Tier 4 and Christmas travel rules explained

Nearly 18 million people in London, the south east and east of England have been placed into a new Tier 4, with extremely strict travel regulations. In addition, the Christmas easing allowing three households to mix has been reduced to a single day: 25 December.

“This is not the moment to have unnecessary travel,” says the government’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty.

These are the key questions and answers, starting with the tier 4 rules.

I  have just been told I am in tier 4. What does that mean for travel?

The basic new rule is : “You must not leave or be outside of your home except for where you have a specific purpose, or a ‘reasonable excuse’.”

Unless there is an essential reason for you to travel – for work, education, medical treatment, caring responsibilities and urgent compassionate reasons – you will be expected to stay at home. Travel for leisure is not permitted within your tier, elsewhere in the UK or abroad.

I live in tier 4 and I have a holiday booked. What are my rights?

Hundreds of thousands of people who live in the affected areas of England have travel plans for Christmas, New Year and into 2021 have been told to stay at home.

Key destinations include the Canary Islands, Madeira and Gibraltar – almost the only parts of Europe that are not on the Foreign Office no-go list, as well as longer-haul destinations such as Dubai, the Maldives and the Caribbean.

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If you have booked a package holiday with a company such as Tui or Jet2 and are due to travel imminently, it is likely that you will be able to postpone the trip. But it is likely that a large number of holidays will go ahead as normal because most of England is in tiers 1, 2 or 3.

Talk to your travel company if you possibly can and see what options are available.

Because there is no end date, I recommend that anyone with a trip from early January onwards should pause to see what happens.

But I booked flights separately?

If the flight is cancelled then you will be able to get a full refund. If it goes ahead then you will may able to postpone the trip or get a credit note.

British Airways has a “book with confidence” policy in place that allows cancellations for a voucher, not a refund.

The Independent has asked the other leading airlines for their policies.

The presumption from the Competition and Markets Authority is that if a passenger is unable to travel because of government restrictions then they should be entitled to a full cash refund, but that has not been tested in law.

I am in tier 1/2/3 but have a trip booked from an airport in tier 4. Can I go there? 

The Independent understands that the main airports in Tier 4 – Heathrow, Luton and London City – will remain open, and that people from other tiers will be able to access them, whether flying in or out.

The government says: “If you live outside a tier 4 area you may still transit into or through a tier 4 area to travel abroad if you need to, but you should carefully consider whether you need to do so.”

Gatwick and Stansted airports are both in Tier 2 and therefore unaffected – though many of their passengers are.

Can I pick someone up from the airport?

In this case two sets of rules appear to be in conflict with one another. The government guidelines on self-isolation for arriving travellers say: “Only use public transport if you have no other option.”

The implication: ideally, a member of the household where the traveller will be in quarantine will be able to pick them up from the airport. But this would breach the stipulation not to leave your home.

It is not clear if picking someone up counts as a “reasonable excuse”. On balance, if you can make the journey to the airport and back without stopping along the way, that may reduce the chances of contracting (or spreading) coronavirus.

Can I use public transport to make a permitted journey in tier 4?

Yes. The government says: “We encourage you to walk or cycle where possible.” But there is no general warning against using buses, trains, trams or, in London, the Tube.

Will public transport run as normal?

The presumption – based on previous practice – is that a near-normal service will operate. The government advises: “Plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practise social distancing while you travel.” But with so few passengers, keeping your distance is unlikely to be a problem.

I have a train ticket to or from a tier 4 location. Can I change or cancel it?

You can amend it but, if it is an Advance ticket, you cannot get a refund. On Friday, perhaps to prepare people for this development, the transport secretary Grant Shapps announced fees for changing Advance tickets will be waived.

What about domestic flights? 

Many thousands of people will have booked flights to travel to or from what are now tier 4 addresses. Those trips cannot now happen. Again, individual airlines will decide their own policies.

For guidance, it is unlikely that many domestic flights will be cancelled.

I have a hotel booking over Christmas in what is now a tier 4 area. Can I use it?

No. “People should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home,” says the government.

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