Porthmeor beach on a busy October day

Restrictions on Business & Venues in England (17th May)

Some of the rules on what you can and cannot do changed on 17 May.

Some of the rules on what you can and cannot do changed on 17 May. However, coronavirus restrictions remain in place. You should continue to work from home if you can, travel safely, and follow the rules in the Coronavirus Restrictions guidance.

The government has published the ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021’ setting out the roadmap out of the current coronavirus restrictions. This is a step-by-step plan to ease restrictions in England cautiously.

Due to the current relatively uniform spread of the virus across the country, the four steps set out in the roadmap are designed to apply to all regions. The indicative, ‘no earlier than’ dates for Step 4 in the roadmap is contingent on the data and subject to change.

Businesses already permitted to open through steps 1 and 2

The ‘COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021’ describes the step-by-step plan for how restrictions in England have been eased cautiously so far.

Businesses permitted to open through steps 1 and 2:

Businesses providing supervised activities for childcare and outdoor sports facilities were permitted to open from step 1.

In Step 2 non-essential retail (clothes shops or florists, for example) and close contact personal services (such as hairdressers) were permitted to open.

Indoor sports centres such as gyms, outdoor sections at attractions and self-contained holiday accommodation were also permitted to reopen when used by people alone or with their household (or support bubble). Outdoor hospitality settings such as restaurants and cafes were also permitted to open.

At Step 3, these businesses and venues must only be attended/used in line with the social contact limits, unless a legal exemption applies (such as for organised sport, childcare, or support groups). This means visitors and attendees must only gather in a group of up to 6 people or a larger group consisting of no more than 2 households indoors. They must only gather in a group of up to 30 people outdoors. Visitors should also follow guidance on meeting friends and family.

Businesses and venues reopening at Step 3, 17 May

Indoor hospitality

Indoor areas of hospitality venues can reopen for groups of up to 6 people or larger groups consisting of no more than 2 households. This includes:

  • restaurants
  • pubs
  • bars, including those in hotels or members’ clubs
  • social clubs
  • cafes and canteens

Hospitality venues providing alcohol for consumption on the premises, such as pubs and restaurants, will be required to provide table service. Venues that do not provide alcohol for consumption on the premises, such as certain cafes, may permit customers to order from the counter, but any food/drink must be consumed whilst seated.

Venues are prohibited from providing smoking equipment such as shisha pipes, for use on the premises. View further guidance for hospitality venues.

Indoor sports and leisure

You can exercise outdoors in groups of up to 30, or indoors in a group of 6 or a larger group of any size from no more than 2 households (including their support bubbles, if eligible).

Indoor organised sport and group exercise classes can resume for all, in any number. This must be organised by a business, charity or public body and the organiser must take the required precautions, including the completion of a risk assessment. Access further guidance on grassroots sport.

You should avoid contact in training and, for some sports, avoid contact in all activities. Read the guidance on what avoiding contact means for your sport.

Saunas and steam rooms may also reopen at sports and leisure facilities

Indoor entertainment and visitor attractions

Indoor entertainment and visitor attractions can reopen. This includes:

  • amusement arcades and adult gaming centres
  • bingo halls
  • casinos
  • circuses
  • bowling alleys
  • snooker and pool halls

Indoor areas at the following attractions may also reopen:

  • museums and galleries
  • adventure playgrounds and activities
  • skating rinks
  • games and recreation venues, including laser quest, escape rooms, paintballing and recreational driving facilities
  • play areas (including soft play centres and inflatable parks)
  • model villages
  • trampolining parks
  • water and aqua parks
  • theme parks and film studios
  • zoos, safari parks, aquariums and other animal attractions
  • botanical gardens, greenhouses and biomes
  • sculpture parks
  • landmarks including observation wheels or viewing platforms
  • stately or historic homes, castles, or other heritage sites

These indoor venues and attractions must only be accessed in groups of up to 6 people or larger groups consisting of no more than 2 households unless an exemption applies. Events held at these venues should follow the specific guidance on events below.

Performance arts

Performance arts venues such as cinemas, theatres, and concert halls may reopen. This also includes outdoor performance venues which have also been required to close until Step 3. See further guidance on performance arts.


Conference centres and exhibition halls will also be able to open for conferences, exhibitions, tradeshows, and private dining and banqueting events (subject to the capacity limits set out below).

Indoor events and remaining outdoor events, such as elite sport events, business events, cinemas and live performance events are also permitted.

Attendance at these events is restricted to 50% of capacity up to 1,000 people for indoor events, and 50% of capacity up to 4,000 people for outdoor events.

For outdoor events taking place in venues with seated capacity of over 16,000, attendance of up to 25% of seated capacity, or 10,000 seated people, whichever is lowest, is permitted. There is further guidance on organising events during COVID-19

Both outdoor and indoor gatherings or events, organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation, can be organised, subject to specific conditions: that they comply with COVID-secure guidance including taking reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission, complete a related risk assessment; and ensure that those attending do not mix beyond what is permitted by the social contact limits (unless another exemption exists, such as for organised sport or exercise, supervised activities for children or a significant life event).

Holiday accommodation

Remaining holiday accommodation can reopen for groups of up to 6 or larger groups consisting of no more than 2 households. Saunas and steam rooms may reopen, however should follow COVID-secure guidance. See guidance for people who work in or run hotels and other guest accommodation.

Business closures at Step 3

The following businesses must remain closed:

  • nightclubs, dance halls, and discotheques
  • sexual entertainment venues and hostess bars

Step 4 – no earlier than 21 June

At Step 4 we hope to reopen remaining settings such as nightclubs and adult entertainment venues, and to lift the restrictions on social contact and large events that continue to apply in Step 3. This is subject to the outcome of the Events Research Programme, and the reviews of social distancing measures and COVID-status certification.

We will also look to relax COVID-Secure requirements on businesses, subject to the outcome of the reviews.

What can be done in businesses that are closed

Any closed premises can open for the purposes of:

  • enabling access by the site owners or managers, staff or people authorised by them (including volunteers) for maintenance where this is reasonably necessary. This may include exhibit maintenance, animal or plant feeding, or repairs. Other work to ensure readiness to open, such as receiving deliveries of supplies, may also go ahead
  • providing essential voluntary or public services (including the provision of food banks or other support to the homeless or vulnerable, hosting blood donation sessions, or support in an emergency)
  • making a film, television programme, audio programme or audio-visual advertisement
  • voting or related activities

Operating in a COVID-secure manner

All businesses should facilitate working from home as far as possible.

Businesses and venues are required under health and safety legislation to follow the appropriate COVID-secure guidance for their sector.

Please see links to sector-specific guidance on ensuring businesses and venues permitted to open can operate safely, and so that businesses and venues that are closed can prepare to reopen safely when legally permitted to do so.

This guidance will help you operate a safe workplace for those who are not able to work from home, and help you plan for reopening in the future.

All businesses should demonstrate to their workers and attendees that they have properly assessed their risk and taken appropriate measures to mitigate it, for example by publishing their risk assessment online or making it available at the premises/event.

Businesses and venues must also take reasonable steps to ensure that social contact rules are followed within their venues.

In particular, those operating venues or running events following COVID-secure guidelines should take additional steps to ensure the safety of the public. This includes taking reasonable steps to prevent large gatherings of people which risk a breakdown of social distancing rules.

There will be some situations where social distancing is not possible. This is likely to occur between very young children, who will find preserving consistent distance more challenging. Where it is not possible for young children to maintain social distancing, it is even more important that businesses implement other protective measures, such as frequent cleaning and handwashing.

Individual businesses or venues should also consider the cumulative impact of many venues reopening in a small area. This means working with local authorities, neighbouring businesses and travel operators to assess this risk and applying additional mitigations.

These could include:

  • staggering entry times with other venues and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas
  • arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues
  • advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue

Businesses should consider arranging regular rapid lateral flow testing for staff who cannot work from home. You can register to order tests if your business is registered in England and if your employees cannot work from home. Use this link to register and order COVID-19 tests for your employees. Your employees can also access regular rapid testing free of charge at home or at a test site. See further information on accessing regular testing.

Local authorities are responsible for permitting or prohibiting large organised outdoor events from taking place in their local area. See further guidance on organised events.

Employer duties for self-isolation

Employers must not knowingly require or encourage someone who is being required to self-isolate to leave their designated area of self-isolation. See working safely guidance.

In the case of agency workers, agents must notify the employer, and the employer must notify an organisation to which the agency worker has been supplied.

In order to support businesses in meeting these obligations, a self-isolating worker or agency worker must notify their employer (or agency worker where applicable) as soon as is reasonably practical, as well as the start and end dates of their isolation period. Any failure by an employee to notify their employer is an offence.

Face coverings

In England, customers and visitors must wear a face covering in a number of indoor settings, unless under the age of 11 or otherwise exempt. Face coverings must also be worn by retail, leisure and hospitality staff working in any indoor area that is open to the public and where they’re likely to come into contact with a member of the public.

Please see the latest face covering guidance

Compliance and enforcement

It is for each business to assess whether they are a business required to close having considered the guidance and regulations.

An owner, proprietor or manager carrying out a business (or a person responsible for other premises) who fails to fulfill the obligations placed on them in law, without reasonable excuse, commits an offence.

In England, Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance with these regulations, with police support provided if appropriate.

Businesses and venues that breach restrictions will potentially be subject to a:

  • Fixed Penalty Notice (fine) starting at £1,000 for the first offence and rising to £10,000 upon repeat offences
  • Coronavirus Improvement Notice (which will require a minimum of 48 hours for a business to introduce necessary measures)
  • Coronavirus Immediate Restriction Notice (which will impose the immediate closure or restriction of an activity within premises for a 48 hour period where rapid action is needed)
  • Coronavirus Restriction Notice and Prohibition Notice (which will require the closure or restriction of an activity for a 7 day period)

It is also an offence, without reasonable excuse to fail to comply with a notice, this may result in a fine, or where necessary court proceedings, with magistrates able to impose potentially unlimited fines.

Please see further guidance for more information on Coronavirus Improvement and Restriction Notices.

Local authorities and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care also have the power to place restrictions on or close premises where they assess that they pose a serious and imminent threat to public health where this is necessary and proportionate to manage the spread of COVID-19 in the local authority’s area. See more information on these powers.

Individuals can also be issued with a fixed penalty notice, starting at £200 for those who participate in illegal gatherings. The police also have the power to take action against those holding or being involved in the holding of an illegal gathering of more than 30 people indoors or 50 people outdoors. This includes issuing a fixed penalty notice of £10,000.

Business support

The government has put in place a wide range of support for businesses affected by Coronavirus. For more information please visit the government’s business support page.

The second payment cycle of Local Restrictions Support Grant, covering the period between 16 February to 31 March 2021, is available through local authorities. Businesses required to close will receive up to £4,714 for this 44-day qualifying restrictions period. How much a business is eligible to receive depends on the rateable value of the property. Applications for payments for this period end on 31 May 2021.

For more information businesses can check eligibility for a coronavirus grant because of national restrictions.

From 1 April, the Local Restrictions Support grants have been replaced with the Restart Grants. These grants will make available up to £6,000 per premises for non-essential retail businesses and up to £18,000 per premises for hospitality and other sectors that are opening later.

The Restart Grant scheme provides support to businesses to reopen safely as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Grants are available from 1 April 2021. These grants will make available up to £6,000 per premises for non-essential retail businesses and up to £18,000 per premises for hospitality and other sectors that are opening later.

Local Authorities in England are also receiving a further £425 million of discretionary business grant funding, in addition to £1.6 billion already allocated, through the Additional Restrictions Grant. This funding is for additional business support to complement the Local Restrictions Support.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended until the end of September 2021 and is available for all eligible firms across the UK.

Access full guidance on claiming for wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) 4 and 5 were announced by the Chancellor in the March 2021 budget. SEISS 4 will provide support for the 3 months from February and SEISS 5 will provide support from May until the end of September 2021. This will provide support to self-employed individuals whose businesses have been adversely affected by COVID-19.

Access full guidance on claiming income support for self-employment through SEISS 4.

From 6 April, the government has introduced the new Recovery Loan Scheme to replace the existing loan schemes: providing lenders with a guarantee of 80% on eligible loans between £25,000 and £10 million to give them confidence in continuing to provide finance to UK businesses.

Access full guidance on applying for the loan here.

The government also announced at Budget plans to extend the 5 per cent reduced rate of VAT for goods and services supplied by the tourism and hospitality sector for a further six months until the end of September 2021. The rate will then increase to 12.5 per cent from October until the end of March 2022, before returning to the normal 20 per cent rate from April 2022.

For further information businesses can check eligibility here on VAT rate reductions

Business Rates

In England, the government has provided a 100 per cent business rates holiday for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. This 100 per cent holiday has been extended to June 2021, after which businesses will receive 66% relief, up to a cap, for the following nine months. Nurseries in England will also receive this relief.

For further information businesses can check eligibility here on business rate reliefs.

Rules for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Devolved Administrations have issued their own guidance and regulations on these matters. The guidance can be found below:

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