Can I move between tiers 1, 2, 3 and 4?

Missing persons: Waterloo station, normally the busiest transport terminal in Europe (Simon Calder)
Missing persons: Waterloo station, normally the busiest transport terminal in Europe (Simon Calder)

England has now been divided into four different tiers according to the level of coronavirus in the area.

The tiers are reviewed every 14 days, and boroughs can move to a higher or lower tier if local Covid rates surge or drop.

London, Essex and Hertfordshire boroughs, which entered tier 3 just days ago, was moved into the newly created tier 4, for example, in response a new mutation of coronavirus.

Unlike the system before the second lockdown, the new tiers system is stricter with different travel restrictions applicable for each one.

Here’s what you need to know about travelling between the tiers.

When did the new tiers system come into effect?

When England came out of the second lockdown on 2 December, it entered a new three-tier system, which was applicable to every borough in the country for the foreseeable future.

The prime minister said before the end of the second lockdown: “As we end our national restrictions on 2 December, they will not be replaced with a free for all. England will instead continue to use a sensible approach based on three tiers.

“And since the prevalence of the disease is, alas, still high, these tiers will remain tough.”

But due to the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus, named VUI – 202012/01, the government has created a fourth tier.

Tier 4 came into effect on 20 December, with boroughs in London, east and south east of England, which had previously been in tier 3, affected.

The tier 4 boroughs are:

  • Kent

  • Buckinghamshire

  • Berkshire

  • Surrey (excluding Waverley)

  • The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings

  • All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.

  • Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough

  • Hertfordshire

  • Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)

The other UK nations have their own rules.

Can I travel between different tiers?

The basic premise is: “Wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact.”

Residents of all tiers have been told: “You should stay local and avoid travelling outside of your local area, meaning your village or town, or part of a city, where possible. People should continue to travel for reasons such as work, education, medical attention or caring responsibilities.”

But the rules depend entirely on the tier in which you live. You can find the full list of tiers here.

If you’re travelling to another tier, you should follow the more strict of the rules. For example, a tier 1 resident travelling to tier 2 will need to follow tier 2 rules while a tier 2 resident travelling to a tier 1 area must continue to follow tier 2 rules.

In addition, tier 4 residents are only allowed to travel out of their local area for very specific reasons.

Rules if you live in tier 1

For those in tier 1, the government has said: “If you live in a Tier 1 area and do need to travel to an area in a higher tier you should follow the rules for that area while you are there.”

You are allowed to travel through tiers 3 and 4 as part of a journey to somewhere else but if your destination is in tier 3 or 4 you will need a good reason for doing so.

Permissible reasons include: for work; for education; to access voluntary, charitable or youth services; to visit your support bubble; to receive medical treatment; for moving home; or because of caring responsibilities.

If you want to travel to a tier 4 destination, the government has said: “If you live in a Tier 1 area and are going to a wedding, funeral, or linked commemorative event in a Tier 4 area, the event must follow the Tier 4 gathering limit. You must not attend a wedding reception in a Tier 3 or Tier 4 area.”

Rules if you live in tier 2

Those living in tier 2 have been told: “If you live in a Tier 2 area, you must continue to follow Tier 2 rules when you travel to a Tier 1 area.”

They can travel through a tier 3 or 4 area as part of a long journey but if their destination is in a higher tier, they will need to be travelling for an essential reason.

For tier 2 residents going to tier 3, this includes: for work; for education; to access voluntary, charitable or youth services; to visit your support bubble; to receive medical treatment; for moving home; or because of caring responsibilities.

In addition, the government has said: “If you live in a Tier 2 area and are going to a wedding, funeral, or linked commemorative event in a Tier 4 area, the event must follow the Tier 4 gathering limit. You must not attend a wedding reception in a Tier 3 or Tier 4 area.”

Rules if you live in tier 3

Tier 3 residents are not supposed to leave their area unless necessary, although they are allowed to travel through other tiers on the way to another destination, such as for international travel.

The examples of when travelling into another tier is permissible include: for work; for education; to access voluntary, charitable or youth services; because of caring responsibilities; for moving home; to visit your support bubble; for a medical appointment or treatment.

When tier 3 residents visit a lower tier, they should continue to follow the rules in tier 3 and must not stay with anyone they do not live with elsewhere in the UK or visit their home (unless they share a support bubble).

In addition, the government said: “If you live in a Tier 3 area and are going to a wedding, funeral, or linked commemorative event in a Tier 4 area, the event must follow the Tier 4 gathering limit. You must not attend a wedding reception in a Tier 3 or Tier 4 area.”

Rules if you live in tier 4

Tier 4 is in a category of its own.

Residents are told they should stay at home and not leave their tier 4 area except for a list of legally permitted reasons.

These are: travel to work where you cannot work from home; travel to education and for caring responsibilities; visit (including staying overnight with) those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare; attend hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits; where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health.

The government said that additional guidance will be set out in regulations.

Can I stay in a hotel or with friends/family?

You can stay overnight (in private accommodation or hotels) in tiers 1 and 2 but the government has advised that you consider whether your reasons for travel are essential.

In tier 1, this can be in a group of up to six who do not need to be in your household/support bubble though you should maintain social distancing.

In tier 2, stays can only be with your household/support bubble.

Overnight stays in tiers 3 and 4 are possible only for essential reasons, such as for work.

Can I travel with friends and family?

Again, it depends on the tier.

In tiers 1 and 2, you may be indoors only with members of your household/support bubble. In tiers 3 and 4, you should only be travelling for essential reasons such as work.

Can I travel abroad?

This depends on the area you live in and the reason you wish to travel.

Tier 4 residents are banned from international travel unless for an essential reason such as work.

Those in tier 3 are advised not to travel outside their area for non-essential purposes, but after much confusion the government has confirmed that this is only guidance – and that there is no legal impediment.

In addition, those living in tier 3 are permitted to travel abroad for holidays.

If you live in tier 1 or 2 you are able to travel via an airport in a tier 3 or 4 area.

Of course your destination country may well have its own rules and restrictions – such as Spain’s requirement for a Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.

Many countries have also banned flights or UK travellers in response to the new mutation of the coronavirus.

On return, the standard UK rules on quarantine will apply.

Currently the quarantine period is 10 days, down from 14 days. You can further shorten this to five days through the government’s new test to release scheme.

What will happen during the Christmas travel window?

Following the announcement of the new variant of coronavirus, the previously announced Christmas travel window has effectively been scrapped.

Those living in tier 4 are not allowed to form a Christmas bubble and cannot meet indoors with anyone who is not in their household or support bubble.

Those who live in other areas of England are allowed to form a Christmas bubble with up to two other households on Christmas Day.

However, the government has said: “You should think very carefully about the risks and only form a Christmas bubble if you feel you absolutely need to. Wherever possible, discuss alternatives to meeting up in person.”

Travel between England and Scotland is now banned but there is currently no restrictions between England and Wales or Northern Ireland.

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