What is a household anyway?

As I write we’re waiting on the publication of the statutory instrument that puts into legal practice the messaging given to the press all day on “social gatherings of more than six people”.

Right now the guidelines say you can:

  • only socialise indoors with members of up to two households (anyone in your support bubble counts as one household) – this includes when dining out or going to the pub.
  • only socialise outdoors in a group of up to six people from different households, or in larger groups if everyone is exclusively from one or two households
  • only visit businesses and venues in groups of up to two households (anyone in your support bubble counts as one household) or with a group of six people from different households if outdoors

We had initially expected the guidelines to simply become law – but some journalists are saying that even more simplicity is likely to be in the statutory instrument when published:

As of the morning of September 10th, it looks like Peston wasn’t quite right – it appears from this that the simplified limit is about “six people” indoors or outdoors regardless of household(s). We’ll know more when the statutory instrument is laid later

What of halls? That’s another odd anomaly. In the regulations that cover the local lockdowns, you aren’t allowed to take part in a gathering which consists of two or more people in a “private dwelling”. But a “private dwelling” does not include “educational accommodation”, further defined as “halls of residence provided for students attending higher education courses”.

This means that as written, right now in the north, students could take part in “gatherings” between multiple flats in their block, or even go to a “gathering” at a different hall at a different university.

A related issue here is how you define a “household”. Over in the guidance on isolation for residential educational settings, it’s left to the university (or landlords of the PBSA provision) to define a “household”, and depends on the physical layout of the place, considering who shares a kitchen/bathroom, dormitories, and staffing arrangements. But the definition the manager of your block comes up with in conjunction with PHE doesn’t have legal force in relation to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (c. 22) and its local lockdown regulations.

The guess here is that those running halls – private and pubic – will have to be a form of “law” all on their own.

But that does all raise another question. If there’s six of you in an HMO, clearly you can meet in a park – you’re in the same household. But once that household stuff becomes law, can six of you in the same flat in halls meet in a park? Only if “household” somehow gets better defined – if not either all 300 students in a block is a household (doubt that will wash), or a household is one student.

Given all of this is basically about students, some clarity would help.

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