to or from the rest of the UK now illegal.

easyJet has announced that it will refund Tier 4 residents due to travel before the end of the year.

The following is quoted from

Travelling within a tier 4 area

If you live in a tier 4 area, you must stay at home. You must not leave your home to travel unless for work, education or other legally permitted reasons. If you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live – and look to reduce the number of journeys you make overall. The list of reasons you can leave your home and area include, but are not limited to:

  • work, where you cannot work from home
  • accessing education and for caring responsibilities
  • visiting those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
  • visiting hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
  • buying goods or services from premises that are open in Tier 4 areas, including essential retail, but these should be within your local area wherever possible
  • spending time or exercising outdoors. This should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your Tier 4 area to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space)
  • attending the care and exercise of a pet, or veterinary services

If you need to travel, walk or cycle where possible, and plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practise social distancing while you travel.

Avoid car sharing with anyone from outside your household or your support bubble. See the guidance on car sharing.

If you need to use public transport, you should follow the safer travel guidance.

Travelling out of a tier 4 area

You must stay at home and not leave your Tier 4 area, other than for legally permitted reasons such as:

  • travel to work where you cannot work from home
  • travel to education and for caring responsibilities
  • visit those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
  • attend hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health

The full list of exceptions will be published in the Regulations.

Travelling to a tier 4 area from a tier 1, 2 or 3 area

You should not travel into a Tier 4 area from another part of the UK, other than for reasons such as:

  • travel to work where you cannot work from home
  • travel to education and for caring responsibilities
  • to visit those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
  • to attend hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health

You should continue to practise safe behaviours on public transport:

  • plan ahead, check for disruption before you leave, and avoid the busiest routes, as well as busy times
  • avoid making unnecessary stops during your journey
  • avoid sharing a car with people not in your household
  • keep your distance from other people when you travel, where possible
  • wash or sanitise your hands regularly

International travel to or from a tier 4 area

If you are in Tier 4, you should not be travelling abroad unless it is permitted. In addition, you should consider the public health advice in the country you are visiting.

If you live outside a tier 4 area you may still transit into or through a tier 4 area to travel abroad if you need to, but you should carefully consider whether you need to do so. In addition, you should follow the public health advice in the country you’re visiting.

If you do need to travel overseas from a tier 4 area (and are legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work), even if you are returning to a place you’ve visited before, you should look at the rules in place at your destination and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice.

UK residents currently abroad do not need to return home immediately. However, you should check with your airline or travel operator on arrangements for returning.

Staying away from home overnight

You cannot leave home for holidays or stays overnight away from your main home unless permitted by law. This means that holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed. This includes staying in a second home or caravan, or staying with anyone you do not live with or are in a support bubble with.

You are allowed to stay overnight away from your home if you:

  • are unable to return to your main residence
  • need accommodation while moving house
  • need accommodation to attend a funeral or related commemorative event
  • require accommodation for work purposes or to provide voluntary services
  • are a child requiring accommodation for school or care
  • are homeless, seeking asylum or a vulnerable person seeking refuge
  • are an elite athlete or their support staff or parent, if the athlete is under 18 and it is necessary to be outside of the home for training or competition

If you are already on holiday in a Tier 4 area, you should return to your home as soon as practical

Guest accommodation providers such as hotels, B&Bs and caravan parks may remain open for the specific reasons set out in law, including where guests are unable to return to their main residence, use that guest accommodation as their main residence, need accommodation while moving house, are self-isolating as required by law, or would otherwise be made homeless as a result of the accommodation closing. Accommodation providers are also encouraged to work cooperatively with Local Authorities to provide accommodation to vulnerable groups including the homeless in tier 4 areas.

Comments (362)

  • Tom Murray says:

    Clive, apart from the BBC, where’s your source for the Italy ban in place. We’ve got Italian friends sitting on the tarmac at LHR on the BA2612 departing 14.20 trying to get home to Naples

    • Jack says:

      “Moderatledaren Ulf Kristersson vill att Sverige gör samma sak som Nederländerna, Belgien och Italien; stoppar alla flyg med passagerare från Storbritannien efter upptäckten att en smittsammare virusmutation av covid-19 sprids där.”

      Sorry this is where I read it. SVT (the Swedish BBC) also confirming the Italian flight ban.

      • Nick_C says:

        “Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook later on Sunday that Italy would follow suit, but didn’t give a timeline for the introduction of the measure.

        “As a government we have a duty to protect Italians, which is why, after alerting the British Government, we are about to sign the measure with the Ministry of Health to suspend flights from Britain,” he wrote.

        “Our priority is to protect Italy and our compatriots.””

        • Lady London says:

          Given the new variant is probably already in most of Europe and might have come to us from there, is this just a good opportunity for European countries to do some home-voter-appeasing EU-credential-flashing virtue signalling as 1st January makes the UK a great scapegoat ?

          • Lady London says:

            I couldn’t think of the right word for “EU-credential-waving”. I should have said “EU-wil*y-,waving” .

  • Bill says:

    Support for introduction of Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions

    Support – 74% / Oppose – 17%

    79% / 17%

    72% / 19%

    67% / 27%

    • Nick_C says:

      Good to see. Thanks for posting.

      It’s easy to believe at times that the Covidiots are in the majority.

      • BJ says:

        Well, there are a lot of them, probably over 12 million if we assume all those who are not in favour behave irresponsibly on a regular basis. However, even many of those in favour find it difficult to adhere to all the rules all the time. I am in City of Edinburgh but having to resist breaking the rules to pick up a bunch of Christmas gifts from Livingston just a few miles along the motorway.

    • Jack says:

      Wouldn’t trust YouGov as far as I could throw them. It’s amazing how they always seem to support whatever position the government comes up with.

      • Jack says:

        The polls always show support for*

      • Jake says:

        Like when they were the pollster with the gloomiest outlook for the Conservatives in the 2017 election you mean, in direct contrast to all the other pollsters? Which turned out to be extremely accurate.

      • Lady London says:

        YouGov threw me off their survey participants list when I complained about the fact that they skewed the way they asked questions regularly so as to force the answer they wanted in surveys.

        I gave examples and they said of course we don’t do that but mysteriously I was never invited to another survey

      • James says:

        Joke, Jack? Or just Joke Jack?

  • Richard says:

    I live in London, Tier 4. I understand the guidance stops a relative visiting me from a Tier 3 area in the UK. It’s less clear if it stops a relative visiting me if they are flying in from outside the UK. I’m not saying i want that to happen, I just wondered about the inconsistency. Comments welcome!

    • Anna says:

      Unless they are staying with you you could presumably only meet with them outdoors, with nobody else present. If they are staying with you I think that’s ok as long as they fulfill any quarantine requirement.

  • Ben says:

    So I am in tier 4 but have an job interview overseas and will need to look at rental property (incase I get the job in the new year) am I right in thinking that is aloud?

    • Simon says:


    • Tom says:

      Yes that would appear to be allowed.

      • TGLoyalty says:


      • Scott says:

        Hi Tom
        I have a wedding booked abroad on the 4th of jan
        I live in a soon to be tier 4
        Will I be allowed to travel?
        I would appreciate your input
        Many thanks

    • Jake says:

      At the rate other countries are shutting down to the UK now, you won’t be going anywhere overseas in the near future.

      • Alex Sm says:

        This is what is called European solidarity – a good lesson for Brexit Britain (however, I’m currently in Sweden and Swedes here say that the country will be the last to close borders for the UK arrivals)

        • BuildTheWall says:

          Lol, trying to contain a new strain of virus is solidarity? Where was this solidarity when Italy was requesting medical support and Austria and France shit their borders?

    • Frederic says:

      Although understanding how serious the situation is…
      I am in a similar position: I am in T4 and in mid-process of buying a property abroad. Have a flight on the 26th for viewings and sign legal documents. Am I right in thinking that I am allowed to travel (if BA flies)? Will I need to carry any specific proof in case the police stops me? Thanks.

      • Ben says:

        Hi Frederic,
        It seems that would also be fine. I will have the email trail on my phone so show I have the interview just incase I get stopped.
        From the feedback of the last “travel ban” the airport staff don’t care.

        • Frederic says:

          Seems reasonable but more worried about some ‘stubborn’ BTP representative on my way to the airport. I know there is a lot of frustration and anger – I would have much preferred an earlier and longer lockdown from Sept/Oct in order to be in a better position now but there are also people with genuine reasons to travel according to the Regulations’ exceptions made today.

  • Howard says:

    Does anyone have a view or know if you to travel to Heathrow from Tier 4 if your flight is not cancelled, if one gets stopped by police or some authority, will they just issue an FPN or actually prevent you continuing your journey?

    • The real John says:

      If you get stopped by the police for speeding, what do you think will happen if you drive off at 90mph?

    • John says:

      Take it to Court, a lot of them are being thrown out. They’re on very shaky legal ground.

  • Andy Green says:

    We are flying to South Africa for 2 weeks on December 25th with British Airways. We are viewing a possible rental property there which I can prove with emails etc. Am we allowed to travel and is the fact that whilst there we are extending our stay for a vacation?

    Also. Does anyone have any idea on the insurance position in this instance? I assume it will follow that if we are allowed legally to fly then the insurance will cover us still?

    Is travelling overseas to view a rental property a permitted exception?

    Legal / informed answers please rather than moral judgements. Thanks

    • Jake says:

      The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to:

      the whole of South Africa based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks.

      Which means you aren’t covered. Being legally allowed to fly has no bearing on insurance, if the FCDO advises against all but essential travel, you aren’t covered.

  • Zoe says:

    I can understand why people are getting annoyed on this thread and in real life. My lived experience of following the rules even when there were very inconsistent and costly (eg 2 weeks quarantine following the short notice withdrawal of the Spain travel corridor) is that I find it difficult to stomach those who have taken a different approach. Perhaps if at all junctures I had put my wishes first (selfish?) I would now be much more relaxed other people doing the same thing. We are always making choices, I wish I could now choose to be more chilled about other people looking for ways around rules or plain ignoring them as according to their moral code it is a valid thing to do. Quote from my daughter ‘stop being a rule Nazi’

    • Jack says:

      I mean, I understand the annoyance from people who have followed the rules to the letter (as I have in terms of mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing etc aka things that are proven to actually work in stopping the spread), but the way the government has chopped and changed and invented new policies and then reversed them and u-turned every step of the way has led me to believe they really, really don’t have a clue, and therefore I’m not especially interested in what they have to say. These tier restrictions “banning” travel are the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. Very few places are banning travel, and certainly nowhere with the COVID infection rates we have. I had little faith in BoJo in March but a willingness to listen, I have neither of those now.

      TL;DR: yours and other peoples frustration is understandable.

      • Jake says:

        It’s one thing to not listen to BoJo. It’s entirely another to not listen to what pretty much the entire worldwide medical community is saying. Have you seen how many countries are planning to / have banned travel from the UK since yesterday? There’s going to be a whole lot more of them by this time next week. You don’t need to be a virologist to know that the more people travel, the more the virus spreads.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Yup and Trump has banned travel from Europe for the last 9 months or so purely for reason entirely related to epidemiology

          • jake says:

            And all the other countries around the world, banned travel just to make veiled political points, nothing to do with a virus at all.

      • Lady London says:

        I doubt any party in UK government would have done that much better. The powers that be are doing their best.

        • Simon says:

          I think a better leader would have come up with a set of rules to stick to and stuck with them. Clearly definable targets and goals to reach etc. I don’t know of any other country that has u-turned like this – or let politicians away with breaking the rules without consequence. Is it any wonder so many people don’t believe them any more?

          • Ralph says:

            You need to read the local press in almost any other European country to see that exactly the same u turns, last minute changes and dissatisfaction with leaders is the norm, even in Germany where there is real fury. The situation is hopelessly difficult, the scientists don’t agree with each other at all and the politicians are being pushed between different these scientific views, trying to defend liberties, not bankrupting the country and a public opinion that is very divided.

          • Anna says:

            Ralph +1, there is no European country doing significantly better or worse than us (even Sweden); the really worrying thing is that with all our scientific and medical expertise a virus has managed to wreak such devastation the world over.

          • Paul says:

            The trouble with clearly definable targets and goals is you can then be clearly judged against them, which is naturally not high on any politician’s to do list.

          • Nick_C says:

            @Anna ” there is no European country doing significantly better or worse than us (even Sweden)”

            I have to disagree. Look at the mortality rates. Our death rate is more than 50% higher than the Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, Ireland, Malta, Greece, and Germany, to name but a few.

            In terms of deaths per capita, we are one of the worst in the world. Even worse than the USA.

        • Thywillbedone says:

          Not sure. If given a choice, most would have taken very strict/stricter measures in Oct/Nov/Early Dec in exchange for a few days at Christmas when it is a traditional for familiies to meet up. We have clowns advising clowns unfortuntely.

          • Nick_C says:

            “We have clowns advising clowns unfortuntely.”

            I don’t think that is fair. Its quite clear that the scientific advisors cautioned against lifting the lid on restrictions the way we did back in the halcyon days of early August, when infection rates were at just 3% of current levels.

            SAGE called for a second lockdown on 21 September. Boris delayed for nearly six weeks. The level of infection went up by nearly 500% while Boris dithered and blustered.

            A clown has misjudged and mismanaged the entire crisis, ignoring expert advice.

          • Alex Sm says:

            Britain should have learned from their own dominions (OZ and NZ) to be honest. And we would be an island oasis by now!

        • Alan says:

          I think almost anyone would have done better than this governments repeated too little too late approach. Maybe not a lot better but better.

  • Ad says:

    Does anyone know if it is possible to claim a refund for those of us who took a private PCR test to fly before the tier 4 restrictions came into play, got a negative result but were unable to make their journey due to the announcement?

    This would be applicable those tier 4 people who were tested within a day or two of the announcement.

    • James Vickers says:

      I would imagine that would be highly unlikely because your provider carried out the tests you paid for

      • Ad says:

        Yes I get that bit, but the point I’m making is it was the consequence of a literal last minute decision by the UK government that left those affected with no other choice than to unpack their luggage. This is specifically about the test.

        • Jake says:

          You’ve about as much chance of getting a refund as those people who have bought Christmas food expecting their families have, probably less infact.

          • Andy Green says:


          • Ad says:

            Food can be frozen and consumed . A meaningless travel test can’t be undone. But If want to make jokes at the expense of families like myself who have lost hundreds of pounds for following the law then fire away if it makes you feel better.

          • Jake says:

            You’ve had plenty of examples all year of people losing money because of cancellations / events etc not going ahead due to last minute changes, so it’s not like you haven’t seen red flags. If knowing this, you still choose to book travel during the second wave, and it turns out you lose, then harsh though it might sound, as Jim Bowen would say ‘that’s the gamble’.

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