On 28 September, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force. These regulations mean that self-isolation is a legal requirement for individuals who have been notified by one of the bodies specified in the regulations (in practice, mainly NHS Test and Trace) that they have tested positive for covid-19 or are a close contact of someone who has tested positive. Non-adherence to these regulations can result in a fixed penalty notice (FPN) ranging from £1,000 to £10,000. Failure to pay the FPN can result in criminal proceedings and conviction.
Ensuring that infected individuals and their close contacts self-isolate is one of the most powerful tools for controlling transmission of covid-19. Increased compliance with self-isolation will reduce transmission of the virus, preventing family and friends from contracting coronavirus, and protecting the NHS.
The Government expect individuals to comply when they are required to self-isolate. Where there are reports of suspected breaches, the police approach to engage, explain and encourage compliance is the right one. But, on occasion, this approach needs to be backed-up with enforcement against those who flout the rules and put others at risk.
We have been working closely with colleagues on the National Police Chiefs’ Council to ensure that the information we share with them supports effective enforcement where that is necessary.
In order to issue a fixed-penalty notice, the police need to be satisfied that they are engaging with the right person, that the person is aware of their duty to self-isolate and that the person has indeed breached that legal requirement.
NHS Test and Trace currently shares the following information with the police:
First and last name of individual
Home address and telephone number
Period of self-isolation
Date notification to self-isolate was received
Following consultation with the police it has become clear that further information is necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of the enforcement regime around self-isolation.
Following a report of suspected non-compliance, and following checks by NHS Test and Trace to confirm the individual is under the legal duty to self-isolate, NHS Test and Trace will henceforth share the following additional information with police on a case by case basis, as necessary:
Details of how the individual was notified by Test and Trace, including address, telephone number and email address where relevant
Date of birth
Whether the individual is a positive case or a close contact
A copy of the notification issued by Test and Trace, where possible
Whether the individual is taking part in coronavirus related research (and is therefore exempt from the legal duty to self-isolate)
These changes will support the police in taking enforcement action when that is appropriate. In particular, it will enable them to share a copy of the notification to self-isolate if an individual says they did not receive it.
It will also enable the police to gather relevant evidence should criminal proceedings ensue in the event that an FPN is issued and not paid. In such cases, it is important for the police to know, and where appropriate evidence, the precise circumstances around each individual breach and how the duty to self-isolate arose. Information on whether individuals are under a duty to self-isolate due to having tested positive or as a result of being a close contact of someone who has tested positive (including in the copy of the notification) will only be shared and will only be used where necessary for “the purpose of carrying out a function under regulation 10, 12 or 13 [functions regarding enforcement, issuing FPNs and bringing proceedings] or otherwise or the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of offences under these regulations”. These changes will help improve the effectiveness of police action against reported breaches of self-isolation.
As announced last week by the Home Secretary, regulations will also increase fixed penalty notices for those caught attending illegal gatherings in private dwellings and student accommodation (such as house parties)—of more than 15 people from £200 to £800 in England. Fixed penalty notices for such offences will double for each successive offence up to a maximum of £6,400. This will provide the police with the enhanced powers they need to tackle egregious breaches of the law. We have been committed from the beginning of this pandemic to following the science, and the science is clear that larger gatherings of people in indoor spaces present a significant risk of transmission and spread of the virus.
The necessary amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 and the introduction of an enhanced FPN for indoor gatherings over 15 people will be laid before parliament, and will come into force, on 29 January 2021.