The relaxing of the social distancing measures offers potential for members wishing to resume face to face work. We want to support you in your efforts to do so, while being aware of the risks that remain while the COVID-19 virus is still very much in active circulation.

The landscape of guidance can be quite confusing, with each of the Four Nations taking a different approach. Here we compare the social distancing restrictions, guidance and proposals in each part of the UK, offering some key messages to consider.

Coronavirus lockdown rules in each part of the UK

The UK government is only responsible for lockdown restrictions in England. This is because health is a devolved matter, which means that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for their own policies in relation to public health matters.

Lockdown was imposed through public health legislation, with separate regulations made in the UK, Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Scottish government, Welsh government and Northern Ireland executive remain responsible for introducing and lifting restrictions in their respective territories and can make different decisions.

England, Scotland and Wales introduced lockdown restrictions on 26 March and Northern Ireland on 28 March with only minor differences in their respective approaches. However, over time, differences between the approach of each part of the UK emerged, and the four-nation exit strategy appears to have broken down.

Plans to lift lockdown 

Each of the four governments has now published its own roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions1. The UK outlined a phased approach to lifting lockdown restrictions which comprised three steps, the first of which applied from 13 May.

The Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘pathway to recovery’ sets out five steps, the Scottish government outlines four phases and the Welsh government uses a traffic-light system to show how they intend to ease lockdown restrictions, but they do not specify provisional commencement dates.

The rules on being outside the home

(If viewing on a mobile phone, turn your phone to landscape view to read the table)

Country England Scotland Wales Northern Ireland
Use of face coverings From 8 August, wearing face coverings will be mandatory in a wider range of indoor settings in England, including where personal services are provided. The use of face coverings may be appropriate for clients receiving therapy face to face. There are also circumstances, where people are exempt, including for health, age or equality reasons. This follows the existing mandatory requirement for face coverings on public transport and in shops and other retail. From 8 August, wearing face coverings will be mandatory in a wider range of indoor settings in Scotland to include libraries, museums, and places of worship. This follows the existing mandatory requirement for face coverings on public transport and in shops and other retail. Advised where social distancing not possible. From 10 August the use of face coverings will be mandatory when in a public area indoors, such as in a shop, when social distancing is not possible. Similar exemptions are in place to England where people are exempt on health, age or equality grounds.
Minimum social distancing People should remain 2m apart from each other where possible, including in workplaces. Where this is not possible, people must remain 1m apart and take precautions to limit transmission. People must remain 2m apart from each other, including in workplaces. Children under 12 do not have to social distance outdoors. People must remain 2m apart from each other. By law, employers must take all reasonable measures to ensure a 2m distance. From 29 June, people should remain 1m apart (the guidance was previously set at 2m).

Returning to work

Certain business premises, including, leisure, and hospitality venues have been ordered to close. However, there are some differences in advice on non-essential work. The guidelines state:

  • England
    Employees who cannot work from home, for example, those in construction and manufacturing, are now encouraged to go to work. Where possible, employees and customers should maintain 2m distancing, and where this is not possible steps must be taken to manage transmission risk.

  • Scotland
    Businesses are advised only to reopen if they consider their work essential, if their business is listed in the relevant phase, and they are confident that the workforce can practice social distancing and comply with health and safety standards.

    In phase 1, which started on 29 May, outdoor workplaces, including horticulture, landscaping and garden centres, forestry and environmental management, were allowed to resume work.

    In phase 2, from 22 June, the construction sector could implement remaining phases of sectoral plan to resume work. From 29 June, factories, warehouses, labs, and research facilities could resume work.

    In phase 3, from 10 July, non-essential offices and call centres can reopen following implementation of relevant guidance (including physical distancing), but not before 31 July. Working from home and working flexibly remain the default.

  • Wales
    Where it is not possible to work from home “employers must comply with a physical distancing duty, which means all reasonable measures must be taken to ensure a 2m distance is maintained between people while working”.

  • Northern Ireland
    Workplaces not required to close can continue to operate but must follow social distancing and workplace safety guidance. The Department for the Economy has published a list of priority business sectors which should be supported to reopen.1

Key messages

England

Counselling and therapy services are not listed among the businesses that must remain closed, although a previous exception for “…other medical or health services, including services relating to mental health” no longer appears in the Government guidance. Use the guidance finder for help with reopening your business safely during coronavirus. Ultimately the decision whether to return to face to face work lies with the practitioner and must take into consideration guidance and personal circumstances.

Practitioners and businesses that want to return to providing face to face provision have a legal responsibility to protect their employees and other people on site, including carrying out a risk assessment and making sensible adjustments to the physical work environment and workforce. If you do not carry out a risk assessment, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your local council can issue an enforcement notice.

You should note new guidance from 8 August makes the wearing of face coverings mandatory in a wide range of indoor settings in England, where personal services are provided to clients. Important exemptions are in place including where wearing or removing a face covering is not possible due to a physical or mental illness, or if it will cause severe distress. See Coronavirus and your practice for more details.

Northern Ireland

Working face to face appears possible under the exceptions outlined above – however it is for businesses and individuals to interpret and apply the guidance as they see fit. It's important to consider that significant planning may be required to move to a new model of operating with the challenges of COVID-19. As in England, it is the responsibility of employers and self-employed persons to apply a risk-based approach and apply the precautions necessary (for example social distancing) to comply fully with public health advice.

You should also take into account the new mandatory requirement from 10 August for the use of face coverings when in a public area indoors where social distancing is not possible. Important exemptions are in place including where wearing or removing a face covering is not possible due to a physical or mental illness, or if it will cause severe distress. See the NI Government website for more details. 

Scotland

Phase 3 of Scotland's Route Map provides scope for resumption of face to face counselling to provide essential services with appropriate mitigation in place and following relevant Scottish Government guidelines. The Scottish Government's Mental Health Strategy and Coordination Unit has also advised us that 'face to face sessions should be by exception, and only when deemed necessary'.

For guidance on physical distancing see NHS Inform Scotland. You may also wish to consider our own guidance on Coronavirus and your practice.

From 8 August mandatory wearing of face coverings is extended to cover a wider range of indoor including libraries, museums and places of worship.    

Wales

Working face to face appears possible under the guidance outlines above. However, it is for businesses and individuals to ensure that they are complying with any relevant legal duties and to interpret and apply the guidance as they see fit. As in England, it's the responsibility of employers and the self-employed to apply a risk-based approach and implement the precautions necessary to comply fully with public health advice.

Disclaimer: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. BACP is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.