How will the new law on gatherings affect students in Scotland?

This is the second in our little series of posts on how the “tightening” of restrictions on social activity on Monday will affect students - and the good news is that things are considerably simpler in Scotland than they are in Wales. Or are they?

Guidance says:

From Monday 14 September, the number of people who can gather together, indoors or outdoors, will change to a maximum of six from two households. To stay safe and protect others, people are urged to abide by these stricter new limits immediately.

It’s the law that matters. Here we’re looking at the The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 and how those regs will specifically affect students and universities. As ever I may have some of the below wrong and would welcome comments below.

First some definitions. In Scotland we get a definition of “household” for the purposes of the legislation, and we’re told here that it means “one person living alone”, or “a group of persons living together in the same place as a family or other unit (whether or not related) and who have the place as their only or main residence”.

It’s actually still not clear from that whether a student in a room in halls with an en-suite would actually be in a household of their own, or indeed whether students in an HMO would collectively form a “unit”. Let’s assume a whole HMO counts as a household and that someone will need to decide in halls.

Where accommodation is provided in the form of flats with shared cooking and bathroom facilities each “cluster flat” will normally be considered a household.

If student accommodation is provided in a different format, for example longer corridors of single rooms, the composition of “household” will be informed by the areas shared by groups of students. In these circumstances, the size of the household should be considered carefully to ensure students can access facilities safely and in line with physical distancing guidelines.

What that guidance doesn’t do is tell us who decides. Let’s assume it’s the manager of the block/building.

Once you have a household, you can then extend it. In Scotland an “extended household” means two households which have chosen to be treated as a single household for the purpose of these regs, and which have not already chosen to be treated as a single household with any other household. But unlike in say Wales, in the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 you can only form an extended household with a qualifying household– a person who lives alone, or a household where only one person in the household is 18 years or over.

“Student accommodation” is also defined for the purposes of parties. By cross referencing back to paragraph 11(5) of schedule 16 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, we find that “student accommodation” means residential accommodation which has been built or converted solely for the purpose of being provided to students. That covers university halls and PBSA provision.

And this time round a “gathering” is defined as a situation where two or more persons, who are not members of the same household, are present together in a place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other (note this is not the same definition of gathering that there was in the Wales rules).

So what do the tighter rules do? Outdoors, indoors or in a “private dwelling” (which is defined here and “catches” both student accommodation and HMOs) you can gather in a group of no more than six persons from no more than two households.

If the intent is to pretty much to stop students from visiting other students’ houses, then that is fairly clear – although with pubs, clubs, cafes and so on all on heavy restriction and campus facilities pretty restricted too, that does suggest that large parts of the week will be spent alone in rooms or interaction only with housemates that may not even represent acquaintances.

There are some specific restrictions on parties. A “party” is defined as a social gathering where 16 or more persons, who are members of more than one household, are present together in a place, and you can’t attend one being held in a private dwelling.

If a whole halls building is a private dwelling, but more than the 16 residents are using cooking, dining, toilet or washing facilities which are shared with any person who is not a member of their household (and have the accommodation as their only or main residence) then there’s an exemption.

The exemption on all of these limits in Scotland is worded as “childcare, education or training”, and it’s as unclear as it is everywhere else how “education” might be defined in the context of an educational charity like a students’ association putting an event on for students.

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