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“Reasonable excuses” for leaving home during lockdown

Advice issued to police forces offers several scenarios

It’s “likely to be reasonable” to drive to the countryside for a walk Image by North Mymms News, released via Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
It’s “likely to be reasonable” to drive to the countryside for a walk
“if far more time is spent walking than driving”

Image by North Mymms News, released via Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing, the body that sets professional standards for police forces in England, has published a document setting out what is and what is not likely to be considered reasonable movement during the coronavirus outbreak lockdown.

The document, headed “What constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live”, is aimed to “help officers”. Parts of the document covering necessities, exercise, work, and other reasons are reproduced below.

It states that:
“Some public statements made soon after the adoption of the regulations suggested that members of the public could only leave their homes if ‘essential’ to do so. However, this is not the test set out in the regulations and there is no legal basis for a requirement in those terms to be imposed. The applicable threshold is that of ‘reasonable excuse’.”
It continues:
“This list is not exhaustive and officers are required to use their discretion and judgement in deciding what is and what isn’t ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances.”


There is no need for all a person’s shopping to be basic food supplies; the purchase of snacks and luxuries is still permitted. In general terms, a person has a reasonable excuse to visit the shops which remain open to customers under the regulations.

If a person is already out of the address with good reason, then it would not be proportionate to prevent the person from buying non-essential items.

Food could include hot food from takeaways. ‘Obtain’ includes purchasing, but could include collecting or sharing items, provided this is genuine.

Likely to be reasonable

  • Buying several days’ worth of food, including luxury items and alcohol.
  • Buying a small amount of a staple item or necessity (eg, a newspaper, pet food, a loaf of bread or pint of milk).
  • Collecting surplus basic food items from a friend.
  • Buying tools and supplies to repair a fence panel damaged in recent bad weather.

Not likely to be reasonable

  • Buying paint and brushes simply to redecorate a kitchen. The regulations specify maintenance and upkeep. This does not extend to renovation and improvements.


Exercise can come in many forms, including walks. It must involve some movement, but it is acceptable for a person to stop for a break in exercise. However, a very short period of ‘exercise’ to excuse a long period of inactivity may mean that the person is not engaged in ‘exercise’ but in fact something else. It is lawful to drive for exercise.

Likely to be reasonable

  • Including: going for a run or cycle or practising yoga. Walking in the countryside or in cities. Attending an allotment.
  • Driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking than driving).
  • Stopping to rest or to eat lunch while on a long walk.
  • Exercising more than once per day - the only relevant consideration is whether repeated exercise on the same day can be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home.

Not likely to be reasonable

  • Driving for a prolonged period with only brief exercise.
  • A short walk to a park bench, when the person remains seated for a much longer period.


There is no requirement to be a key worker or essential worker in order to travel to work. Anyone can travel to work if it is not reasonably possible to work from home. A request from an employer to attend the work place should be sufficient. But there is no requirement for the person to have any written proof of a need to go to work or volunteering.

Police should not ask for ID documents or any other kind of document.

There is no requirement for volunteers to work for a registered organisation or charity. There is no requirement for the volunteering to be related to COVID-19.

Likely to be reasonable

  • A key worker or other essential worker travelling to work where it is not reasonably possible to work from home.
  • A non-key worker or non-essential key worker travelling to work where it is not reasonably possible to work from home.
  • A person delivering food packages to vulnerable people.

Not likely to be reasonable

  • A person who can work from home choosing to work in a local park.
  • A person knocking on doors offering to do cash-in-hand work.

Other reasons

Veterinary surgeries remain open and so taking an animal for emergency treatment would qualify as a good reason (as the owner has a duty to preserve welfare). But visiting a vet’s surgery where a call would suffice would not be reasonable.

The regulations allow people to move house. This means that individuals can move between households. But this should be a genuine move (ie, measured in days, not hours).

Social visits are not generally a good reason to leave home. However, there may be exceptional circumstances for a person to visit another (eg, a hospital authorising a particular person to visit).

Likely to be reasonable

  • Taking an animal for treatment.
  • Moving to a friend’s address for several days to allow a ‘cooling-off’ following arguments at home.
  • Providing support to vulnerable people.

Not likely to be reasonable

  • Visiting a vet’s surgery in person to renew a prescription (where this could be done over the phone).
  • Visiting a friend in their address or meeting in public to socialise.

The document is embedded below.

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