COVID tiers in England, restrictions in Wales, and what it means for your law firm or organisation

On Monday 4 January 2021, the UK government announced a new national lockdown.

Read our guidance on the new national lockdown and what it means for legal services.

England

Find out which tier your local area is in by entering your home or office’s postcode into the government’s coronavirus local restrictions tool.

The government has published guidance on the new local restrictions. This is the Law Society’s interpretation on the guidance. It has been updated on 21 December, following the UK government's changes to the restrictions including the creation of a new Tier 4. 

If you have any questions or issues, contact us.

Tier 1: medium alert

  • Everyone who can work from home should do so
  • Law firms can remain open, provided they’re COVID-19 secure – read our practical framework on COVID secure workplaces
  • Walk or cycle if possible, plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport
  • Avoid car sharing with those outside of your household or support bubble
  • Avoid travelling into a Tier 3 area, other than where necessary (such as for work)
  • If you live in a Tier 1 area and travel to work in Tier 2 or 3, you need to follow the rules from that local area
  • Gatherings for work purposes (such as business meetings) are allowed. This includes business meetings in law firms (including clients visiting law firms) and, where necessary, meetings in client’s homes (for example, in matters related to an elderly or vulnerable client)
  • Business events (such as conferences) can take place indoors and outdoors. Attendance is limited to 50% capacity or 4,000 people outdoors (whichever is lower) and 50% capacity or 1,000 people indoors (whichever is lower). Social distancing should be observed

Tier 2: high alert

  • Everyone who can work from home should do so
  • Law firms can remain open, provided they’re COVID-19 secure – read our practical framework on COVID secure workplaces
  • Reduce the number of journeys you make and walk or cycle if possible
  • Avoid busy times and routes on public transport
  • Avoid car sharing with those outside of your household or support bubble
  • Avoid travelling into a Tier 3 area, other than where necessary (such as for work)
  • Gatherings for work purposes (such as business meetings) are allowed. This includes business meetings in law firms (including clients visiting law firms) and, where necessary, meetings in client’s homes (for example, in matters related to an elderly or vulnerable client)
  • Business events (such as conferences) can take place indoors and outdoors. Attendance is limited to 50% capacity or 2,000 people outdoors (whichever is lower) and 50% capacity or 1,000 people indoors (whichever is lower). Social distancing should be observed

Tier 3: very high alert

  • Everyone who can work from home should do so
  • Law firms can remain open, provided they’re COVID secure – read our practical framework on COVID secure workplaces
  • Travel to venues or amenities that are open is allowed but, where possible, you should aim to reduce the number of journeys made
  • Avoid travelling outside your area, other than where necessary (such as for work)
  • Reduce the number of journeys where possible and plan ahead to avoid busy times and routes on public transport
  • Avoid car sharing with those outside of your household or support bubble
  • Gatherings for work purposes (such as business meetings) are allowed. This includes business meetings in law firms (including clients visiting law firms) and, where necessary, meetings in client’s homes (for example, in matters related to an elderly or vulnerable client)
  • Events should not take place

Tier 4: stay at home

We will be going through the government’s regulations once available. Our interpretation of the guidance (Tier 4: Stay at Home – GOV.UK) is as follows.

  • Everyone who can work from home should do so
  • Law firms can remain open, provided they’re COVID secure – read our practical framework on COVID secure workplaces
  • Travel to go to work is acceptable, however, you should aim to reduce the number of journeys made
  • Avoid travelling outside your area, other than where necessary (such as for work)
  • Business meetings in law firms (including clients visiting law firms) and, where necessary, meetings in clients’ homes (for example, in matters related to an elderly or vulnerable client) are permissible
  • Events should not take place
  • It is permissible to meet people from another household to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service or for gatherings within criminal justice accommodation or immigration detention centres

All businesses and venues that are open are expected to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines to protect clients, visitors and staff.

In all tiers, there are exemptions from the gatherings limits to facilitate moving home or to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court.

FAQs

If possible, staff who can work effectively from home should do so over the winter.

However, if this is not possible, staff can be asked to come into the office, provided it’s COVID secure and that the government guidance is followed. This includes:

  • completing a COVID-19 risk assessment and sharing it with all your staff - you should review your risk assessment in light of the new tier 4 guidance.
  • reducing crowding
  • cleaning more often and considering ventilation
  • making sure everyone is social distancing
  • turning people with coronavirus symptoms away
  • considering the mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19 for your staff.
  • arranging workspaces to keep staff apart
  • reducing face-to-face meetings
  • communicating and training

Read the government's guidance on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)

In both tiers, law firms can remain open.

In Tier 4:

  • there are restrictions on travel/leaving home (unlike Tiers 1 to 3 which just have restrictions on gatherings)
  • people must not leave home unless they have a reasonable excuse, such as going to the office or going to someone else’s homes for a work purpose

Staff living in a Tier 3 area should work from home if possible.

If this is not possible, staff are allowed to travel to a Tier 2 or 1 locations for work where necessary.

Yes, this is allowed where necessary.

Yes, it is. See below on details about private COVID testing to avoid quarantine.

Check the Foreign Office travel advice for specific countries.

If business can be conducted virtually, it should be done this way. If this is not possible, solicitors should consider meeting clients or colleagues in their offices.

If not practicable, meetings can take place in restaurants located in Tier 1 and 2. Restaurants are closed in Tier 3 and Tier 4.

Law firms and solicitors should be very cautious about events and social gatherings. Safety should be your primary consideration and strict adherence to the government’s regulations.

In Tier 1 and 2, it’s possible to host business events (such as a partners conference or a staff away day) in law firms, provided that:

  • in Tier 1, attendance is limited to 50% capacity or 4,000 people outdoors (whichever is lower) and 50% capacity or 1,000 people indoors (whichever is lower) – social distancing should be observed
  • in Tier 2, attendance is limited to 50% capacity or 2,000 people outdoors (whichever is lower) and 50% capacity or 1,000 people indoors (whichever is lower) – social distancing should be observed

Law firms in Tier 3 or Tier 4 cannot host events.

If your event does not have a business purpose but a social purpose (such as team’s Christmas party or a client’s drinks reception), the rules on social gatherings apply. These are: 

  • Tier 1: the rule of six must be observed. You must not socialise in groups larger than six people, indoors or outdoors, other than where a legal exemption applies
  • Tier 2: a maximum of six people can meet outdoors. You must not socialise in a group of more than six people outside, including in a garden or a public space
  • Tier 3: you must not meet socially indoors or in most outdoor public places with anybody you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble, this includes in any private garden or at most public outdoor venues. Hospitality venues are closed
  • Tier 4: you must not meet socially indoors or in most outdoor public places with anybody you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble, this includes in any private garden or at most public outdoor venues. Hospitality venues are closed. Outdoors, you can only meet one person from another household

You should therefore consider ways of celebrating virtually.

We’ve had discussions with government and this guidance might be subject to change. Keep checking this page for updates.

Wales

Wales will be treated as in Tier 4 with a full lockdown. People should stay at home and only essential shops may open.

Read the guidance for Wales

Amendments to guidance for Wales

New business support measures

Pay VAT deferred

You can pay now or get ready to opt in to the VAT deferral new payment scheme.

If you deferred VAT between 20 March and 30 June 2020 and still have payments to make, you can:

  • pay the deferred VAT in full on or before 31 March 2021
  • opt in to the VAT deferral new payment scheme when it launches in 2021
  • contact HMRC if you need more help to pay

Check how you can pay your deferred VAT

You cannot opt in to the new payment scheme yet. The online opt in process will be available in early 2021.

You must opt in yourself; your agent cannot do this for you.

Instead of paying the full amount by the end of March 2021, you can make up to 11 smaller monthly instalments, interest free. All instalments must be paid by the end of March 2022.

Read more about the opt-in payment scheme

Test to release

A new testing strategy for passengers arriving into England will be introduced from 15 December 2020.

Tests will be at the cost of the traveller to protect the capacity of NHS Test and Trace.

The 14-day self-isolation period will be reduced by up to two thirds on receipt of a negative COVID-19 test from a private provider after five days of isolation.

Read more about the test to release strategy

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