Back when I worked for NUS I used to act as returning officer for a number of SU elections, and occasionally I’d come across a set of thick set of bylaws that had been endlessly added to every year. Each addition made sense in the context of that year’s scandal, but taken in their cumulative totality they were utterly impenetrable.
In entirely unrelated news what I’ve tried to do here – on Tuesday 29th September – is pick back up this baton on whether students who have a family home and live away from it during term time are allowed to go home at the weekend.
As ever I could be wrong, if you’re reading this even an hour after it’s published the law or guidance might have changed, and I’d welcome any feedback in comments below or via feedback.
In England, we all live in households. Household doesn’t seem to be defined in the actual regulations, but in the higher education guidance a household in halls of residence is normally considered to be those students living in the same flat, or on the same floor, who share a kitchen and/or bathroom, rather than an entire block. Let’s assume that a whole HMO is a household too for now.
If you live in any of the local lockdown areas, you must not host people you do not live with in your home or garden. That means that students whose family home is in a local lockdown area cannot visit home unless in doing so they are forming a new household. I doubt popping home for the weekend with a bag of washing would count.
However if you are self-isolating either because you have Covid, or symptoms, or because you have been in close contact with someone who has (including living with someone in that situation in a household), you can. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 (the controversial regs that appeared very late on Sunday 27th) appear to allow you to self-isolate at home, in the home of a friend or family member, or in bed and breakfast accommodation.
That’s right – unless I’m missing something in England if you have symptoms or actual Covid, you can travel back to your family’s house and self isolate there taking the virus with you. If you don’t and your family live in a local lockdown area, you can’t. Go figure.
What’s not clear here is where you draw the line between forming and reforming a new household and merely visiting. A weekend is a visit. Your halls not actually allowing you to stay over Xmas probably means you’re forming a new household when you go home for a month at Christmas. Where do we draw the line?
Across Scotland, you should not meet anyone from outside your household socially indoors in your home or their home. The Scottish Government has published revised guidance as follows:
As you have formed a new household within your student accommodation, this means that you cannot stay overnight at another household.
However there is also:
It is an offence not to comply with the restrictions on gatherings. However, it is a defence to show that there was a reasonable excuse in the circumstances. A reasonable excuse might include a visit home for a family emergency, such as a bereavement, or for wellbeing reasons.
The rules are similar in Northern Ireland. Its guidance says:
No mixing of households in private dwellings”
But the interpretation on the application of that household rule in NI seems to be different:
We were told by the Deputy First Minister on friday that despite these restrictions, students in NI are allowed to return home at the weekends.
Confusing, we know – which is why we are calling for clearer government issues guidance for students!
— NUS-USI (@NUS_USI) September 28, 2020
In Wales in its local lockdown areas, people (for example) are not allowed to enter or leave the Cardiff Council area without a reasonable excuse (visiting your parents with a bag of washing is, I stress, unlikely to be reasonable) and again you can’t meet indoors with anyone who is not part of your household (people you live with) unless you have a good reason, such as providing care to a vulnerable person.
So, in a nutshell:
Wherever you are a student living away from home, if your home is in Scotland you probably can’t visit there this weekend. Nor can you do so if that family home is in a local lockdown area in England or Wales. For some reason the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland says you can. You can probably get away with all of these things if you were staying long enough to form a new household. And reasonable excuses seem to be OK.
The exception appears to be if you actually have Covid-19, Covid-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has – in that case it looks like wherever you study in the UK, if your family home is in an English local lockdown area you can pop back there this weekend and spread the virus.
If you’re a civil servant or a minister that happens to be reading this and you’ve got this far, can I just beg you to get on the phone to your counterparts around the UK and get some joint guidance out for students on all this? It’s really not that much to ask.