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What do Christmas bubbles mean for your childcare arrangements and contact between separated parents?

We take a close look at the new rules and how they might affect you.

The Government announced yesterday that you can form a Christmas bubble with up to three households during the five-day period 23-27 December 2020. So how does this affect your current arrangements if you’re a separated parent and you have support and/or childcare bubbles in place? We take a look at the new rules and how they might affect you below.

What are the rules relating to support and child care bubbles?

There are specific rules relating to support bubbles and childcare bubbles. See our dedicated article on child arrangements for more details. 

So what are the Christmas bubble rules?

  1. The Christmas bubble can exist between 23-27 December 2020
  2. You can only be in one collective Christmas bubble unless you are a child under the age of 18 with separated parents and they choose to form separate Christmas bubbles
  3. You cannot change your Christmas bubble
  4. The Christmas bubble should not include people from more than three households
  5. You can travel between tiers and UK nations for the purposes of meeting your Christmas bubble and this should be done between 23-27 December
  6. You can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes, your garden, places of worship or public outdoor spaces
  7. You can continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier where you are staying
  8. You must not form a Christmas bubble if you are self-isolating or showing any symptoms

If you’re in a support bubble

If you’re in an existing support bubble then this counts as one household towards the three household limit for your Christmas bubble, which means you can collectively form a Christmas bubble with two other households. This could mean that you have people from four houses in your Christmas bubble but that constitute three households.

If you’re in a childcare bubble

If you’re in a childcare bubble you can continue to use this if reasonably necessary for the purpose of childcare where there are no reasonable alternatives. However, if you want to socialise with the household in your childcare bubble, they should be included in your Christmas bubble. You and the other household in your childcare bubble will count as two households towards the three household limit, meaning you can only add one more household to your Christmas bubble.

What if I’m in a support bubble and a childcare bubble?

If you want to spend time with the people in your support bubble at Christmas, then together this constitutes one household as set out above. If it is necessary for you to continue using your childcare bubble for the purposes of childcare during the Christmas period, you can collectively form a Christmas bubble with two other households still. However, if you wish to socialise with the people in your childcare bubble this counts as two households and your support bubble counts as one household, so you’ve reached the three household limit and won’t be able to add anyone else to your Christmas bubble.

How does this affect children of separated parents?

Separated parents are not required by law to form part of the same Christmas bubble. If they choose to be in two separate bubbles, any children under the age of 18 may be a part of both parents’ Christmas bubbles which could potentially expose them to six separate households, three from each bubble or potentially to people from eight houses if both parents have a support bubble who they are joining to their Christmas bubble – as you’ll recall above that an existing support bubble counts as one household towards the three household limit.

What if the people I live with cannot agree who to spend Christmas with?

If you and those you are living with want to be in different Christmas bubbles, you can choose to stay somewhere else with different people for this period and form a Christmas bubble with that household and one other household.

Is there anything I should do before forming my Christmas bubble?

Speak to the other parent and explain who is going to be in your Christmas bubble and discuss what measures you might both take during this period to minimise the risk of catching or spreading the virus. This might include regular hand washing, cleaning touch points regularly, keeping socially distanced or letting in fresh air. You should reduce any unnecessary contact with people you do not live with as much as possible in the two weeks prior to forming your bubble which includes working from home if you can, but children can continue to go to school.

Just because you can have a Christmas bubble should you?

If you have any relatives or friends in the moderate or high risk categories then joining them to your bubble is legally permitted but involves greater risks for that person which have to be weighed up against the damage caused by isolation during the Christmas period. There is guidance yet to be published for the clinically extremely vulnerable at Christmas.

The decision as to whether you form a Christmas bubble should be made after careful consideration of all the circumstances including, but not limited to, your child’s health, the risk of infection and the presence of recognised vulnerable individuals in any household.

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