Half-term travel: what the three-tier system means for your holiday

Nick Trend
·6-min read
autumn - getty
autumn - getty

A UK guide to the rules and your booking rights

The new tier system has fundamentally changed our freedom to travel and go on holiday in this country. With the October half term break about to begin, here is our guide to working out when, where and if you can take a break. 

The rules in England

Tier One areas

If you live in a Tier One area, you can travel to and stay anywhere in England which is also in Tier One and to many parts of Scotland and Wales (subject to local rules there, see below). In England, you can stay in a cottage or apartment but only in groups of up to six people from the same household. However, it is permitted to stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast with another household if you avoid sharing rooms with people you do not live with and don’t socialise with them in restaurants and bars. As in all cases, you should respect social distancing rules.

Tier Two areas

The government says that those who live in Tier Two areas should "reduce the number of journeys they make where possible”. It is still permitted to go on holiday outside your area, but you mustn’t share accommodation with people you don't live with, or socialise with them indoors. You might want to avoid visiting a Tier Two area for a holiday, but you are free to as long as you follow the appropriate rules and restrictions. 

Tier Three areas

So far only Liverpool has been designated as a Tier Three area. Those living there - or any other part of the country which is added to the list - should not travel outside their area unless it's for work, education or essential caring responsibilities and they should not go on holiday or even stay overnight in another part of the UK. Those living in other parts of England, are advised not to stay overnight in a Tier Three area.

Full details of the English tier system here.

The rules in Scotland

Scotland has yet to introduce the tier system, but the government says it will draw up a similar system to England’s later in October. In the meantime, there are no specific legal bans on travel currently beyond the national rules on social distancing and meeting. Details here.

In holiday accommodation, you can only stay with members of a single household. In public indoor spaces such as restaurants or pubs, you are allowed to meet up with one other household in a group of no more than six people. (Children under 12 don't count towards the total of people within this group of six).

Outdoors, you are allowed to meet up with one other household. You can still book your household onto organised activities - outdoor activities, tours, coaches - alongside other unconnected households, as these operators are still allowed to take larger numbers where capacity allows.

Note that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes must close indoor service at 6pm, and alcohol can only be served outdoors and all sales must stop at 10pm each night. Hotels and their restaurants may remain open for residents only beyond 6pm, but cannot serve alcohol after this time.

However, there are local restrictions in some areas and the Scottish government has advised those living in Glasgow, Edinburgh and the central belt not to travel outside the area until the end of half term (October 25) unless it is essential, and for others not to visit this area unless necessary.

You probably wouldn’t have much fun anyway since pubs, bars and licensed restaurants have shut for all but takeaway food services until that date and while hotels and their restaurants may remain open for residents only, they cannot serve alcohol.

A few weeks ago, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, asked people not to book overseas holidays during the October half term break. However, she has since said "We are not insisting that people cancel any half-term breaks they have planned.” The Scottish government has also asked people in Scotland not to travel to areas of England where local restrictions are in place, unless the journey is essential.

The rules in Wales

Wales has not yet introduced the tier system, but is considering it. Currently, large parts of the south and north of the country are under local restrictions (see here) and you may only leave or enter these if your journey is “essential”, which includes going to work (where you can’t work from home) but not going on holiday or visiting for a holiday. You can be fined or prosecuted for breaking these rules. After Friday October 16, visitors from areas with high infection rates will also be prohibited from visiting Wales.

Otherwise, there are no legal restrictions on people travelling to parts of Wales which are not under local restrictions. You can book a holiday with members of your household or extended household in self-contained accommodation or hotels, B&Bs and campsites. The Welsh government has not exactly been encouraging, however, saying: “we are not telling people they shouldn’t come to these parts of Wales but we are asking people to think very carefully about making journeys.”

What if I cancel my holiday?

This is a very problematic area. If you unilaterally cancel your holiday you will nearly always forfeit the cancellation costs - even if you are self-isolating after potential exposure to the virus or are unable to travel because of a local lockdown. A few airlines and operators have said that they will allow customers who have already booked to postpone their holidays, but you have very little chance of a refund.

People in lockdown in Wales are most likely to be affected. Advice given by the Welsh government is not very reassuring. It acknowledges the likely disappointment, but goes on to say: “If you have pre-booked – and paid for a holiday – we would advise you to contact the travel agent or travel company to discuss the current situation [in your area] and the restrictions which have been put in place by the Welsh Government to restrict non-essential travel. You should also contact your travel insurer to discuss the situation – while many insurers have designed policies with coronavirus exclusion clauses, some annual policies may cover this situation.”

This last point may be true, but it is clutching at straws and very few people are now likely to have cover for this.

What if my holiday is cancelled because of local restrictions?

If you are not able to stay in a hotel, cottage or other holiday accommodation because local restrictions prevent it, then you would normally be entitled to a full refund. If you are able to go on holiday, but suffer local restrictions on what you can do, you might be offered a partial refund in recognition of this, or a chance to postpone to a later date, but it’s a murky area legally.

What about holidays abroad?

Our detailed guide to your rights and the potential effects of Covid-19 on your overseas travel plans is here.

  • Have you got a question about how your half-term holiday could be impacted by a Tier 2 lockdown? Send your queries to yourstory@telegraph.co.uk and our experts will answer them.